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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
I 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.