More thoughts on the Jacobean Coat

Coat Design
Coat Design

The design wraps around the back of the coat, leaving the front mostly unadorned. There are sprigs placed on the sleeves, too, one of them above the elbow, and the one on the opposite side below it. Remember the comments I’ve made in the past, about taking inspiration from Grinling Gibbons, and aiming for balance rather than symmetry? That goes for the placement of design elements in apparel as well as anything decorative.

Starting Stems
Starting Stems

My mother has commissioned the coat with various other garments and accessories in mind, and one of the ways we thought would help to tie the coat in with them would be to use a knitting wool which is involved in those accessories. Now, as it happens, I have experience with this sort of trailing design (remember the Piano Shawl?), and I remember that it can feel very disjointed and dispiriting as you work individual motifs, and however confident you are of the whole, it’s hard to be motivated when it keeps looking spotty and halfhearted.

However, the stems pull it together, so I thought this time I would start with the stems. It’s a big, chunky, variegated knitting yarn, so I will end up with the skeleton of the design, and all sorts of colours within it. I’m catching it in place with a fine woollen yarn, using small oblique stitches buried within the twist. They should be almost invisible.

Trialling Colours
Trialling Colours

However, that too is going to take a while, so I can trial colour placement for the motifs themselves! As you can see, we aren’t aiming for a naturalistic colour scheme. This may not be the final arrangement, and there will be tweaks along the way, but I’m happy with this as a starting point.

The Jacobean Coat – getting started

Coat Designing
Coat Designing

This is going to be a truly multi-generational project. The design elements are stolen from a tablecloth my Grandmama did during the war, and I’m going to embroider it on a coat for my Mam (her daughter). I will write a post about Grandmama’s tablecloth one of these days, because it’s an absolute cracker, full of wonderful needlelace patterns I’ve never seen anywhere else. However, as it is stitched in white on white fabric, I will have to become a better photographer first!

Stage One of Design Transfer
Stage One of Design Transfer

You may recall that during the Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off, I wrote a post about the different methods for transferring designs, particularly concentrating on their advantages and disadvantages in different circumstances. The fabric of the coat (this will be the second incarnation of this fabric!) is a pale green boiled wool. It’s dense enough to have some structure and weight, light enough to be easy to stitch (I think). You might have thought it would accept gracefully any method I chose.

Stage Two of Design Transfer
Stage Two of Design Transfer

However, when I thought about transferring the design, I found myself ending up with the most time consuming of the lot! Since the garment is unlikely to be washed, and rubbing may damage the surface, my options are somewhat limited. Transfer pencils spread, sometimes, if the ironing temperature is wrong, the chalks have a nasty habit of not always rubbing off when they’re wrong, and my quilter’s pencil doesn’t work on strongly textured fabrics.

So, running stitch through tissue it is, then. This will take a while…..

Renovating Grandmama’s Footstool

Beginning Refurbishment
Beginning Refurbishment

Having been working on the Heart, I was still thinking about Grandmama, and noticing that one of the footstools she made was getting a bit shabby and buckled, I decided to renovate it…

It’s worked in tapestry wool on binca (that strange cotton matting fabric that stitching happened on at primary school – does anyone else remember it?). I think I still have, somewhere, Grandmama’s draft of the pattern on squared paper, but the best I can do for putting my hand on it is to say it is Somewhere In The House! Since I don’t have a workroom, I put the footstool in a plastic tray, which I seem to remember is sold for cleaning oven trays. I use it for wet felting and to contain messes when I’m doing things like this. The blued-steel flat-headed nails were very hard to get out, and indeed, some of them lost their heads (!) and didn’t come out. In due course they were hammered firmly back in, instead!

Repaired Stitching
Repaired Stitching

The binca around the edge was badly mauled by the nails, so I knew I would have to do something about that, but in the meantime, there were sections of the canvaswork that needed to be reinstated. First I washed and dried the whole thing (by hand) and then spent some time looking very hard at the stitching. More than fifty years of use have worn a few small sections, and the stitch took some identifying, but in the end, I decided it was Rice Stitch, and found a pale oatmeal tapestry wool that didn’t shout its’ newness too loudly.

Attached To Calico
Attached To Calico

Then I attached the binca to some calico and covered the join with one of the long-armed cross stitches. I wasn’t absolutely sure I had enough of the plain oatmeal colour so I alternated a needleful of each all the way around.

In the end, I had plenty left over, but I’ve said many a time before that when ekeing out assorted supplies, the trick is to Make It Look Deliberate!

Finished Footstool
Finished Footstool

I had to do that with the trim as well. Nothing in our local needlework shop was even remotely suitable so in the end I took some bobble fringing, a length of ribbon and some ricrac, and made my own!

There are one or two infelicities in the details, but it’s certainly got a good few years left in it now.

Thank you, Grandmama.


Poppies And Wheat, Cleaned and Conserved

Some of you may recall that some time ago, my mother and I were planning to reframe one of my Grandmama’s embroideries, and discovered to our horror that it had been glued to a backing board made of strawboard.

In due course, we found a textile restorer, not too far away, and I took it to her. And now we have it back again. In the course of the work, it was discovered that two different sorts of glue had been used. One of them was unstuck fairly easily, but a particularly acidic glue had been used on the back of the embroidery itself – almost as if the framer did not believe the work had been finished off properly. Which it had – apparently it was very difficult to find some threads to take out to test for colourfastness!

The fabric and thread are both much brighter than they were, but the very acidic glue that was used is the reason for the bloom of staining around the embroidery. It’s much reduced, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible to remove it entirely.

So, Gentle Reader – be careful with glues and boards. Avoid if you can, use neutral-pH as far as you can, or someone in the future will be muttering imprecations in your direction!

Poppies and Wheat – a closer look at Grandmama’s embroidery

SideAngleView Wheat Leaves PoppyWhen we took the tray to pieces to remove the embroidery, we had a Nasty Shock.

The fabric was glued to the backing board and cut off flush with it. So much for our blithe expectation that we would be able to remount the fabric – carefully, of course! – and then get it properly framed to advantage.

In retrospect, we should maybe have guessed from the staining around the stitching that maybe some glue had been involved, but since I always mount over padding, it would never have occurred to me that Grandmama’s framer would have done anything else, still less that the legendary Miss Hunter would have presided over all that beautiful embroidery and then permitted it to be mounted onto any old piece of board using any old glue that happened to be to hand!

The embroidery is worked in long and short stitch, satin stitch, stem stitch, and French knots. I think Grandmama used two strands of stranded cotton throughout, and as it was wartime I’m impressed that she managed to gather ten different colours of thread for it.

It’s a salutary reminder to me that a riot of ornamental stitches and overdyed threads isn’ t always the very best way to achieve a striking result.

We are going to ask a textile conservator to have a look at the piece as it is, glued to its backing board, and give us some advice about the next step. Grandmama would be in pleats with laughter at the idea of any of her embroidery going to a conservator, but I hope she would be secretly pleased as well…!


Poppies and Wheat – Another of Grandmama’s Pieces (Introduction)

Tray - Poppies And Wheat
Tray – Poppies And Wheat

The design for this tray was embroidered by my Grandmama during the period when she and her sister and all their children were evacuated to Burton in Westmorland during the Second World War.

Signed On The Back
Signed On The Back

We know that because it has been signed on the back!

Besides, my mother remembers it being used on ceremonial occasions. It was always a trial – it’s very heavy (because of the glass), rather slippery (glass again) and doesn’t have much of a rim to keep what’s on it safe. Especially with four children and a dog in the house.

In fact Grandmama, and now my mother, both resorted to propping it up somewhere and using it as a cross between a picture and an ornament. It makes a rather large ornament, too. I’ve seen mirrors over fireplaces that weren’t much bigger!

And of course – again because of that wretched glass – most of the time you can’t really see the embroidery for the reflections. Which is a pity, because it is exquisitely worked, probably one of the pieces overseen by Grandmama’s embroidery teacher, Miss Hunter. Recently my mother decided to take it out of the tray, find some way of cleaning it of some of the discoloration, and mount it properly as an embroidery. Naturally we will find some way to remount the signature from the back as well.

Needless to state, this turned out not to be as easy as we might have hoped.

Another of Grandmama’s Experiments

Grandmama joined the Women’s Institute at some point, and went on many of their craft courses of one sort or another. When I found this collage, I also found one of her notebooks with notes from some of those courses, which I hope will enlighten me about how she approached them. When I get around to transcribing them, that is. It is one of those tasks that always gets put off to a more convenient time!

I’m especially curious about this one. I’d never seen it before – a collage of an Indian’s Head. A fictional one, I imagine. In fact the question I find myself asking about this is “Why?”. Most of it is glued rather than stitched, which I rather imagine would have gone somewhat against the grain with Grandmama. It also has the slightly slapdash feel that my own work has when I’m feeling out-of-sorts about being forced to do something I dislike or consider uninteresting. Maybe the notes will tell me more.

However, I was highly entertained when I realised that the ornaments on the end of the Indian’s braids were trouser buttons from my Grandfather’s Tropical uniform – it’s a good thing he’d retired by then!

Dressing Cécile

Cécile's Saddlecloth
Cécile’s Saddlecloth

Once she was fully reassembled, with a neat patch across her tummy to hide the joins of the sides and ends, I was very keen to put back Cécile’s glorious turquoise velvet saddlecloth. I started sewing it on in the centre of each long edge – roughly where her spine would be – and worked outwards, to make sure that the saddlecloth didn’t end up squiffy. I’ve also not stitched too closely, because I want the fabrics to be able to move a little when I put my feet on the finished footstool and the padding “gives” a little.

Céciles Browband
Cécile’s Browband

I should note in passing that while Cécile is unquestionably a darling, she’s been the most preposterously obstreperous pachyderm I’ve ever encountered. Getting her legs re-covered was hair-raising, getting the body attached suitably was a challenge and tidying up the undercarriage so that Cécile stayed in one piece involved the sort of contortions that make me wish I’d been doing yoga all my life!

Grandmama gave Cécile a browband of upholstery fringe – probably left over from one of the many lampshades she made – and that was the only real casualty of her years in the loft. Even a run through the washing machine didn’t revive it, so it was abandoned and replaced with a similar piece left over from a lampshade recovered by either my mother or myself. The tradition of keeping and reusing scraps is very strong in our family!

Cécile Finished!
Cécile Finished!

So here she is, refurbished and back to her former glory. I was very fond of Cécile when I was a child, and I’ve enjoyed bringing her back to life.

Even it she was occasionally obstreperous!

Reconstructing Cécile

Face of Cecile
Face of Cécile

Allow me to introduce Cécile.

Grandmama made her for me when I was about two or three, we think, and  I remember her as a constant and beloved part of my childhood. We rediscovered her recently in my parents’ loft, and I thought it would be nice to have her in my own living room, as a footstool and a seat for visiting children. Unfortunately, when I sat back and put my feet up, the stuffing collapsed, and Cécile began to look very sad indeed. So we skinned her (as it were!), washed the skin, and started looking for a suitable replacement for the padding.

Padding For Cécile
Padding For Cécile

In the end, we used a spare cushion pad, and rearranged the stuffing slightly to leave the cover free to be stapled through. I think my grandfather must have made the basic internals – four sections of square wood for legs, screwed firmly into some equally solid half-centimetre thick hardboard.

I have all of Grandmama’s books about needlework and crafts, and there’s nothing like Cécile in any of them, so I think Grandmama must have made her up as she went along. I can’t imagine how she managed to assemble the whole thing unaided, because it took the combined efforts of my mother and myself to put the stockings on, and covering the assembly with the body was even more of an adventure.

Cécile Reassembled
Cécile Reassembled

But we got there in the end!

I added more stuffing while I was doing the assembly, to make sure that the finished piece would be nicely padded, and swapped the ears around – there was a hole in one side of one of them, which is now the underside.

I’ve also replaced the feet. Grandmama had glued small sections of carpet to the bottom and then stitched around the edge with wool. The carpet was looking distinctly sad and tatty, so I removed it – not without considerable effort! – and replaced it with two layers of grey felt.

Cécile is now reassembled, and just needs some of her finery re-instated. I’ll write about that when I have returned her to her former glory.

Another of Grandmama’s pieces

Pyjama Case
Pyjama Case

Grandmama must have worked embroideries galore for her assorted grandchildren. This pyjama case with a chubby kitten on the front was worked for me – I think as a birthday present – when I was about nine, and I’ve rediscovered it among a host of other reminiscences of childhood.

You can see the lingering “Make Do And Mend” ethos of the wartime years when she was bringing up her own family in looking at the whole thing, which is actually pieced together to create the final, full size of the pyjama case. It’s worked on a synthetic crepe, too, which many embroiderers today would tend to despise.

However, if you zoom in on the picture, you will be able to see the legacy of her teacher Miss Hunter in the beautifully even stitches of the embroidery (nothing complex – chain stitch, stem stitch, and satin stitch). That legacy is also apparent in the care that Grandmama took in lining it just as beautifully. She’s even sewn tapes to the inside of the case so that the strain on the press studs is reduced.

I’d almost forgotten about this piece and I was thrilled to find it again!


As from today I am going down to just one post per week. I’m planning a lot of work on the house, and I don’t want to be resenting lost embroidery time. Not least, the ultimate goal is to have a studio, or at least a studio corner, so eventually the work should result in a better life for my embroidery. I will still be embroidering, and still writing posts (I’ve found more of Grandmama’s bits and pieces, too!), but I hope at a slightly more relaxed pace.