Tag: Grandmama’s Embroidery

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.

Found in the Archive – a traycloth

Something Else In The Archive

Something Else In The Archive

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.

A Needlelace Embellished Blouse

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:

Geometric Floral

The Geometric Floral we designed for my Needlelace Embellished Blouse

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.


Needlelace Blouse

Needlelace Blouse

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!

Needlelace Close Up

Needlelace Close Up

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>!

Commission Completed: Client Captivated!

The Piano Shawl, Finished and Delivered

The Piano Shawl, Finished and Delivered

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.

The Piano Shawl - Second View

The Piano Shawl - Second View

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 Elaine not only has her Piano Shawl, but something for the archives as well.

Did You But Hear My Lady..?

A Lovely Lady

A Lovely Lady

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.

Lady - Close Up

Lady - Close Up

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?

Skirt - Close Up

Skirt - Close Up

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’s Embroidery – Two

Grandmama's Tea Cloth

Grandmama's Tea Cloth in needle lace and filet crochet

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’s Embroidery – One

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 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!

The Back of "The Lady In the Garden"

The Back of "The Lady In the Garden"

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!

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