Bayeux Tapestry – the Backstory

All I wanted was to stay inside for an afternoon, out of the heat, and learn a little more about sail history.  “I bet historians have written about the ships on the Bayeux Tapestry,” I thought, “How long could it take to find out about that?”

Six weeks, five books, and one video later, I am slowly emerging from the world of the 11th century, full of information (but none of it on ships).

Norman ships in the Bayeux Tapestry

from Wikimedia Commons

The Bayeux Tapestry* depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when William of Normandy invaded England and defeated its Anglo-Saxon king, Harold.  It is 70 meters long and 50 cm tall, and probably took a year or so to make, so I think it deserves more than one post.  I’m planning to do three – this one on the background story, then a shorter one on how it was made, and then one that sums up the resources I used.

I think it’s easier to understand who is doing what in the Tapestry, if you know what was going on with their families a generation or so before .  For me it boils down to three people who were at the heart of things. (Because this is just a blog post, and not an HBO series, I am going to leave out many many spouses, siblings, rebellions, exiles, and deaths.  Also, I am not a historian, and even real historians aren’t sure of all the details, so please view this as just a rough idea of what went on.)

Richard II, duke of Normandy, is the first person. He doesn’t come into the story much, but he’s a relation of half of the people that do.

The second is his sister Emma, who gets married twice, both times to men who have children from previous wives.  Emma does not fit the stereotype of demure, retiring medieval women.  She is ambitious and  manipulative, and she is involved in struggles between her sons, between her sons and their half-brothers, and between her sons and her advisers.

We know a lot about Emma, because she left us a book all about herself.  Written about 1041, by a hired writer, it is titled In Praise of Queen Emma (Encomium Emmae Reginae).  It may be the first book written strictly to put a positive public relations spin on the life of a living person.

As a piece of special pleading and blatant flattery, Emma’s Encomium had no precedent.  It was not the biography of a long-dead saint, but dealt with recent political events and the deeds of herself and her contemporaries.

-Carola Hicks, The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece

Emma’s first marriage, in 1002, is to Æthelred, the king of England.  They have three children, Edward, Alfred, Godgifu.

Æthelred does not have a peaceful rule.  In 1013 and 1015, the Vikings invade England and set up a king.  The first time Æthelred takes his family to safety in Normandy, returns when circumstances allow, and rules again.  The second time, the children again flee to safety with their uncle, duke Richard II, but Æthelred has died.  Emma remains in England, and marries the new king, Cnut of Denmark**, and has a son with him, Harthacnut.

The third person, Godwine, is one of Cnut’s advisers.  We know that he is an  Englishman, but nothing else about his origins.  By 1018 he is made an earl, is married to Cnut’s sister-in-law, Gytha, and before too long is in charge of all of southern England.  We will skip over all their children except Harold and Edith.

Things run along as usual for the next 20 years – lots of territorial disputes, plots, feuds, death and destruction.  Over in Normandy, duke Richard II dies.  Edward and Alfred are living peacefully with their cousin Robert, who rules Normandy for about seven years.  He then suddenly decides to go off on Crusade, leaving the kingdom in the hands of his seven-year-old illegitimate son, William.  Robert never makes it back, dying on the way in 1035, and back in England, Cnut dies that same year.

Queen Emma wants her son Harthacnut, to be made king.  But there’s another son of Cnut from a previous marriage, Harold Harefoot***, so people pick sides, and the struggles resume.  Harthacnut is already king of Denmark and power struggles there keep him from rushing over to rule England.  After two years, his faction in England starts to lose patience, and everyone is thinking about switching to Harold Harefoot.

It looked as if the queen’s grip on power, assiduously maintained through her marriage to two English kings, was about to end because of her son’s continued absence.  It must have been around this point that she recalled she had two other sons living in exile across the channel…Emma appears to have turned to the sons of her first marriage in a desperate attempt to improve her diminishing political fortunes.

Marc Morris – The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England

In 1036, her younger son Alfred comes back to England, but Godwine (being Cnut’s man), is pretty sure that this son of Æthelred will throw him out of power, and he engineers an attack on Alfred and his men.  Alfred is blinded and soon dies of his wounds.  (Emma says in her book that someone forged a letter in her name to convince her sons to return.  Historians believe “the woman doth protest too much.”)

Harold Harefoot does become king for a while and Emma is driven into exile.  Then in 1040, Harold dies,  Harthacnut finally gets to be king, and of course Emma is back in power as well.  By all accounts, Harthacnut is a terrible king -  he has Harold Harefoot’s body dug up and thrown into a fen, he raises the taxes 400%, and has his forces burn the city of Worcester when the citizens protest the tax.

And then, he suddenly invites his half-brother Edward, to come back from Normandy and be a co-ruler.  Because monarchs are famous for sharing power like that.  But Edward believes him and comes to England.

(One thing that amazes me in all these machinations, is that even though half the people who are sent or summoned to another kingdom end up imprisoned or killed, people continue to blithely accept invitations.  I would be afraid to set foot outside my hovel.)

According to the Encomium, Harthacnut, Edward, and Emma are “sharers of rule,” comparable even to the Trinity in heaven.  Historians have a hard time believing that this was Harthacnut’s idea, and think that he may have been pressured into it by other strong leaders, maybe even Godwine.

This little experiment doesn’t go on long, because in summer of 1042, Harthacnut drops down while drinking at a wedding, and dies.  Let me quote from my favorite, Marc Norris, again:

A good Viking way to go, to be sure, but also one with more that a hint of suspicion about it, given his massive unpopularity, and the cup that had been in his hand.

It might seem that Harthacnut’s death would make the road ahead all rosy for Edward, but he still has Godwine to contend with.  Before Edward even dreamed of ruling, Godwine was building power and wealth for 25 years.  Edward knows he must have Godwine’s support to stay in power, and even marries his daughter Edith.

Does Edward know that Godwine arranged for Alfred’s death?

In 1051, after six years of marriage to Edith, with no heir on the horizon, (and according to Edith, no consummation of the marriage) Edward announces that he is making William of Normandy his heir.  Other power struggles come to a head at the same time, and Godwine raises up men against Edward, but on the threshold of civil war, it becomes obvious that Godwine will lose.

He asks the king what he will have to do to come to terms of peace, and Edward reportedly says, “Give me back my brother alive.”

Godwine and all his grown sons (including the Harold that will be in the Tapestry) flee and go into exile, and Edward banishes Edith to a nunnery.

So!  We are almost caught up to the time of the Tapestry.  If you want to see it for yourself, this is a panorama. And this is an English replica, that has good short explanations of what is going on each scene.

* Any mention of the Bayeux Tapestry is honor-bound to explain that it is not really a tapestry, in which the picture is created as the fabric is being woven, but an embroidery, in which the picture is sewn on top of an existing piece of cloth.  Since the word “tapestry” isn’t found in the English language until 1467, and the first mention we have of the Bayeux Tapestry is from 1476, I really can’t get too exercised over this.  Terms change.

** A chronicler of the time said that Cnut ordered her to be fetched as his wife, but Emma’s version was that he wooed her back from Normandy with presents.

*** He gets his nickname later, and no one really even knows why, but I’m using it here to distinguish him from the other Harold, Godwine’s son.





Textiles at the Briscoe Museum

As many times as I’ve been to San Antonio, you’d think I would have seen every attraction in the city.  But when I was there last week, I noticed the Briscoe Western Art Museum, just across the street from La Villita, the historic art village.  I thought I must have been so busy shopping at Village Weavers over the years, that I had missed a whole art museum!

I went in to check it out on Thursday morning, and was relieved to find out that it just opened in October of 2013, so it wasn’t a case of me being totally oblivious over the years.

It is a lovely museum, very open and light-fiilled.  I enjoyed looking at all the galleries and it looks like they have room to add many more exhibits.  What I liked best was the way they mixed the objects on display – a gallery might have a wagon or a windmill positioned in the middle of photographs, sculptures, and musical instruments, with a documentary video playing as well.  Everyday working objects were placed along side of fancy or historically important ones, and many cultures were represented.

Of course I focused mainly on the textiles.  I didn’t realize it until I looked at my photos, but most of the clothing exhibited was men’s clothing.  You don’t see that so often.

So here are some wonderful examples of men’s clothing from the 1800s.  (Taking photographs through cases never turns out very well, but I am always so happy when a museum allows photography.  You can study the piece at your leisure and you see so much more detail.)

Remember that if you do a mouse-over, the colors will look more intense.

Mexican officer's uniform

Mexican officer’s uniform

jacket detail

Detail of the heavy gold thread.

coat with gold braid

Mexican officer’s coat

war shirt

Blackfoot war shirt (back) from about 1880s – 1890s.

comanchero jacket

Comanchero jacket, circa the 1750s. (Comancheros were Hispanic traders who traded with the Comanche people.) Those flowers were dyed with natural dyes, and they have lasted for 260 years!

And here is something you see even less often – horse trappings.  I haven’t had any horse-related textiles on the blog before!  Another field to research.

embroidered saddle

This incredible piece is labelled “Silk-embroidered Spanish viceroy saddle”, from the 1600s. That is blue velvet in the center section!  I think it needs a whole new term made up to do it justice.

iron fringe

This fringe is made of iron. Can you imagine how it jingles?

flower detail

Such precise stitches!

rabbit detail

The cloth ground looks like a repp weave to me.  Or an unsheared velvet?


I love this courtly couple!  With the plumes in her hair, her fan, his walking stick, their fine stockings – they cut a fine figure.

And if you need any further reason to plan a trip to the Briscoe, it’s right on the gorgeous River Walk in San Antonio.  The River Walk (Paseo del Rio) is a pedestrian walkway that meanders along about five miles of the San Antonio River, in the heart of downtown San Antonio, but below street level, so you can mingle with all the other turistas without worrying about getting run over.

River Walk 1

River Walk 2

River Walk 3

I have been traveling so much this summer, I haven’t had much time to do much with textiles – I was happy to get to see some fantastic pieces at the Briscoe!







It’s 10 o’clock – Do You Know Where Your Ranger Is?

Let’s play a guessing game a la “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?”

people on plaza

We’re out on a plaza where people gather at all hours – some for the first time, and some for a regular check-in.


Maybe the T-shirts will provide a clue.


A limestone niche…

limestone facade

A familiar silhouette that is not historically correct…

names on monument

Names that are always remembered…

Even on a warm summer night, I feel a little shiver here.

Where do you think we are?


This is this week’s entry for the 1 Day 1 World Project, for the 10:00 – 11:00 pm hour.

Nature at Night


This is the ledge of the Devil’s Sinkhole, just before 9 pm.

Millions of Mexican free-tailed bats have a summer home in Texas.  They live in large colonies scattered across the state.   We went to watch them emerge at sunset from the Devil’s Sinkhole near Rocksprings.  The bats there are roosting in a huge underground cavern that is 350 feet deep.  They can’t fly straight up, so they fly in a spiral to exit the cave, flying just inches from you as you stand right on the ledge.  It takes about 20 minutes for them to exit the cave and fly out of sight, looking like a smoky tornado as they head south to feed on moths.

(My pictures are not great – my camera cannot handle “night scenery” and “fast motion” at the same time. I encourage you to look at the official Devil’s Sinkhole site link above to see better pictures and even videos.)


The bats emerging.



I Photoshopped this one so you could see the sinkhole better.

I love to see them, not only because I love nature in general, but because they represent a victory for environmentalists.  Bat watching is a popular summer activity now, but it wasn’t always that way.   As recently as the 1980s, the Austin American-Statesman newspaper ran headlines guaranteed to terrify its readers about the bats that were roosting under the Congress Avenue Bridge.  One man, Merlin Tuttle, moved to Austin with the goal of educating the public about the benefits of bats, and managed to change public opinion so much, that there is now a monument to the bat and a special viewing area in Austin.  Bat tourism brings in ten million dollars a year to the Austin economy!  Watching the bats emerge reminds me of this success and gives me hope for wildlife conservation.

This is my entry for the 1 Day 1 World Project for the 9:00 – 10:00 pm hour.  Check out the other entries for a virtual journey.




Textile Traditions on Independence Day

This past weekend, we went out to our favorite Hill Country town, Rocksprings, for the re-dedication ceremony for the newly restored 1891 county courthouse.  Edwards County has a strong history of sheep and angora goat ranching, and traces of it were evident in the celebration.

I would love to put captions on these pictures, but apparently WordPress has changed formats again, and I cannot figure it out.  I cannot even find a help button.  I can’t see a “preview” button either, so I can’t see if the post looks okay. 

So!  I will just have to give you information totally removed from its picture, and hope you can figure it out.

If you look at the arched doorway of the courthouse, you might notice two big lumps, one on each side.  These were bags of mohair and wool!  It is not every keynote speaker who shares the stage with bags of fibers.

When it came time for the ribbon cutting, some of the officials used “tijeras” or the old hand-held shears.  If you look at the picture of just two of the men, you can also see the baling hook on top of the wool bag.

In the audience I saw a woman in a beautiful crocheted dress.  It turned out that she was this year’s Old Settlers Queen, and the dress was made in 1934 (I’m pretty sure) for one of her ancestors, a great-aunt or great-grandmother.  I was hoping to get to talk to her about it, but she was busy being on her parade float so I didn’t get a chance.  The dress looked to be made of cotton, and it had lovely drape.  It looked so fresh and stylish; it was the perfect summer dress.

The rest of the day was fun too, as small town celebrations usually are.  And it will all be covered in the best small town newspaper ever – the Texas Mohair Weekly!


Waltz Across Texas

We love to go to the Sunday evening concerts at a local winery.  Out in the middle of a big field, a couple of hundred people bring in chairs, blankets, and picnics for an evening listening to a local band.  Everyone is laid back – babies are cooed over, kids strike up instant friendships and play kickball or turn cartwheels on the perimeter.

We enjoy our pinot grigio and prosciutto, sit back and listen, and toast the sunset.  And when it’s time to go, we don’t have to worry about lost cars or traffic jams!

(If you mouse over the pictures, the color and contrast get better.)

people at concert

This is not the best picture, but you can see how open and green the surroundings are.


The Lost & Nameless Orchestra


twin fiddles

“If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have fiddles in the band….”

This is the Lost and Nameless Orchestra from Austin, on June 22.   All the band members played several instruments – I think the lead singer played four or five.  And she writes her own songs.  And she just graduated from high school!


Waltzing on a Texas summer night. Or possibly two-stepping.

I was trying out my camera’s “night portrait” setting.  I also left the shutter open and swung the camera around to see what light effects I could get.

light effects

I did this on purpose! It wasn’t because I had just split a bottle of wine with my sister.


This is my 8:00 – 9:00 pm entry for the 1 Day 1 World Project. Lisa at Northwest Frame of Mind (the home of the 1 Day 1 World Project) is also showcasing concert photos for her entry this week – it’s fun to see the different takes on this typical summer event!

For Love of the Game

I never liked any kind of sports when I was a kid.  I understood that other people lived for them, but for myself, I never saw any value.  I tried to play because I felt obligated to join in with other kids, but I was terrible at all sports (big surprise there!), and I felt like they were a pointless use of time.  I have always wanted something to show for my time, like a picture, or a bowl of strawberries, or at least a clean surface.

I never saw the point of “Stand in this field, move around a certain way, get some magical ‘points’, and if you do it well, we’ll call on you to do it all again tomorrow.” I viewed recess the way other people view math. To this day, I would rather mow the lawn than stand around on it, dreading that some ball is going to come flying through the air and hit me on the head.

Over the years, I learned to value sports more.  Back when I was teaching, I would watch the kids play kickball at recess.  One year, I noticed that one of the boys (let’s call him Philip), went up to kick about every third kicker.  There were 12 or 15 on a team, but he was not waiting his turn in the kicking line-up.  I called the kids over and asked them why they let him get away with that, but they just shrugged – they found Philip charismatic and irresistible and let him get his way.  I realized that even I, the sports-phobe, had internalized “the rules of the game are sacred.”  One person doesn’t get to change the game.  Everyone needs to realize that there is something bigger and more important than they are, and a sport can be that something.

Which brings us to my great-nephew W, who lives for sports, especially baseball.

W is being raised by my sister (his grandmother), with babysitting help from my parents.  In this challenging situation, one thing that shines out is the way that these caregivers are working with W’s love of baseball to guide him as he grows up.

They play endless games of free-form baseball with him – one adult pitches, and W announces the batter, calls balls and strikes, hits the ball, runs all the bases, gives high-fives to the imaginary players in the dug-out, fields the ball,and becomes the next batter.   These games are more than just ways to work off physical energy – W gets to explore the game in many facets, at his own pace.  Since he is every player on both teams, errors are easier to accept (Batter A can’t make a home run unless Fielder B makes a mistake). He accepts his own strikes, or the pitcher’s bad pitches with equanimity.

His grown-ups also actively watch baseball on TV with him – they’re not just in the room with the TV on to babysit him.  They talk about grounders and force-outs and RBIs.  W knows the players on his favorite team, and can instantly adopt each one’s stance when he’s out playing.

And, in what I think is a brilliant idea, my sister is reading up on baseball history and biographies, and watching old baseball movies with her grandson.  She’s not trying to set baseball aside as a “treat”; she’s using it to build knowledge in other areas.  W can pick out Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and Jackie Robinson from old pictures, and he can keep them in chronological order in his mind.

When they were here for a visit last week, one night we watched A League of Their Own at my sister’s request.  At first W wasn’t too sure about watching a baseball movie with girls in it, but he was glued to it, and when it was over, he asked, “Can we watch it again tomorrow?”  When he told my mom about it, he said, “It was during the war, and one of the ladies was crying because she thought her husband was dead.”  At this point, he has no idea what war it was (or that there have been many wars), but as he gets older, this baseball tie-in will give him a point of reference for remembering topics in history.

So that brings me to my picture for this week’s 1 Day 1 World Project.  This week we’re doing the 7:00 – 8:00 pm hour, and in Texas, that is prime time for sports of all kinds.  I went to W’s baseball game and took a lot of action pictures.  This one is my absolute favorite.

baseball game

Somewhere in Texas, 7 – 8 pm.

Look at how all those little boys are orbiting around that ball, totally focused.  If I were a cinematographer, I would do that whole cliché – crack-of-the-bat puts everything into silent slow motion, then suddenly sound comes back and we zoom up to real speed again.

Anything that creates that much focus and teamwork is a thing of beauty.

I used a “fresco” filter for this picture – first of all, because I didn’t want the kids to be identifiable, and also, because that option gave the ball more contrast against the ball field.




Summer Done Right

Summer Done Right

As soon as school lets out for the summer, my sister and my great-nephew W come for a visit.  We do a little sight-seeing, a little swimming, some chores with the animals, and lots of snacking.

This year my husband decided W was old enough for a fishing lesson.  After about five minutes of fruitless casting, I was about to say, “Why don’t you cast for him and just let him reel it in?”  Just then W let the rod dip down into the water right by the dock, and a fish took the lure!

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We had several exciting minutes of reeling in the catch; then pride turned to doubt as W realized he had to get the fish off the hook somehow.  (My husband stepped up and took care of that tricky detail.)

And then of course, even though the fish were out there biting like crazy, no one else even got a nibble!

For the 1 Day 1 World Project, 6:00 – 7:00 pmI didn’t do anything new for this post, but my nephew did!

From the Top!

Back when we were replacing our ceiling, new renovation-related lyrics for “My Favorite Things” popped into my head.  Today WordPress posted a lyric writing challenge, even using that song as the example, so here’s my response.

Nail guns and glue guns
And cordless screwdrivers
Paint chips and tin snips
I build like MacGyver
Lock nuts and hex nuts and nuts that have wings –
These are a few of my favorite things.

Wood clamps and work lamps,
Adjustable wrenches,
Two-by’s and zip ties
And sturdy work benches.
Paint that will cover with no need to prime –
These are the things that I use all the time.

When the floor sags,
When the pipe breaks,
When the deck looks bad,
I simply run out to my local box store,
And buy lots of bead board and sliding glass doors,
And then I don’t feel
So sad.

Contractor trash bags
And needle-nosed pliers,
Boraxo and shop rags,
And electrical wires,
Lasers, stud-finders and all of that stuff –
These are the things that I can’t get enough!

When the roof leaks,
When the paint peels,
When termites eat the wood,
I go back again to my local box store
And buy lots of plywood and tiles for the floor –
And then I’ll need faucets and boxes of nails,
And look! All the granite has just gone on sale!
And even the store clerk can’t believe the amount
As little by little I drain my account –
And then my house looks
So good!


Trio of Friendly Seas Quilts

A trio of quilts, inspired by a trio of blogs!

quilts for kids

kids' quilts

These quilts were built around the turquoise fabric, “Friendly Seas,” designed by Cynthia Frenette for Robert Kaufmann.

The two on the sides were inspired by a photo on Treadlemusic, and the one in the center was my idea – when fabrics are so cute I love to use big chunks of them to show off all the detail.  I was trying to capture the feeling of going to Sea World or an aquarium and watching the sea creatures through the glass.  I thought that such big pieces would go together quickly, but this quilt took much longer to piece than the other two.  Maybe it was the borders I put around the blocks.

baby quilt

The smallest of the three.

child's quilt

Same design, more squares, wider spaces between quilting lines.

middle-sized quilt

I just couldn’t bear to cut all of this cute fabric into little pieces.

I originally wanted to quilt these with rectangular outlines, but my practice piece didn’t look anything like I had imagined.  So the quilts sat there for a while, until I saw the wave quilting on the Snarky Quilter.  Since the fabric was full of sea creatures, waves seemed the obvious choice for quilting lines.  I played around with variations – on two of the quilts the lines are less than an inch apart, and on one they’re more like an inch and a half apart.

panel detail

patchwork detail

The largest of these quilts has a faux piping binding that I learned about on Color Me Quilty.  This binding technique is very popular in my quilt group, and people who are more precise than I am get great results.  I have trouble getting everything consistent, but I still love the spark of contrasting color from the faux piping.  (I am experimenting with other ways to get the same basic effect, and if I get a good method, I will let you know.)

So! these three blogs led to these three quilts, and I think they will spark many more.

I used size 40/3 Mettler cotton thread and an 80/12 topstitch needle.  In the past I have had trouble with Mettler breaking, but that was in free motion quilting and I was changing direction a lot.  On these quilts the thread held up fine – it may be because I only stitched in one direction. I used a walking foot, started at one side of the quilt, and stitched all the way across to the other side with just gentle curves.  I used either the Mettler or Coats and Clark in the bobbin and both worked well.

These are all intended as donations to some local charities, which is one reason I am striving for a consistent routine.  Lots of people need quilts – if I’m agonizing over every design choice, I’m not making good use of my volunteer time.

I myself love quilts like this one below, very scrappy and unplanned:

child's quilt

I realize that some people find this a little too cheerful.

but when quilts are going out in the world for other people, I try to tone down my exuberance a little.

I have just a little of the Friendly Sea fabric left – it may appear here again in the future.