Archive for Jacqui Carey


Posted in books, discussion topic, Embroidery with tags , , , , , , on June 3, 2012 by suetortoise

Now, as people who have been reading the last few posts here will already know, I am absolutely delighted with Jacqui Carey’s Elizabethan Stitches. Such a useful, clear book, showing most of the stitches found on Elizabethan embroideries – a lot of them are not in any of the standard embroidery stitch dictionaries. My main review is here.

One classic stitch from Elizabethan and Jacobean embroidery can be seen in several of the photographs in Elizabethan Stitches, but doesn’t have an instruction section in the book. This is the stitch known as Trellis Stitch. It’s one of the stitches in Grace Christie’s classic stitch book: Samplers and Stitches, which was published in 1920. It’s not a particularly easy stitch to learn, but it gets easier with practice. It can be worked to-and-fro, in rows, or with all the rows worked in the same direction – often spiralling in a circle. And there are other variations.

Here’s a rather bad sample of the basic to-and-fro version. (I’m still learning to get the tension right for the stitch – this one is a bit scrappy to say the least.) It’s a stitch that makes a reasonably substantial fabric with some stretch to it, so it can be used for pieces that are worked separately and attached afterwards, as well as making a useful filling stitch.

Now, I’m not complaining that trellis stitch isn’t included in Elizabethan Stitches – it’s a well-documented stitch, it is already in most of the stitch dictionaries. If she had included it, Jacqui Carey would have had to leave out one of the less well known stitches, and that would have been a great pity. The book concentrates mainly on the metal-thread stitches. That is its strength.

But one of those metal-thread stitches in Elizabethan Stitches is in danger of causing serious confusion. It’s one of the many different variations of detached buttonhole stitch. It’s a useful little stitch, not hard to work, and particularly suitable for metal thread. I haven’t seen it explained in any book before, and I’m glad to learn it.

Here’s a little sample I did with crochet cotton.

The problem is that Jacqui Carey has chosen to call this newly-discovered stitch ‘Elizabethan Trellis’. To add to the confusion, she shows a small diagram of the structure of  trellis stitch – Mrs Christie’s trellis stitch – as a comparison. The small diagram is labelled ‘modern trellis stitch’. Now that ‘modern’ trellis stitch is equally as Elizabethan as the one she has callled ‘Elizabethan Trellis’. Trellis stitch proper is a stitch for silk thread not metal, because it’s a knotted stitch. It’s not the same sort of structure as ‘Elizabethan Trellis’, as you can see from my two photos. And, more to the point, trellis stitch has been going by the name of  trellis stitch for nearly 100 years.

I was confused. I thought that Jacqui Carey had simply found a new way of working trellis stitch – until I tried out her instructions. I am not the only person to be confused by the misleading name.

What is more, as Elizabethan Stitches is such a very useful book, it’s going to be used as a main reference work by many people interested in the embroidery of the period. So now, if I see a mention of ‘trellis stitch’ in a recent description, I am going to wonder which of these two stitches are actually meant: ‘Christie-trellis’ or ‘Carey-trellis’? I’d dearly like to see ‘Elizabethan Trellis Stitch’ renamed in the next edition of Elizabethan Stitches – without that confusing word ‘trellis’ and without the equally confusing ‘comparison’ diagram. Until that happens, we’ll all just have to make very sure we are clear about which stitch we mean when we use the word.


Elizabethan Inspiration

Posted in books, Embroidery, review with tags , , , , on March 24, 2012 by suetortoise

I have just bought a most marvellous historical-embroidery book.

Cover of 'Elizbethan Stitches' by Jacqui Carey

Two or three weeks ago, I was browsing the Yahoo Group for the Antique Pattern Library. I keep a regular eye on it – partly to see which old, out-of-copyright publications are coming online, and partly in case I can use my store of information and experience to help others struggling with old instructions and terminology. This time, it was neither of those things. Ruth Matthews, a regular on the group’s message board, had posted a link to a book review. Not another reprint of a classic embroidery tome, this one, but a newly written book.

Now, I am rarely tempted by modern embroidery books, because most of those I look at simply don’t go deep enough into one particular topic that interests me. I already have a very useful reference collection of ‘classics’ – some from second-hand books stalls and charity shops, reprints from the excellent Dover Books and other facsimiles, and some out-of-copyright books I have downloaded – mostly from the Antique Pattern Library. But when I read Mary Corbett’s review of Elizabethan Stitches by Jacqui Carey, which you can find here on Mary’s Needle’n’Thread blog, I knew that I had to have this book. If it was only half as good as the review…

I am pleased to tell you that is equally as good, if not better than I expected: in-depth research, very clear and detailed instructions and diagrams, case studies, lots of juicy close-up photos of the stitches on historic pieces. Photos that really do show every thread and fibre, and many showing the back of the work as well. This is above all a technical manual – Jacqui Carey has written books on Japanese braiding, and she takes a braider’s methodical, logical, precise approach to the construction of Elizabethan embroidery. Something it has long needed.

Interior of book'Elizabethan Stitches' by Jacqui Carey

Now that's what I call a close up photo! The metal spangles or 'oes' attached by red thread on the right-hand photo are just a couple of millimetres wide.

The book is available in paperback direct from the author at Carey Company: (There’s not very much information about the book on that website, not nearly enough to do it justice.) It is not a cheap book, but it is a tool, an investment and a reference work, as well as a beautifully produced thing in its own right. Elizabethan Stitches is definitely not a book for beginners or ‘improvers’: most of the stitches shown are not particularly easy, and Jacqui doesn’t fill up the book with information on stitches and techniques that is widely available in other embroidery books, nor with suggestions for modern substitutes for the threads and fabrics or projects and samplers. But if you have a serious interest in English domestic and costume embroidery from the late Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Century, when it was fresh and inventive and delightful, or have a fascination with the unusual stitches used then (particularly the plaited braid stitches), and you have gained sufficient ’embroidery-fu’ to make use of the information, then this is an important book that you need to know about.

Back when I was doing embroidery for ‘O Level’ at school, our teacher, Barbara Snook, was using textbooks that she wrote herself, including a book of embroidery stitches. I remember someone in the class asking if she had managed to work all the stitches in the book herself. She said that she had, with just one exception. ‘Plaited braid stitch – I could never manage to get that to work out right. In the end I copied the diagram out of Grace Christie’s book [Samplers and Stitches, Batsford, 1920] but it doesn’t seem to look the same as the examples in the V&A.’ Never one to resist that sort of challenge, I tried hard to get the hang of plaited braid over the years, working from the diagrams in Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches and in Grace Christie’s book. Well, I sort-of managed it, after a fashion, about ten years after leaving school. I, also, thought that it never looked much like pictures of the stitch on actual Elizabethan embroidery. And it was so very awkward to work – it didn’t flow, I couldn’t build up a rhythm. In the end, I decided that the stitch was a total nightmare, and very reluctantly gave up on it.

If she were alive today, I am sure Miss Snook would have been delighted to discover that Grace Christie’s awkward way of working plaited braid stitch really is not the historic way of doing it. As a result of recent textile research, Jacqui Carey is able to show the correct method of constructing the stitch – a more intuitive method of working that virtually turns Mrs Christie’s method on its head. (She also includes another two historic variations of plaited braid and several similar metal-thread stitches which were used in a similar way.) And suddenly plaited braid stitch goes from being a total nightmare, to being just very, very tricky. Okay, ‘very, very tricky’ I can live with. ‘Very, very tricky’ I can hope to slowly improve at.

PB test piece wip 1 20-03-12

Ten days and many practice efforts later, I think I’ve got it down to just plain ‘tricky’. These two shots are of the latest, rather wobbly test piece, which I’m working on. As well as plaited braid stitch for the stem, I’m using corded detached buttonhole for the flowers and leaves, along with a bit of ordinary chain stitch and fly stitch, etc. I don’t consider that this piece is nearly up to standard, yet, which is why it’s just a practice piece. It is far from perfect. I still need much more practice. But it is already far closer to the Elizabethan ideal than I have ever achieved before. I have never claimed to be an expert at free embroidery – if you don’t count the fabric threads to do it, it’s out of my comfort zone. But I am not ashamed to show this photo here, wobbles and all, as a sort of ‘proof of concept’ piece.

PB test piece wip 2 24-3-12

Finally, my immense thanks go to Jacqui Carey for writing a book that feels as though it was written just for me alone, to Mary Corbett for giving it such a clear and such a thorough review that I had no hesitation in buying Elizabethan Stitches sight unseen, and last-but-not-least, to Ruth Matthews who took the trouble to let me know about it.