Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cavandoli - What is it? - And who was Tina Cavandoli?

I encountered the term 'Cavandoli' when my work was described as Cavandoli work without truly understanding at first what it described. I later found just a few mentions of Cavandoli describing the knotting technique and attributing its name to a teacher in Italy. So a year or so ago, out of frustration after finding very little little information when I was researching to get ready for a lecture on Cavandoli Knotting at Bead Designer International in the Boston area, I asked one of my sister who lives in Ticino, next to Northern Italy to help me. After searching online, she mentioned right away Elisa Ricci, whom I was already familiar with and a book by Gisella Tamagno Gazzola, called 'Bricco E Cavandoli due favole in punta d'ago/ Bricco and Cavandoli: two fairy tales on a needle'. Amazingly this book was published bilingually, in Italian and English, making it much more accessible as my Italian is not fluent, and within this book I found the answers to my many questions: who was Valentina Cavandoli? In which century did she live? And why was this technique named after her?

Cavandoli is a knotting techniques in which double half hitches are used in a continuous fashion without any loose thread in between the knots. Each double half hitch is done by one thread over another by making two half hitches in sequence. This process creates an incredibly tightly woven like fabric with a 'warp and weft'. By using different colors for the warp and weft, patterns can be achieved by switching the knotting cord with anchor cord and conversely, warp becoming weft and conversely. Cavandoli evolved from Macrame, the ancient Arab technique usually done with openwork (loose thread) for fringes, shawls or table cloth. The term macrame is derived from Arabic for coverlet or Turkish for towel. Elisa Ricci, an eminent Italian historian on lace, is credited for giving the name of 'Cavandoli' to this technique. So let's explore how this come about.

Example of 16th Century Macrame from Old Italian Lace by Elisa Ricci, 1913

I learned from Gisella's book that Valentina Cavandoli was born in 1872 in Reggio Emilia. She became a teacher and with her natural talent, later a headmistress. She took a course in the Montessori method and started a very unique experiment when in 1915 she became in charge of a school for children in need of assistance. Most of them came from families affected by the war or tuberculosis. Tina managed the school 'Casa del Sol' with an attentive and loving attitude and no problems arose. One of the methods she used to obtain such great results was allocating a slip of paper, a token, every evening to each child who had been well behaved. When 10 tokens were obtained, the child received a prize. But when the child was not behaving, he or she had to hand over collected tokens. She also instilled feelings of solidarity and justice by having children who received outside sources of foods or money from relatives and friends share with their friends who did not have any relatives outside the school. The recreational activities within the school included manual tasks. Tina taught the children a technique she had learned from her grandmother Virginia Lamberti who was an expert on macramé, especially the creation of colorful pieces of textile which became known as 'Cavandoli'.

'Casa del Sol' was truly a unique school. Both boys and girls knotted these pieces of textile that demanded time, attention, precision and discipline. They would have to apply basic math to copy patterns. The objects they created were sold in markets organized by the school and the money collected was placed in savings for each child. The amount each child would collect would vary, but it would provide them with some money when they left the school. The school had to close in 1936, as the Jewish community who had been its main supporter was facing their own many serious problems. Tina Cavandoli stopped teaching then and moved with one of her student's family. She died in 1969 after receiving the Italian gold medal 'on behalf of Public Teaching'.

Gisella Tamagno Gazzola's book shows the type of work the children did in Casa del Sol. It is very similar to work I have seen in books such as The Encyclopedia of Knots and Fancy Rope Work by Raoul Graumont and John Hensel, 1939 or the DMC Library Book Macrame, 1971.

A section of Gisella's book is dedicated to the actual technique with a well illustrated sequence showing how to knot the two-color version of Cavandoli Knotting.

Grazie Mille, Gisella, for filling in this part of the puzzle with your research of Tina Cavandoli's life.

Note: The artists I know, including myself, who have pursued this slow and intricate creation of Cavandoli knotted work, have often pioneered methods and personal approach to this art form surpassing the limitation of working with two colors and the two dimensional fabric this method tends to create.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Crown Knotting, an Alternate Method for Knotting between Beads

Crown knotting or the crown knot sennit is an elegant solution for stringing larger hole beads and keeping them from touching each other. The crown knots have many advantages over traditional bead stringing techniques. The knots are completely symmetrical. They are easier to keep snug against the beads and are well suited for stringing beads with large holes or uneven holes as the ratio between the cord going through the beads and the actual size of the knot is much larger than with overhand knots or other techniques

This workshop premiered at BABE in November 2009 in Oakland, CA. For those not familiar with BABE, it is a bead show in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Bay Area Bead Extravaganza, offering workshops and classes. It will teach how to tie a 4-strand crown knots with the use of a kumihimo disk, a method that makes this process much easier to learn and master. The class project will integrate the clasp with a button and loop seamlessly with no loose thread or thread ends remaining.

I really enjoy coming up with new methods making knotting techniques easier to teach and to learn. It must be the teacher and technician in me. Sometimes everything clicks just the right way. In this instance the addition of a tool makes the task easier. So it will be a pleasure to share this new way to tie this ancient knot and of course the many subtleties creating a closure out of the beginning and endings.

More > or > Crown Knot Workshop

September 2011: It's this time of the year again. This will be my third time around teaching Crown Knotting at BABE. This time I will have two assistants - what a luxury! Plan on coming for the workshop on Friday, going to the show Saturday or Sunday or taking more workshops offered by many other talented artists from all over the country. Hope to see you there! ~ Marion

Crown Knotting

Update November, 2016

This class is now available as a kit. I spent time creating a new manual that cover everything that was taught in the class plus more with lots of pictures, and illustrations. The manual has over 40 pictures and diagrams. –> Crown Knotting & Fiber Endings Bracelet Kit

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New Book on Micro Macrame by Annika deGroot

One of the wonder the internet is the open flow of communication. I found out about this book through questions received by email from customers about the Tuff Bead Cord especially the Size 3. I ordered the book, and found to my surprise my online store listed in the resource page.

"Micro-Macramé 30 Beaded Designs for Jewelry Using Crystals and Cords' is a paperback book, written by Annika deGroot, published by St. Martin Griffin. The 144 pages are 10.8 by 8.5 inches. It is in full color throughout.

The book has 30 projects to choose from, a page on beads, a section of cords, tools and a creative way to make a padded knotting board. Many Europeans, for example, prefer working with hard pillows similar to the ones used for bobbin lace rather than traditional macrame boards. I use an easel as I prefer to work vertically to save myself from back and neck pain. Annika de Groot also has a section on setting a cabochon by gluing it to a piece of ultrasuede and stitching beads around it. The photos used in the knot section are clear, most of the basic knots are shown with some naming variation such as calling the standard square knot a flat knot. A flat knot as far as I know is a square knot without its central cords or inner cords. Terminology is not very consistent in the world of knots, as different traditions mingle. In addition it has a tip section, a resource page and an index. Several of the resources listed are wholesale only.

The 30 beaded designs include good projects for beginners at micro macrame in the macrame lace tradition, with lots of loose thread between the knots filled with seed beads and crystal bead such as Swarovski. The list of materials for each project names the actual colors and brand names of the cord. Many ask for Tuff Bead Cord in size 3 and 5. Two ask for C-Lon Bead Cord, 4 Conso and 2 Stringth, a sub-name of the Tuff Bead Cord packaged by Rio Grande. Colors and brand name of course can be easily changed as all Nylon #18 and C-lon Bead Cord can be used for any of the projects other than those requiring Tuff Bead Cord Size 3, a different thread diameter.

Many of the designs in Annika's book have a vintage feel reminiscent of the Victorian era, similar in style to Marie Le Sueur's book. Both books are focused on macrame lace, Marie Le Sueur's is in French, a big disadvantage for anyone not well versed in 'la belle langue'. See April 2008 post on Marie's book. The advantage of macrame lace, with its many beads is the speed at which many of the designs can be done, but of course speed is a relative notion. For beginners, knots can be challenging, but of course one must start somewhere. Whereas for professionals like myself or 'power knotters' a term coined I believe by Kris Buchanan, knots seem just like keys on a piano to a concert pianist.

Most projects seem self-evident by just looking at the step by step pictures, at least for me, but please understand that I have not actually done any of the projects nor carefully read any of the instructions.

Visit Annika's website and see if this is a style of micro macrame you want to explore. She has a free download of one of the design in the book, a great feature before buying the book. Then if so inclined, you can buy it right on her site.

Annika's website:

A Jaunt in the Crochet World

Julie's Class Project
Bead Crochet with D&E Nylon #18 Taupe, Various Beads and Tassels

After starting the online supply store with thread for my students, I got a lot of questions regarding bead crochet for which I didn't have any ready answer. I got a few books, played around with a few concepts such as crochet beaded ropes, but never finished a piece as most required a lot stringing ahead of time and when I experiment I often just try a few inches. So when one of my friend, Julie Goodenough, who teaches crochet came to pick up some spools of D&E for her class, I signed up.

Julie's project consisted of stringing beads one strand at a time, single bead crochet, joining the strands in a single bead crochet cording and ending the thread with a few beads. She shepherded us, her students, effortlessly through the project, spending extra time with the ones just learning to crochet for the first time. Her instructions were nice and clear. Most of us finished the neckpiece, sometimes with the help of a another student. I had extra time, so I added tassels for individualization.

Later in my studio, I decided to continue with the individualization of the process I had learned in Julie's class. I added other techniques I am more familiar with such as cordmaking and knotting, and made several pieces with turquoise chunks I had in my drawers. I found that I preferred C-Lon Bead Cord for this process over the softer D&E. The heavier bond of the C-Lon adds a bit of body to the single chain crochet, so you see, brand preference is individual. Julie said she will give C-Lon another try. My final decision is always all about color.

'Turquoise Crochet Neckpiece I'
Turquoise Nuggets, Turquoise Donut and Jade Toggle and Loops, C-Lon Bead Cord Bronze & Olive. Techniques used: Single Bead Crochet, Cordmaking, Knotting.
Neckpiece can be worn short, without the extender, or at adjustable length.

The "Turquoise Crochet Neckpiece III' (shown above on the right) has the same description as the piece above with Black Onyx instead of Jade and C-Lon Bead Cord Experimental Color #12, a possible future color, we will see... I sold the 'Turquoise Crochet Neckpiece II' at my last show before it was photographed, but 'Turquoise Crochet Neckpiece IV' is being work on as we speak.

If you are around the San Francisco Bay Area, take a class with Julie and visit her at one of her shows to see some of her beautiful pieces. Her classes are worthwhile and fun. Her jewelry pieces have very unusual combination of beads creating exotic and fresh compositions. In addition she also make purses, scarves and hats. Her motto is after all: 'Only the best is Goodenough...' So visit her website:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Local Isn't Just about Vegetables

Shopping local isn't just for fruit and vegetables. Buying from local artists and artisans has many benefits for our communities and should be considered similarly as buying produce at our local farmers markets. And local isn't just about geography anymore. The web has also made it possible to connect with larger geographical communities tied by common special interests.

This year I have renewed my commitment to continue working locally and on the web. I have limited my 'brick and mortar' activities to shows within the San Francisco Greater Bay Area. I may also give up on hotels or at least parking in their lots for a while... my car was the only car stolen in 25 years out of a Hilton parking lot while I was doing a show...

The added benefit by keeping shows more local, is a smaller carbon footprint. Other practices to be greener include: the reuse of packing materials, 100% recycled and post consumer paper for printing and ordering either locally in person or by mail whenever possible. This practice keeps me more productive in my studio.

Let me know about new practices you have started to keep your activities local and greener... Till later, Marion

Commission Work

Special order or commission work can be as simple as making a pair of earring with brown thread instead of black thread. The price is already set, the piece is prepaid, made and sent within 2 weeks or so.

Occasionally, I get a component sent to me. Often it is a challenge as it may not be a material that I may have chosen to work with. Other times it greatly benefits my work to step outside my normal design comfort zone.

A back and forth goes on either by email or phone or both to decide the direction the final design and the price for the work. Then the commission is paid, the execution take place and the piece is either picked up or sent by mail.

Then as an artist, I await the final word from the customer who ordered the piece as all now depends on whether the final piece met their desires and expectations.

The art glass donut component with silver foil was sent to me. I chose some thread colors to go with the piece, C-Lon Bead Cord Chestnut, D&E Nylon #18 Light Grey and Vintage Mastex Bluebird as seen in the picture posted above. Ultimately the design got several components added to it: a 50mm Duomortite Donut, some Miyuki 6/0 seed beads and a sterling silver clasp. Additionally the braid got several color added for better color balance, C-Lon Bead Cord Navy, D&E Nylon #18 Navy and an especially faded dyelot of Vintage Mastex Navy. The techniques used included knotting and hand braiding.

The pictures taken were for record only, not intended for publishing....

Thursday, January 8, 2009

TCO - True Cost or True Value?

America loves acronyms especially 3 letters ones, so I was not surprised when I was introduced to TCO - Total Cost of Ownership. Total Cost of Ownership or should it be True Cost of Ownership? I had heard of it and was reminded of it just before Christmas when discussing badly manufactured items. Often these items break right away and can't be fixed, creating hassles, loss of time, waste and pollution, plus adding the cost of having to replace them...

Contrast these items with objects made by local artisans. For example a pair of earrings designed and handmade by me. They transcend fads and current fashion so they will last. They are great conversation pieces as they are unique. They are recognizable. If you buy them and the post breaks, for example, I will fix them as I guarantee them. Or if you lose one earring, I will make a matching earring at half the price of a pair if the materials are available. Essentially you get some value for your purchase and service if needed after your purchase. I find this to be true from most of the items purchased from fellow artists.

A Neckpiece's Journey

Last summer I sold this one of a kind neckpiece at a small show in my hometown of Redwood City, CA. (Shown here with rings and spools of C-Lon Bead Cord and Thread SizeD). The newly constructed town square in front of the Old Courthouse had just won a prestigious prize as best new public place in the U.S. A live band was playing on the square. Lots of people were enjoying a late afternoon and early evening listening to music, having their dinner al fresco with a glass of wine or beer and looking at art by local artists, myself among them. The woman who bought the neckpiece seemed very enthusiastic and happy, left my booth wearing her new purchase around her neck.

Many month later I received a call from a woman who had bought a piece of jewelry. She was not wearing it and wanted to return it, but she did not want a refund nor an exchange. She just wanted to donate it back to me as she deemed the piece too beautiful to be donated to Goodwill. She indicated that she was among a group of the population who did not have any problem paying insurance co-payments, so she felt perfectly comfortable donating things she did not wear. I thought we were talking about a small bracelet and told that I would donate it as a door prize at my next show in her spirit. She replied that it was not a good idea and kept insisting that I should keep it or resell it as she had never worn it. We arranged for her to drop it at my studio. Imagine my surprise when I saw the neckpiece back. I was deeply touched and humbled by her thoughtfulness.

On the winter solstice my yoga group got together for an extra long yoga session with a extended meditation and a solstice celebration with a lunch. Several women in the group had asked me to bring some jewelry as they were looking for gifts. I brought many pieces from my collection on trays, no display... And one of the woman in the group immediately got attracted to the neckpiece that had just been returned to me and decided to purchase it. It looks beautiful on her, as if designed just for her. It just needed to be shortened a bit.

Whenever I think of this neckpiece's journey, I smile and wonder...