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.
The Lady in the Garden, again came from a transfer, and was stitched as a companion to the Peacock, and a homage to Grandmama’s Lady. Unlike Grandmama, I made no effort to provide the lady with lovely graduated ruffles – if I am honest, because I really didn’t think I would finish them if I tried! Instead her dress is sprigged with flowers (in Sorbello stitch, which was rather fun!) and only ruffled around the hem.
Because I conceived of the Lady and the Peacock as a pair, I emphasised the flower colours around the lady, and worked some elements of her dress in one of the blues I used for the peacock.
The inside edge of the bonnet is ornamented with Rosette Chain stitch, while the outside is edged with closed feather stitch. This would also have been an ideal opportunity to use bonnet stitch, but I didn’t think of it in time! I also used Rosette Chain Stitch for the ruffles on the the lady’s collar. I like to use a variety of stitches – the trick is not to use so many that the eye becomes bewildered. Using a basic stitch and its variations is one way to maintain some sense of uniformity, as is keeping a small colour palette.
The bodice is in Bokhara Couching, and the sleeves outlined in coral stitch. I’m surprised at how well this works – it should look thorny, and heavy, but somehow manages to evoke an airy gauze sleeve. How does that work?
The bows above the flounce of the skirts are in satin stitch, and the impression of the flounce is given by lines of chain stitch. Almost all the visual weight of the dress is at the bottom, and the airy sprigging on the skirt allows the flowers to take some of the limelight.
Again the stitching is simple – fishbone stitch for the leaves, detached chain stitch and French knots for the flowers, and as almost all the threads were variegated, I got a lot of subtle – and not so subtle! – colour variation “for free” as it were.
I had already worked the Jacobean Fire Screen when I started work on the Peacock and the Lady, and was beginning to feel that I should do some more designing for myself. I will probably still use other designers’ work, because sometimes I want to concentrate on a particular thread or technique (as in the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork Masterclass) rather than the design. Besides, who knows what else I will find in the archives to write about!
The title of this post – for those who are scrabbling around in their memory – is the first line of “Silent Worship“, written by George Frederick Handel as an aria in his opera Tolomeo, but far more popular than anything else in it. Beware if you Google it – the last time I did so the first two links were for ringtones!
Grandmama made a lovely linen tablecloth in white-on-white needlelace, but as I couldn’t get any sort of photograph of it, I photographed this small teacloth in ecru shades instead. I think this might have been a practice piece, not in the sense of learning a new skill so much as in the sense of trying it to see whether she enjoyed the technique. I now wonder – in the light of “Stitching for Victory” – whether this was another wartime project, and the various shades of ecru were all that was available.
It looks prettier in real life than in the photograph. I used some of the motifs as inspiration when I designed the Jacobean Firescreen.
Grandmama worked the filet crochet border as well. We have a couple of teacloths with Filet crochet edgings she worked using Mary Card designs. There’s also a crochet lace teacloth that was going to be a bedspread – it is the only occasion that any of us know of, in which Grandmama failed to finish what she started! I’ll try to find the photo of that and scan it to put it up another time.
Scattered around the family, there are also examples of canvaswork, stitched rugs (two quite large ones and a small mat, which is in our hallway), tablecloths, napkins and bedlinen, and a footstool (two footstools, actually!). Not to mention assorted knitwear (I still have, and wear with pride and glee, an intarsia sweater she knitted for me when I was eighteen), and some crocheted work.
She also tried a sort of pressed metalwork, drying flowers and foliage, and Heaven knows what else.
I’ve been told I “collect skills”. Where do you think I inherited that from?
Grandmama embroidered this lovely lady on a nightdress case for my mother during the War, when they were evacuated to Westmorland. The colours have faded rather now, but it is still beautiful, and the long and short stitch puts me firmly in my place!
The Front of “The Lady in the Garden”
The reason it is all so neat is that Grandmama had an embroidery teacher at the time, called Miss Hunter (I mentioned her in an early post). I’m sure Miss Hunter must have been trained at the Royal School of Needlework, because her standards were ferociously high. Grandmama once told me that one of the other ladies in the class at the time was working a Willow Pattern design in single strands of stranded cotton.
The back shows how the colours once appeared, and also how neatly Grandmama worked it all. With the exception of the centres of the hollyhocks, you really can’t be sure you aren’t looking at the front!
Miss Hunter’s influence still prevails. A few years ago I taught an engineering friend of mine to do counted cross stitch, and he rapidly picked up our habit of checking that the back was as neat as the front!