Experiments inspired by (yet another) old book

Firstly, a big hello to some new readers, who have found Tortoise Loft thanks to the amazing Mary Corbet of Needle’N’Thread blog. You are very welcome. Please feel free to join in the comments.

Blue openwork chart

The Internet Archive has been busy putting illustrations from its collection of books onto Flickr, where the picture quality often better than on the book version on its own site. (This is great news if you’ve been straining your eyes trying to resolve unclear illustrations – although the original print quality is often poor, so there’s always a limit to what can be seen.) That was how I came across a book called Broderies des paysannes de Smolensk from 1913, showing some interesting counted cutwork done in several colours rather than just white. Here’s a link to the Flickr pages, and to the book on Internet Archive.

A quick aside: in case you haven’t already noticed, the British Library has recently started doing the same thing – another little goldmine of book illustrations, diagrams, decorative initials, chapter headings and printers flourishes on Flickr. Some of the initials and chapter headings in particular seem to be just crying out to be rendered in embroidery…

At the top of the page is a chart I made based on this illustration from Broideries des paysannes… I have played with the colours as I wanted them to suit some light blue fabric.

Anyway, show me a counted-thread technique which I haven’t met before and I’m just dying to figure out how to do it, and eager to have a go for myself. Which is what is going on in this picture.

Smolensk square in progress

I’m getting the hang of it, I think. From what I can make out of the French text, the original embroideries were worked in linen thread on homespun linen, both home-dyed. I’ve made things a bit difficult for myself by using silk thread on linen. It would be easier to work with something a bit less slippery, but I do love silk. This is 32-count evenweave fabric. (The illustrations show fabric that is not evenweave, and I do think these old geometrical designs look more interesting with a bit of distortion.) This square is an experiment, a chance to find my own way of working and learn how to plan the routes for the stitching: quite a lot of zig-zagging around is required.  I’m not claiming to be doing the technique the ‘right’ way – I just tried things until I got an effect that seemed close to the original. It’s not quick. I’ll be very glad when the brown section is finished, I seem to have been stitching with brown for years!

Another aside: you can also see my personal solution for managing spools of silk. One spool, one little grip-top bag (these bags came from a craft shop). The spools can’t rub on each other in their storage box or in my workbag, won’t roll off the table and don’t usually need to come out of the bags while I’m working – unless I lose the end of the thread. I’ve been cursing silk a lot less since I began using these little bags.

I’ll let you see a picture of the final result when I have completed the square. (Reading this back, I suspect that a certain friend of mine will try to turn that last remark into a mathematical joke. Please ignore him, as usual.)


10 Responses to “Experiments inspired by (yet another) old book”

  1. Still more opportunities to lose hours rummaging around on websites, finding ever more interesting and obscure ideas and techniques.

    This one doesn’t look familiar at all, but I think your version is coming along well. Although I can imagine it feels as though the brown is going for ever!

    I like your idea for managing spools of silk. I’ll be using that next time I prepare a kumihimo warp1

  2. Megan Hodges Says:

    🙂 🙂 🙂 (currently very tired Megan)

  3. Dear sue, thank you for the head up to this wonderful book. I love cutwork in all shapes and forms. I just wish my days had at least 48 hours!
    However,I’m not sure how to do this technique. Spontaneously I would try to work it like Myreshka (also spelled merezka I think) but it could as well be some other technique, more similar to european cutwork.
    Therese de Dillmonts encyclopaedia of needlework is availiable for free and has a good chapter on Myreshka.

    • suetortoise Says:

      Hi Tenar, I have the DMC book and the work is not myreshka, I compared the photo with the diagrams before I started this piece, and I don’t think it is exactly the same as any of the filling stitches shown in that chapter. It looks something like a Greek cross or a pair of crossed and twisted threads. I’ll diagram the stitch that I eventually used. That will be in a later blog post. (It may still not be exactly right, but it’s my best guess at the filling.) There may be more than one filling stitch used on these cloths, of course, just to confuse us all!

  4. […] night, Sue from Tortoise Loft posted about some new needlework she’s working on, inspired by images on Flickr from an embroidery book […]

  5. That looks like a really interesting technique. I’ll have to take a look at the links

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