On embroidery

May 24, 2010

A few weeks ago, I unearthed a couple of embroidered samplers from my grandmother’s attic, which immediately begged the question: Why don’t I do any needlework? I love hand sewing, portable crafts, and flower scenes, and I have inherited a small collection of Erica Wilson‘s embroidery books from my great-aunt. Wilson’s books are very inspiring, and I have leafed through them before bed on countless evenings. As I became more interested in embroidery in recent weeks, I decided to do a bit of research on Wilson herself.

For a period between the ’60s and ’80s, Erica Wilson had no equal in the embroidery/ needlepoint world. Her output was prolific and included many types of needlecraft, though she established her name through her work on crewel embroidery. This was her first book, which you can currently buy on Amazon.com for 45 cents (used):

Wilson’s 15 (or so) books contain a cornucopia of embroidery projects, and she delves into the history of needlework through showing many works featured at the Smithsonian and the Met. She also features beautiful works by women whose names she notes without any biographical information, unfortunately. Some of the works are absolutely gorgeous. These two have always captivated me:

[ignore the wallpaper, see the butterfly]

I am determined to make that pillow. It looks just as fresh and vivid today as it did in the ’70s!This was the work of a dedicated woman with amazing color sense…I wish I knew more about her.

Wilson also ran a very successful needlepoint boutique in NYC (which has since moved to Nantucket). Although most of her works were stunning, it was somewhat inevitable that Wilson would begin taking things too far after decades of designing. She apparently thought that there was no occasion for which an embroidered outfit was not immensely desirable:

[In the photo above, nobody is hugging Erica…that is a linking-hands belt she made to complement her outfit]

For the most part, however, she designed beautiful pieces and did a fantastic job of situating needlework in its historical context.

Many people have taken up the embroidery torch in recent years, though certainly not as many as have carried on the traditions of quilting and sewing. Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching has breathed new life into the craft with her edgy, funky, and appealing designs. There are, of course, Japanese books on the subject. Kristin Nicholas, known for her knitting books, has a good title out as well. Although I admit to being drawn to more traditional designs, these books are a great place to learn about how embroidery can be adapted to a more modern home.

A quick (though ultimately incorrect) Google search of the store where my grandmother used to buy her embroidery kits, It’s A Crewel World, revealed that it was still open, so the two of us decided to make a day of it. After aimlessly driving around Salem and somehow winding up at the quilt shop, I looked next door and realized that I had stumbled upon a different embroidery store, B.F. Goodstitch. I picked out a few embroidery cottons, a hoop, some muslin, and a disappearing ink pen, and went to work on my own design. I had tried to do embroidery once in the past, but after choosing a design that was completely inappropriate for me, I demurred (it was a creepy hummingbird with its head stuck in a honeysuckle flower…totally my fault).

With renewed strength and vigor, I sallied forth, and here is the result of my first attempt:

A five-year-old in colonial America could have done a significantly better job, but there you go. It’s a start. And with all of the great resources out there, I am hoping that my skills will improve quickly. There is nothing like embroidery for when you’re sitting on the sofa, watching, for example, the last episode of Lost and weeping quietly to yourself.

The owner of B.F. Goodstitch assured me that “stitchers,” as she called them, abound. I was skeptical because I actually don’t know a single person who does embroidery, and I know a lot of crafters…even one person who tats lace, if you can believe it. She did lead me to an excellent online resource, Nuts about Needlepoint, where you can get some free information and instructions, but admitted that there were few embroidery bloggers out there. Readers, do any of you embroider? I’d love to see your projects!

Stay tuned for more FOs later in the week…I have several things in the works, including another embroidery project!


6 Responses to “On embroidery”

  1. yahaira Says:

    oh I used to love embroidery! but then the knitting bug bit me and took over. I think part of the problem was that I got one of those jenny hart kits. I love her work but at the same time it isnt my style. does that make sense? I think working on your own design is key.

    aaaaand now I will go have nightmares involving a hand belt

    • Monet Says:

      That’s exactly how I feel about Jenny Hart! I love it conceptually, but to spend my time on it or put it in my home…not so much. The one thing I really love about her stuff is that I think it’s very approachable. Anyone can do it. Also, she has written a lot about being a successful craft-businesswoman, which I appreciate.

      I have one question for you…I am writing a post on originality in quilting and I would like to use a photo of your hexagon quilt (which I was obsessed with and has inspired me to quilt again after about a month off). Would it be okay if I used one of your photos in my post with a link to your original post? Hope all is well!


  2. Tasia Says:

    Oh I love the one with the ‘E’ in the middle! So pretty. I’d love to have the patience and skill to embroider my blouses and dresses.
    I laughed out loud at your ‘five year old in colonial America’ comment but think your first effort is not as bad as you think! Practice makes perfect, now if only there were more hours in the day, right?

  3. I love love LOVE to embroider! There is a thread that I absolutely adore: Sullivans 100% egyptian cotton! It’s not too much more than DMC and its a dream to use! I don’t usually post photos of my embroidery; its just sort of a relaxing past time more than anything else, but I did design Roger, from American Dad..hahaha.

  4. http://chillyhollownp.blogspot.com/

    Here are a couple of blogs related to embroidery. It’s out there, just not as much.

  5. Let me add one more, because it has links to many others: http://www.pintangle.com

    She’s a crazy quilter, and she does these links to LOTS of other bloggers who are focused on crafts, with a leaning toward embroidery because of her crazy quilt focus.

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