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!
When 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…!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My mother and I have been trying to make sense of the various boxes and bags that travelled from my grandparents’ attic to my parents’, and we’ve found all sorts of things.
This traycloth must be something that Grandmama began to work quite late in life, when her eyesight was no longer what it had been, because it’s worked in four strands, and the back would not pass Miss Hunter‘s scrutiny. Judging by the subject matter – maybe she began it in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee?
I suspect she intended to alternate the colours of the blanket stitch edging to create the same effect as the coloured blocks of fringing on a ceremonial trumpet’s banner.
I rather like the idea of tackling the parade of guardsmen at the bottom, so I’m planning to add this to my list of projects at some point. It would be the only project of which I would be able to say I had finished what Grandmama started!
I daren’t wash the piece or iron it, because the tracing has already begun to break up in some places. The unstitched motif in the top row is a heraldic lion, and most of his outline has rubbed off. It’s really just as well that I was keen on heraldry as a teenager and still have my books on the subject. I should be able to recreate him without too much trouble.
I must have worked the Needlelace Embellished Blouse when I was sixteen or seventeen – probably it was about the third or fourth project that I did, ever. Once I’d got hooked on embroidery – which happened over a piece that I’ve yet to show you, partly because I’m not sure where it’s hidden itself – I went from technique to technique and project to project almost without drawing breath!
I wanted something “Floral-inspired but modern”, I remember, so my mother suggested a pentagon for a flower and triangles for leaves. Thus:
We divided the pentagon into triangles, because I wanted to use three different needlelace stitches (and also because it would be more interesting that way), and transferred it to a boat-necked summer top with a V at the back.
It’s hardly surprising I gave needlelace a try – both Grandmama and my mother had worked needlelace embellished table cloths, so it was in the air, so to speak. It’s also not surprising that I didn’t attempt another tablecloth. Even then I knew that I didn’t have the patience for that size of project!
The triangles forming the flower I worked either in Pea Stitch or Corded Single Brussels Stitch, and the “leaves” were Corded Point d’Espagne. There’s a Needlelace Tutorial starting here on a lacemakers’ website for those who are interested. Then I buttonholed the edges (the wrong way round, I think, now I look at the photo again!) and, with much trepidation, cut away the fabric at the back.
And it worked! I wore the blouse quite a lot for a few years, and now I’ve found it again I suspect I’ll be wearing it some more – although not this year <shiver>!
Although putting the fringing on brought the whole thing to life – which goes to show how important the finishing details are for big projects – I was very relieved when I delivered the Piano Shawl, and it settled into its destined home as though I’d sat there to stitch it. As I don’t have any rooms decorated in similar colours, I wasn’t confident when I finished the piece, until I saw it in place. Phew!
I created a booklet to go with the Piano Shawl, which included a short description from Elaine, describing why she wanted it, and the following, describing how I tackled the commission.
From the Embroiderer’s Frame
This was an intriguing project, growing out of several conversations, visits to the Client’s house, and an assortment of research in libraries and online for suitable images and inspirations. The ultimate inspiration was a scene in a painting in which the black polished surface of a grand piano was broken by a patterned shawl.
I was asked for a piece that would suit the room and the grand piano, and would in some way incorporate references to Music. I prefer, with this sort of piece, to find some way of allowing the client to contribute, not just with a brief, but with some element of the design, so I devised three possible ideas,
a piano keyboard stretched into a ring, which would allow for a variety of stitches and techniques
a series of instruments rendered in a broad, slightly “graphic” style
a more “romantic” design of flowers
In adapting the inspiration to circumstances and ideas, we decided, rather than using a scattered all-over pattern, to develop an undulating stave design, entwined with flowering stems. The flower patterns were developed from the shapes used by my grandmother in one of her embroidered tablecloths. As she set me off on my embroidering way, I always try to include some idea or reference in big projects! We chose to pick up the floral pattern of the carpet, dusty pinks and apricots for the flowering stems, and take the blue background as the basis of colours for the stave. Then I asked Elaine to write out for me the musical elements that she wanted to have put on the staves.
In the event, this piece involved far less variety of stitch technique than the other design ideas I had thought of, but at the same time it gave scope for a much wider range of variegated threads. The blues used in the stave are brighter than those in the carpet, because darker colours would have dragged the design down, making it seem less light hearted. There is always a balance to be struck in embroidery between the naturalism that is available through needlepainting techniques and producing something that is clearly an embroidery. I almost always choose to do the latter, because the textures of fabric and thread as they are used in embroidery are what interest and inspire me.
My initials and the date are included in Morse code, on diagonally opposing corners.
Now Elainenot only has her Piano Shawl, but something for the archives as well.