Archive for Smolensk

Experiments inspired by (yet another) old book

Posted in books, Embroidery, Needlework with tags , , , , , on November 1, 2015 by suetortoise

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.)