Monday, August 17, 2015

My Bedside Table, Summer 2015, Part I

My reading has been all over the place lately.  I've read How Dogs Love Us, written by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns, MD PhD, about his efforts to train dogs to lie still -- while awake  --within a functional MRI machine.  The goal: to map regions of the canine brain to scientifically determine if dogs have theory of mind and can, indeed, be considered sentient beings.  It sounds science-y but it's very readable and will especially appeal to anyone who's a dog lover like me.

I took an on-line introduction to corporate finance class this summer. I wanted to understand better what my husband and two college-aged children were talking about.  I've never been particularly interested in economics, but the professor was good and I'm proactively trying to do a bit more to understand economics.  (I have to admit that it also feels really good to learn something new that I didn't think I could.) On the recommendation of a friend, I've been reading Richard Thaler's book Misbehaving about behavioral economics.  (In a nutshell, people don't always make rational buying decisions and hence, misbehave / don't "follow the rules" of economics, throwing predictions out of whack.)  It's only in very recent history that the impact of flawed human decision-making has been considered during policy-making sessions.  This is a meaty but very interesting book.   I have to say I'm enjoying it, probably because a fair portion of it is devoted to Thaler's personal experiences and thoughts as the field developed, as opposed to graphs and charts.

Lest you run away from this post, let me share that I've also read Tracy Chevalier's book, The Last Unicorn.  This book is a fictional account of the creation of the Unicorn tapestries from the Middle Ages.  I had hoped to see them when I was in Paris but they were out on loan.  (Bummer!)

This is what the Unicorn tapestries look like at the Musee Cluny.
I didn't get to see them; this is someone's picture
from the internet.... but you can tell they're gorgeous.

Chevalier's book is most historically accurate in the technical account of how these gorgeous tapestries were made in Brussels. Though the rest of the book is beach read-y with love interests and the like, I still learned about the tapestry industry from that time period.  For example, I didn't know that Europeans used woad to make blue dye for textiles and yarns and, I've since discovered, it's the source of the blue face paint the Scots used (think Braveheart).  Woad is a flowering leafy plant and the dye is extracted from the bushy leaves.  The same compounds that create indigo are also present in woad, but in lesser concentrations.

Woad plant; image from

Woad powdered dye; image from

I also learned about hachures.  These are short parallel lines used to shade hills on maps and to create shading in weaving.  (Quite frankly, I didn't even know there was a word to describe the lines.) From what I understand, creating effective hachures in weavings is quite a skill and until this book, it wasn't a process I had given much thought to.  It is, however, an element that gives depth to the imagery and makes it so much richer.  You can see how it's used on the red clothing in the picture below.

Detail of tapestry in Musee Cluny. Paris Personal photo
I also hadn't thought much about how negative space in tapestries were filled with millefleurs, fields of plants and animals to supplement the primary scene.  The goal was to fill the tapestry with images, not to leave large swatches of "blank" color.

Detail of unidentified tapestry filled with millefleurs, Musee Cluny, Paris.
Personal photo

Yes, I've been learning and learning a lot this summer, and I still have more to share.  In Part II of this post, I'm going to tell you about Kathleen Loomis's book, Pattern-free Quilts.  I've read it and I can say that it is very, very good.  I absolutely love how she makes the analogy of pattern-free quilting to cooking.  It's perfect; everyone knows how to tweak what they eat to their personal taste, and creative quilting is no different.  Stay tuned....

1 comment:

my croft said...

The colors in the unicorn tapestries at the cloisters are all derived from the eternal triad woad (blue), weld (yellow), and madder (red). I expect this is true of the Cluny work as well.