A Grab Bag

Florentine stitch sample

So now it’s March, spring is starting to happen in Shrewsbury, and it’s about time I caught up with the blog. This picture is a slight cheat as it’s not a new piece of embroidery, it’s a sample that I made thirty or more years ago, probably in the late 1970s. I found it in a pile of old papers and samples and charts last week. The fabric is a fine mono canvas (about 17 threads to the inch, 7 threads to the cm). Petit point canvas . I think it came from The Needlewoman Shop in Regent Street, London – I worked there for a little while in the early Seventies, and left about a year before it closed for good. The thread is just undivided stranded cotton – some from a big bag of old Anchor threads that I had picked up a boot sale in the village where I was living, and some from a box of Peri Lusta: a mail-order ‘bargain’, bought sight-unseen from an advertiser in the back of an embroidery magazine. The basic stitch is over four threads of canvas, just straight stitches, the steps always rising and falling by two threads. There’s the occasional half-stitch over just two threads where necessary.

I made this little piece to try out a couple of border patterns designed to go with the simple Florentine all-over pattern in the central section. I had a project in mind that would use these three linked patterns. It was to be a tote bag, with the front and back in the main pattern, but with the lower band used as a border on the top and bottom of each side. The upper pattern was for the side gussets. I was going to do the handles in the lower pattern, too, but then I realised that handles made of webbing would be far more durable than canvaswork, and white webbing over piping cord could also run along the open part and along the seams, protecting the embroidery at the points of most wear.

Needless to say, that particular bag never got any further than this sample and some thinking. Most of the thread which I had set aside for it was eventually used on other projects. So all that is left is the sample. If any of you want to take the patterns and use them for a bag, or in some other way, or just take the idea of doing something similar, please do. It will mean I have not stitched the sample in vain.

The Florentine patterns on the sample are very simple ones. There are many more interesting patterns around, and new ones waiting to be discovered. Florentine, which is also known as Bargello, Hungarian Point and Flame Stitch, is very easy once the first few rows are in place to set the pattern. It uses quite a lot of thread, as the ground fabric has to be completely covered. It’s generally worked on mono canvas, often with crewel wool, or Persian wool, but it can also be worked on any fabric with a suitably open weave. (For soft fabrics, it’s better worked in a frame.) Needle-books and glasses cases, worked in silk, rayon or cotton on fine evenweave; bold wallhangings and cushions in rug-yarn on coarse canvas, and everything in between. The Georgians covered whole armchairs in it – often with very intricate patterns. They must have had rather more patience than I have, and far more time!

* * *

Having reached Georgian times by way of the late Seventies, let’s get back up to date. What else have I been up to in February 2012? Embroidery-wise, not much, as you may have gathered. There was Shrewsbury’s annual Darwin Festival, with some good science talks (I got to five talks this year). Interesting audience discussions after the talks, too. (Shame about the lack of response from my blog-readers on my own attempt at a discussion topic. It’s not too late, folks, if you want to have a say.) There have been some more meetings down at the local museum, talking about the things the volunteers can do next, when we’ve got to the end of the huge cataloguing project. I’m hoping to get involved in some of the writing and research needed for the displays in the new museum.

My part-time job continues, three days a week. I am still enjoying it, but we have been so quiet in the office lately, I wonder how much longer it will continue. For at least few more weeks, I hope. Back home, I’ve been making fractal pictures again – still finding new images after more than four years playing with Apophysis. I’ve been trying to get back in practice with the guitar, after too many months virtually ignoring it. (My latest musical doodle has been Flanders and Swann’s The Sloth. Great fun!) And I’m busy trying to get the Tortoise Loft looking tidy and presentable again: an endless task for someone who does so many different crafts and ‘bitty’ things and who keeps so much junk in the hope it might come in handy one day; and when there are so many much more interesting things to do than housework. Even writing blog updates, if I’ve no other good excuse handy!


10 Responses to “A Grab Bag”

  1. This is beautiful! I have a book with bargello stitches in it. I must try it soon 🙂 Hopefully mine will turn out as good as yours.

    • suetortoise Says:

      So long as you count the threads accurately, make sure that the yarn is right for the stitch size (a little thicker than you would use for tent stitch on the same fabric) and are careful with your tension, so that the work stays smooth, there’s really not much to go wrong. Have fun experimenting!

  2. Graham Higgins Says:

    The technical – or maybe more appropriately ‘techniquey’ – aspects of your assorted threadwork escape me, and you’ve already commented on those like me who simply find the sustained precision concentration rather marvellous, but I’m routinely impressed in my uninformed fashion.
    It’s quite rewarding isn’t it, to unearth pieces you’d forgotten when they remind you that even back-when you were quite good at it? You feel like you’re congratulating a younger relative, in a way that you never felt quite able to when you were them.
    Re. neglecting musical instruments – and repertoire – I often find that on return I feel slow on the uptake but the fallow period or time spent on another instrument brings a new slant on old habits.

  3. suetortoise Says:

    Yes, it’s heartening to find old things and say ‘Hey, I was quite good back then!’ So long as it isn’t followed by ‘What a shame that I can’t still do that.’ In the next post (which will be another embroidery-geek one, I am afraid, Graham) I shall be looking at a stitch I totally failed to do neatly, despite a lot of trying and a lot of frustration. I would like to go back to myself and say ‘Don’t worry about that stitch. It won’t work properly because the instructions are wrong. In another 30-odd years, you’ll find better ones.’ Except that the struggling and the research taught me a great many other things, even if I never mastered the stitch I started with.

  4. Bargello is one of my loves….I love the way the pattern is reflected between the panels – very clever! I have never seen that before!! And I’ve seen an awful lot of bargello!
    I’ll send this link off to Althea, who writes a Bargello blog – http://bargelloneedlepoint.com/ – hope that’s ok. It’s an excellent piece! 🙂
    Do you plan to finish it into something?
    Of course, you were taught by Barbara S. No wonder you do good Bargello! Was panel design was one of hers? I’m really interested to know.
    My most beloved piece is a 4 way that I did at school when I was 16. At the moment I’m doing a tent stitch piece atm (Heart of the Thistle) which I love because it reminds me a little of bargello, in the way the colours at the edge of each “layer:” blend into the next. I’m using Renaissance Wools – just wonderful colours. (Check out my blog if you’re interested – there are no posts on bargello work, because I haven’t done one while I’ve been blogging, but there are photos)
    This is before I plunge into the Thistle Thread Casket course…:-)

    • suetortoise Says:

      The only piece of Florentine we did in Miss Snook’s class was one serviette ring. (I have no idea what happened to mine – lunch for moths, probably!) I think her book came out while I was at school, but I didn’t have a copy. I can’t work with real wool, or I’d probably do more of it. I have made a set of 4-way cushions in acrylic yarn for a friend, and did a few bookmarks in cotton on linen. (The bookmark designs gradually changed row by row, so that they went from one pattern to another – I had fun working those out.) This one began life as an exploration in felt pen on graph paper, and went on from there. This little piece won’t become anything now. It is safely back in my sample file, where it will remain. But feel free to take the pattern or the idea and run with it.

      • It’s your own design?! That is totally wonderful! You are very talented!
        What a pity you can handle wool.
        I will definitely make a note of the pattern…..thankyou!

      • suetortoise Says:

        There’s nothing original about the design sections – it would be hard to come up with anything new of this type. As for not working with wool, personally I think that’s a very good thing – it means that there are still a few craft materials that I don’t waste my money on!

      • Yeah…but the way you put them together….. 🙂

  5. Oh. I’m logged in via Facebook. My blog is at http://elmsleyrose.blogspot.com.au/ if you’re interested. I’m a 16th/17thC silk/goldwork and raised/stumpwork embroiderer, with the other odd project thrown in.

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