A Year with Stitches

About time I updated the blog, I think! I am not making a New Year resolution to get back to more frequent blogging: I know what happens to resolutions and good intentions. But I am hopeful.

 
Whitework Band in progress

Embroidery. Looking back at the last 12 months, I think I can safely say that I have done more stitchery in 2011 than in any year since the early 1990s. I’ve never totally given up on embroidery, but there have been years when I’ve done hardly any. This was one of the most productive ones.

I also seem to have developed more patience and more willingness to stick at a piece of stitchery than I’ve ever had before, making me happier to take on more labour intensive embroideries. I no longer feel the urge to rush projects and spoil them, and I am less inclined to give up half way through – most of the embroidery projects I’ve started in 2011 have been finished, not left half-done. I even took up several pieces that had been left part-finished a decade or more ago and completed them. (There are more old unfinished projects still waiting for my attention, but I’ve made a good start on the pile.)

So what has sparked this revival of interest in embroidery? The main influence has been one of the things that previously got in the way of my stitching and craftwork: the Internet. I like to study old needlework, and more and more old patterns and embroidery textbooks being made available online. The amount of museum reference material online, with good, clear images, is also growing.  It’s rather wonderful to be able to study samplers in the V&A without the train fare to London, or look at early pattern books that I have read of but never seen for myself.

Openwork sampler, finished

A sampler of cut drawn and openwork embroidery, trying out stitches and techniques from books from the Antique Pattern Library

Heading the list of last year’s favourite discoveries is the excellent Antique Pattern Library – an ever-increasing collection of old books, charts and magazines, free for downloading for non-commercial purposes. (Not just embroidery – it’s a treasure trove for knitters, crocheters, tatting enthusiasts and more.) I’ve downloaded several books, mostly late Victorian and Edwardian, and they’ve proved very useful for both information and inspiration. It’s a wonderful resource which deserves to be much more widely known.

Eyelet band bookmark, detail

A bookmark for my mother. Made with a lovely variegated pearl cotton from Stef Francis, worked on 28 count Jobelan fabric.

And then there are the specialist suppliers for embroidery materials. Although I always try to source purchases locally and support shops in this area, it’s not always possible to find what I am looking for if it is something a little out of the ordinary – as it usually is. So then I am happy to support the small specialist companies who do business online. (The larger online concerns are very much my supplier of last resort.) It’s probably a good thing that I am short of money, because I can browse specialist thread suppliers websites for hours, getting more and more inspired in the process!  

I want to show you this piece, which I’ve been working on gradually for the last four or five months. (I was determined to finish it in 2011, and I did – just.) I am rather proud of it! It’s the finest fabric I have ever tried to use for counted cutwork, about 45 threads to the inch, although it is not exactly evenweave. These primrose-yellow linen placemats, already hemmed and with a narrow drawn-thread border, were on the antique stall in the local market at 50p each. I don’t know how old they are – even the hem is hand-stitched, so they were probably made for the love of it rather than for commercial purposes.
Yellow Mat
I decided to add some further decoration, continuing my exploration of counted cutwork. The stitches used are those used in modern Hardanger: satin-stitch kloster blocks, woven bars and dove’s-eye filling in the mesh areas, with Maltese cross filling in the large cut spaces and rows of single faggot stitch making the diamond shapes between the motifs.

A small, poor-quality photo of Swedish cutwork embroidery from around 1840.

The design inspiration was less from modern Hardanger embroidery than from Swedish and Danish white work from the 1840s. 

Here’s a clearer view of the stitchery:

Yellow mat 1 detail
I had to buy a new pair of embroidery scissors, as my old pair were not slim and sharp enough to cut these tiny holes. I used a single strand of stranded cotton for the embroidery. I also had to wear two pairs of spectacles at once in order to see the threads!
Yellow mat 2 part 1I am now starting a second mat. On the right of the photo is the mat in its original state, with the drawn threadwork border. I have just started working antique hemstitch around the inner edge of the border to neaten the raw edge. I will do the same on the outer edge. I’ve also marked out the area to be stitched. I still have to plan and chart the design for this one. I want to use different motifs (I think I shall have hearts on this one – another popular motif from the old Swedish whitework), but I will use the same stitches and the same Maltese cross motifs to be in keeping with the first mat. Maybe in another month or so I shall be able to show you the first completed section.

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7 Responses to “A Year with Stitches”

  1. its loveley work – I never have the patience for cutwork, I’m too scared f it fraying

    • suetortoise Says:

      Patience comes with time. Only work when you’re relaxed, happy and alert if you’re doing a difficult bit. Confidence also comes with time: once you’ve made a few mistakes and put them right, cutwork it isn’t nearly so daunting. And unless you are using a slippery or too-losely woven fabric, you’ll find the satin stitches or buttonhole stitches are perfectly capable of holding the ends safely, especially once the work has been washed and pressed. So if you get the urge, do have a go – if only as an experiment. It’s surprisingly addictive!

      • i sew because I have no patience, and believe me I don’t lack in confidence. am just never really drwan to anything charted or counted

      • suetortoise Says:

        Wow! – I’ve just been looking at the wonderful medieval silk work you are doing, as well as applied work and costumes that you show on your own blog. Wonderful stuff! I feel totally outclassed. I am never very happy doing stitchery that is not counted, although I don’t always chart out everything in careful detail beforehand – that takes away too much of the fun. But I panic if I don’t have the weave of the fabric to cling to. I wish I could do what you do!

  2. the silkwork suits my temperament better, I’m too much of a scatterbrain to count or follow charts, silkwork doesn’t need so much concentration

  3. WOW! your work is magnificent. You have “Manos Maravillosas”, golden hands. And I love all your entries, it is so nice to be able to visit other countries and share their customs. Thank you. I will visit often, from the USA

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