Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gold Work Stitching Class - Fall 2014

It is teacher's brag time. I am always delighted to have an opportunity to work with gold threads and to teach another generation of stitchers how to handle these specialized threads. This was an intermediate class in that all had learned the basics earlier this year. Many of the projects are unfinished but I thought that it would be nice for you to see some of the creativity of this class. These are a few only; hopefully, there will be more later.

First, Janet Sunderani did a practice/experimental piece to try out some threads and techniques to see what they would do and to gain some experience. You will remember Janet from the postings titled From Clogs to Education and Silk, Stocking and Clogs.

Look how well Janet has couched the dull gold thread in the lower right corner and how well she has stitched the pointed turns. You can see them clearly when they are stitched with a coloured thread, a specific technique included in the class. Look to the left and note the evenness in the Detached Buttonhole stitching. Close by is sequin waste placed in a double layer forming ovals. In the top left quadrant she has been practising circles. Note the perfectly mitred corners. The top right corner is unfinished but she thought she would place chippits in that area. Chippits are small pieces of leftover gilts and pearl purl stitched in the same manner as beads.

The first two pieces pictured here do not use the traditional gold work threads though they are using the techniques. Yes, one can do that. Why not? Be creative in your own way with what is available.

Red Experiment

Janet writes, "I really enjoyed playing with these cheap threads because I was less concerned about doing it right and just freer to experiment and see how the threads behaved.  Obviously many are not designed for this work and are quite gaudy.  The cores of some were elastic and you cannot plunge them easily so mostly I did not do this.  The braids tend to unravel so I sealed the ends with clear nail polish."

That is a good tip. When your design includes loose ends of Japanese gold thread left on the surface of the fabric, dip the ends in clear nail polish to stop them from unravelling.

Meet Wellington, the Cat with Pizzazz and Blue Suede Shoes

Connie Dorion wanted to stitch a gift for her daughter who has recently lost her husband. She chose a pale mauve silk for the background. The first decision after that was that Wellington should have blue suede shoes. From there, she chose ribbons and trims to create a memorable cat. His face is gold leather and his smug smile is all Connie's doing. He makes me smile, too whenever I see him and I love his blue whiskers. Connie is hoping that Wellington will be a therapeutic addition to her family. Wellington is completed but there are still some back basting stitches to be removed.

Or Nué

Barbara Lee Johnson is not only in a leaf phase of her life but this is her second piece of Or Nué. You will know Barbara Lee as a regular contributor to stitchinfingers. This is the lower quarter of a new piece. The photo segment is small so that you can see the detail. Or Nué is a difficult technique. Not only that but each line takes time and concentration and progress is slow, really slow. Note the evenness of the green and the gold stitching. Look at her pencilled guide lines and the straightness of her stitching in conjunction to the guide lines. The Japanese Gold thread is laid down in pairs which is the traditional way of stitching Or Nué. The ends will be left on the surface and covered with a matt board. If they were sunk through to the back, they would in effect, tear the fabric. This is a safe way to handle this problem. Barbara Lee is an experienced Gold Work stitcher, this being at least the sixth piece she has undertaken.

There are other, interesting pieces stitched by members of this class but they are not sufficiently complete at this time to show them to you though I am hoping there will soon be an opportunity to share them.

It is a teacher's delight to be able to post a blog such as this. Thank you, stitchers.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From Clogs to Education, by Janet Sunderani

And the clogs?

Well, my father had an expression - From Clogs to Clogs in Three Generations.  It was a dire warning to remember that clogs , a mark of poverty and of hard work, were worn by people who, through hard work, industry and thrift, made a good future for their children. If we squander our inheritance, we will end up wearing clogs again.  My grandmother wore clogs and so did her children until their grammar school days, much to their mortification. Aunt Edna was sent home from school for wearing clogs as they were too noisy and was told to return in leather shoes.

I have a tiny pair of traditional Lancashire clogs made by Walter Hurst of Hindley - his was the last family clog making business in the UK.  He was a customer of the bank where my father was manager. Dad bought them for my son Michael when he was born. They are bright red and quite beautiful. Michael has never worn them. Notice the metal on the soles and heels of the clogs. They improved wear and kept the wooden part out of the wet and dirt on the mill floor. Mr Hurst's business has now closed and he has retired. His family made clogs for the workers of the six cotton mills and 16 mines in the area for 103 years.  His son, a pharmacist, did not follow into the clog making business. It was a dying trade and neither clog making nor shoe repair could maintain the family. We live in a disposable society where cheaply made goods are built, not or service but for fashion, and then quickly discarded.

Our embroidery is an exception to this and a link to that heritage of industry, craft and thrift. We are a tribute to both the clog makers and the clog wearers!

So I am off now to find my clogs and do some gardening.

Want to know more about Clog Dancing?


Back to Janet's voice and my research.

Among the many things that interest me is the teaching of needlework in schools; it has died out completely.  On the Antiques Roadshow is a sample folder or book, stitched by a young Irish girl in Kildare, of beautiful tiny garments pin-tucked, smocked, embroidered, hemmed and buttonholed to show off her skills to prospective employers.  I could not find pictures though I did find a picture of the instruction manual used by the teacher as an example and guide.  It is heartbreakingly beautiful.


When I saw the item being valued it gave me the shivers to think it was the work of a small child and it was the means of securing her life and her future.

It seems to me that many Victorian industrialists tried hard to provide for those unable to work or fend for themselves.  They felt a social and moral obligation to do so.  I am sure they lived comfortable lives themselves too, but they did provide employment, housing and education for their workforce. JP Coats certainly did so to the benefit of my ancestors. The company's attitude to their workers and their education shows how enlightened they were.

Does this demonstrate that when one educates a girl, one can change life for future generations?

The other sampler I found was stitched by a woman, Lorina Bulwer, living in a lunatic ward in a workhouse around 1900. It was featured on the Antiques Road Show in the UK. Anyone who has read What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman will know that one did not have to be a lunatic to be incarcerated in an asylum. It could be a matter of convenience for someone else. This is a video you really do need to see. It is a sampler like no other and is well worth connecting to the Antiques Road Show to see and hear about it. Please view this video even if you miss the others.


How privileged we are to be able to sew for leisure and pleasure.


Ferguslie Half Timers School was one of the finest school buildings in Scotland. Built in 1866 by the Coats family, they hired eminent architects to build a "palace of education". It was described as "an admirably equipped school" and a "model of beauty and appropriateness". It is now, unfortunately, derelict having suffered fires and then been left open to the weather. A drawing and floor plan of this school can be found from the link above. Half Timers were students who worked half a day in industry and went to school for the other half of the day. If you search the web you will find a video of the Ferguslie school in its current condition.

Eagley Mills owned by Chadwicks and then JP Coates has fared much better. It was closed in the 1970s and has been converted into residences. See the transformation of this old mill building.


In 1750 James and Patrick Clark began work in the loom equipment and silk thread business in Paisley, Scotland. In 1830, James and Peter Clark inherited the business naming it J. & P. Coats. The company expanded and is now an International provider of threads and other textile items and operates under a variety of names. One of the brands we all recognize is Clarks Anchor Embroidery Floss.

Social history tells us of the lives and times of our ancestors and the conditions in which they lived. I am hoping that these articles focussing on the daily lives of ordinary people will keep the details of their lives within our memories.

This is a good moment to offer profound thanks to Janet Sunderani without whom the last two blogs would not have happened. I have enjoyed this trip into our history about which I knew nothing. Researching for pictures and videos has been interesting and rewarding.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Silk, Stockings and Clogs, by Janet Sunderani

1980s Britain was a difficult time to graduate from university.  With a degree in English and no discernible job skills apart from a willing heart and an urgent need to earn my keep I felt very lucky to land a job with a textile company in the Midlands. Filigree Textiles made knitted voile, Jacquard lace, lace insertions and trimmings from Diolen. This polyester thread was used to make the sheer and lace curtains so popular at that time in the UK.  They also owned E. A. Richards, a manufacturer of traditional Nottingham lace tablecloths, bedspreads and trimmings using machines that were already over 100 years old.

To take a tour of Leavers lace mill and see a working lace making machine watch the video below. Yes, I noted that it is in Rhode Island.


It is still possible to purchase Nottingham Lace. This tablecloth (Aintree design)can be found at the site below. Lace Story, also on this site, contains more information. The Lucilla pattern is 100% cotton and hand made. From cruising the web and reading the advertising, my impression is that there is an increased interest in using lace thanks to Downton Abbey.


I had a grand title, Marketing Executive, but in reality my job was a gofer. Officially I assisted in all aspects of our participation in national and international trade fairs. Included were purchasing of sales materials, display stands, packaging and print. Other duties could find me doing anything from cleaning the showroom, ironing samples to fetching and delivering urgently needed goods and trimmings.  I felt lucky to have a job and was rarely bored.

I loved living in the Midlands near to Nottingham. We settled in Belper in a tiny cottage on Mill Lane. Our neighbour, Dina, had lived on that street all her life and worked for the local stocking factory, Brettles, where she was a 'leg straightener'. She pulled the knitted stockings over a leg form prior to them being steam finished and becoming fully fashioned. That is, acquiring a leg shape.  We moved and our new next door neighbour was 'Dina's other leg'. This means that she worked the other shift but worked on the same leg forms. I don't think stockings are made like that any more.

If you would like to see a leg straightener at work, watch the following video:


No. 17, was our neighbour on the right. This was an interesting cottage as it had been squeezed into the triangle shape between our house and the house further up the lane.  At the front is a brick structure which was a nail makers workshop.  As most of the mill workers were women and children, the men needed employment too. Belper was a centre for nail making and there are several nail makers cottages in the town. No. 17 was about twelve feet wide at the front but only three or four at the rear. All the cottages were tiny. I do not know how they brought up families in such small houses.


Take a tour of 17 which has been renovated to a desirable residence. The bathroom has a heated towel rack which is an attraction living with the general dampness outside the home. Dina and her husband continue to live in the same house on Mill Lane.

Belper was also home to other manufacturers.  Thorntons made wonderful toffee and chocolate and the smell was amazing. Strutts cotton mill and Silkolene had closed by then. Silkolene had developed a conditioner for silk weaving that became Swarfega - a hand cleanser used by mechanics.

I was often sent to Congleton to Berisfords where they made silk ribbon and trimmings. The route took me through the beautiful Derbyshire Peak District by way of Ashbourne and Leek. The countryside bore the evidence of its industrial past.  This was mining country. Most of the girls who sewed the sheer and lace curtains were the wives and daughters of miners. The Victorian industrialists had taken full advantage of the confluence of coal, water, steel and a labour force to build substantial factories. This moved knitting and weaving out of the cottages and into large purpose built mills.

Wardles Silk Mill dominated the town of Leek though It was closed even then.  The Victorians built those buildings to last. The Wardles had been a prominent family and several of them had been mayors of the town.  Many of the mill owners of that time built schools for the children of their workers. This had a radical effect on the social mobility of that class as their children received an education for the first time.

For more pictures of the Wardle and Davenport Mill in Leek, go to:


Refer also to Dyeing and the Silk Industry during the Late 1800s. Posted on this blog Monday, November 25, 2013.

In a way I felt completely at home in that industry.  My grandmother had been a mill girl before her marriage and worked as a child (1905-1915 approximately) in a cotton mill as a halftime piecer.  Under the looms, she joined together the threads as they were woven into fabric.  She worked mornings and went to school in the afternoons.  School included a nutritious hot lunch cooked on site. I wish I had paid more attention to her stories. All the local girls worked in the mill. It was much better money than being in service in a large home. Her husband was a chauffeur.  Even married girls worked in the mill; their babies were brought to the mill for nursing at lunchtime. My Aunt Edna always credited her scholarship to Grammar School to the excellent education she received at the JP Coates school which used the strict Scottish education system. JP Coates made embroidery supplies. My great aunt Alice stitched the sample tapestries used in stores publicize their wares.

I often thought of the family connection as I drove through these Midlands industrial towns. The UK was in the midst of a hard recession.  Company profits were down 20% and manufacturing output was down 15%. Inflation was 17% and unemployment had reached 1.5 million.  Evidence of this was everywhere in the closed shops though the area was better off than some.  Race riots occurred in the major cities triggered by arson attacks on the homes of racial minorities.  The prisons were in uproar too with riots and hunger strikes. Peace camps were set up at Greenham Common to protest the siting of nuclear missiles as the USA slid towards war with Iran.

However Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who was deeply unpopular, declared her intention to continue her policies announcing "the Lady's not for turning", and her Minister of Employment advised people to "get on your bike and look for work!"

One bright spot in all this was that Prince Charles and Lady Di were married and we were all invited to watch on the telly. As she swept down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral, her magnificent silk dress had become a little crumpled from the confines of the glass coach. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of things to come.  The silk for the dress was woven in Suffolk, not Macclesfield. Filigree Textiles designed and produced an official souvenir lace panel to commemorate the occasion which sold very well in Japan.

The Lace on the bodice of Lady Diana's wedding gown.

Like Wardles Mill, the factory I worked at is now derelict. Unlike Wardles the modern building did not last a hundred years. Filigree Textiles swallowed up its competitors and centralized its manufacturing into a new factory. I am not sure how much of its lace and voile is still manufactured in the Midlands. Cheap imports of excellent quality textiles from Eastern Europe were already threatening the market even in the 80s. Filigree had begun to buy lace rather than make it.

Information regarding lace keeps arriving:

"Do you know how to tell good lace from cheap lace? It’s the variation of the size of the holes.  The more variations, the better the quality. This variation also causes the woven fabric to feel fairly stiff. Manufacturers would starch cheap lace so that it felt like good quality lace". (Sheila McCoy)

Most of the old mills are derelict or transformed into flats or historic museums for the tourists. Which amounts to a glimpse at Britain's manufacturing past and a trip to the tearoom.

Each generation of the industry, each innovation seems to have been shorter than the previous ones.  Cloth and thread were home produced for hundreds of years. That is, home grown, home spun and hand woven.  Many generations would have worn cloth that was produced, cut and sewn within a very few miles of their homes.  When the Victorians built the massive mills my grandmother worked in, wearing her clogs, they must have expected this marvellous new technology to last for many generations. The buildings and the machines were built to last. And yet I probably do not own one item in my closet that was made in North America. That is, made from American cotton, woven, cut and sewn all in North America.

In fact probably almost half of my wardrobe has more to do with the oil patch than the cotton patch, sheep fold or silkworm.

And the clogs? Janet has so much to share with the readers of this blog that it has been divided into two instalments. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 20, 2014

From Lace Back to Stockings

The last posting on Lace triggered some interesting responses. Among them was the fact that a wedding dress was made of Nottingham Lace. Another reader wondered where one finds pieces of chunky old lace with which to play creatively. A third observed that the only place in the UK where lace continues to be manufactured is in Heanor in Derbyshire. And there was an email from Jeri Ames in Maine, USA with a request to share this blog with the members of Lace@Arachne.com.

That will be a pleasure and I hope that the lace makers will find this blog interesting though tangental. And for any readers with links to RSN in the 1950s, my name during my RSN days was Ann Nind. While a student there, I completed two and a half years of the three year course all in an 18 month time period. I worked hard for the first time on my life. It was a skill I really wanted to pursue but employment prospects were almost negligible. Hence the move into Occupational Therapy.

One never knows what will happen when one starts a blog. And it's all rather exciting!

Lace is a huge subject and my blog barely scratches the surface. Further information on the history of Lace can be found in the article Lace by Sheila A. Mason, BA, FRSA. www.nottsheritagegateway.org.uk

Machine knitting was invented about 1589 by William Lee, a vicar of Nottinghamshire. The Stocking Knitting Frame made it possible for workers to produce knitted goods up to 100 times faster than by hand. The industry was primarily based in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. The workers required quick sight, a ready hand and retentive faculties. It was a hard and demanding way to earn a living. Queen Elizabeth 1 refused to grant Lee a licence to produce stockings as she feared that it would result in financial hardship for the hand knitters. He went to France where he and his brother developed the machine further and within a decade he was able to produce long silk stockings for the gentry. Prior to this, stockings were hand knitted at home by every person available much like the production of Dorset Buttons.

I am reminded of Malvolio in Twelfth Night written by Shakespeare 1601/02. By then, his yellow stockings had become a fashion item and it did not take long for them to become established. The cross gartering was not so normal! White was the usual colour and stockings were made of wool or cotton with silk being the most expensive. Fashion dictated colour changes and the inclusion of designs such as clocking as the machines became ever more complex.

The hand operated stocking knitting frames were an integral part of a cottage industry in the homes and cottages of Nottingham. A good light was essential and the high set wide windows in the photograph below indicates that a knitting machine was installed in the upper rooms. It was a family occupation. The men operated the knitting machine, the women did the sewing up and the children wound the hanks of wool onto cones. The machines became better, larger and faster. The industry boomed. The hand operated Stocking Knitting Machine depicted below is very different to the complex machine being demonstrated in the video at the end of this entry,

These four cottages in Stapleford near Nottingham were purpose built for the home based stocking frame knitters. The large windows on the top floor let in as much daylight as possible. In 1844 there were 16,382 stocking frames in the area. But the home industry was in decline because the availability of steam power made it increasingly attractive for the industry to move into factories. As a result, many of the machines in the homes fell idle and the welfare of the workers deteriorated. To earn the same money, the worker now had to toil 16 hours a day whereas previously he worked 10 hours. Their living conditions became deplorable with a diet consisting mainly of bread, cheese, gruel and tea on which they grew emaciated, pale and thin. As you will see in the video, operating a machine by hand requires strength and coordination.

This photo and the information were found in a wonderful collection of pictures: English Cottages by Tony Evans and Candida Lycett Green, ISBN 0 297 78116 2.

As the 19th century progressed, fashions changed. Men wore trousers and no longer needed long stockings. In the years from the 16th century to the 19th century it became harder and harder to make a living from operating a knitting machine. This is a brief synopsis from a long and informative article at

A Google search of Framework Knitting Machines will lead you to YouTube videos of these machines in operation. You will notice that working the 100 year old machine requires good body strength and concentration. The knitter, Martin Green, can be seen in the following video which includes an explanatory soundtrack.


The beautiful lace shawl pictured at the end of one of the videos reminded me that I have a similar shawl given to me by an English friend on the occasion of the birth of our first child. It is like gossamer and is in excellent condition because it has been treated as a treasure.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief trip into the Land of Lace.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Some History of Lace

It is a long time since you have heard from me. Life got in the way.

I would like to introduce you to Janet Sunderani. Reading this Blog brought back her memories of growing up in the Nottingham area of England and the stories she heard from her grandparents and neighbours who worked in the stocking and lace industry. Official history does not record what it was really like to work in the textiles factories that have long ceased to exist. These recollections fill in the gaps between the official records, photos of machines and statistics and it is important that they be recorded.

Making lace by machine required technical innovation, experience and dexterity. The machinery no longer exists and the needed skills no longer exist either. Janet says that it is a lost art that is unlikely to be reborn.

Photo from www.nottshistory.org.uk

The article contains considerable information about the industry and the developers of the machinery.

Another interesting site is http://thelacemakers.co.uk

Here you can watch the trailer of a movie. It shows the lace making machines and the jacquards that control the patterns. The white room where the ladies checked, cut and hemmed the finished lace is included. The jacquards are the cards that control the pattern that is being woven.

Of note is the Battle of Britain Panel. Thirty eight identical panels were produced; each one took a week to weave. They were presented to the RAF and Commonwealth units involved in the Battle of Britain, to important personages and to each of the Commonwealth countries. The panels each measured 14' 9" high by 5' 3" wide. They are national treasures. The machine used 40,000 jacquard cards all of which were destroyed after the panels had been completed. Below is a portion of the lowest part of the panel. To see more go to Googles Images- Battle of Britain Lace Panel. A search of the relevant sites is a very interesting experience.

Lace making machines were a development of the machines that made stockings. But that is for the next article. Stockings were produced in high volume whereas lace was a limited industry. During World War II, the factories and production were revamped to produce mosquito netting and camouflage nets.

Janet drives two hours each way to attend our Guild in Guelph. Her reasoning is that we are a teaching Guild and she wanted to learn new techniques. She is an immaculate stitcher and we enjoy her presence among us. She has enriched our Guild as much as we have taught her. And it is totally thanks to her that this article and the one to follow are here for you to enjoy.

To my followers in Canada, Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Art of the Lacemaker: Exhibition at the Guelph Civic Museum

The Ruhland Collection: For the Love of Lace

"Lace is an art form ... very precise and delicate. It takes years for a craftsman to perfect ... and just as many years to learn and appreciate his work." Margaret Ruhland, Ottawa Citizen, 1988

An Exhibition of Lace is a rare event. Come to think about it, I have never seen one but this omission in my life has been corrected. Currently, there is an amazing exhibition of lace at the Guelph Civic Museum and it is well worth a visit.

Margaret Ruhland started collecting lace in 1978. My concept of lace is a stained, damaged and torn remnant of a bygone age. This collection is none of these. The lace is crisp and clean and has been carefully selected and stored under conservation standards. The variety and quantity is amazing.

Margaret and occasionally, her friend, Joyce Taylor Dawson, made trips to Europe looking for and acquiring lace of the highest quality they could find. Margaret died last year and this exhibition is in her memory. It has been curated and mounted by Joyce.

Here is an example of what you will see: Gros Point de Venise - ca. 1640 - Italian. This is a noble lace made for a noble person. It is Needle Lace made with gossamer fine flax, unusually high cordonnets and a variety of filling stitches. The picots are unusual for that period. Look at how many of them there are in this small detail and how even they are in size. The collar, despite its age, is in perfect condition as is all the lace in the exhibition.

You will see Needle Lace and pulled thread work. In our Guild, this is one of the favourite classes we offer so we have a number of knowledgable members. It is good for us to see the history of this skill and we are arranging a group visit during October.

Bobbin Lace is a more complex and rare skill, beautiful Bobbin Lace that could have been worn by royalty. It is complicated and time consuming to create and thus has always been expensive. It could only be afforded by people of wealth and was one of the ways in which they displayed their wealth.

Above is a Venetian Point Bobbin Lace Collar, Italian, made in the second half of the 19th century together with a detail of the same.

In the middle of the 19th century, a lace making machine was developed. It was the time of the Industrial Revolution and machines were invented to produce many textile items. Lace became more affordable and the less wealthy were able to purchase collars, cuffs and edgings by the yard. The hand made laces remained affordable by the wealthy only.

This is a piece of Handmachine lace. Point de Venise Fragment - ca 1890. It is just as beautiful as its earlier, handmade counterparts.

Lace tools are on view as well. And, in a special added feature of the exhibition, there are a few pieces of modern lace by contemporary Canadian lace makers, some made with a metal thread.

Magnifying glasses are provided so that you can really see the detail.

This is a large exhibit. There are drawers full of lace, framed pieces on the wall, towers of lace and reproductions of famous paintings of famous people displaying their lace. There is a lot to see.

The photographs, taken by Margaret and Audrey Ruhland are from the catalogue
For the Love of Lace (ISBN 978-0-9918365-0-5) as is the quote at the start of this blog entry.

The catalogue can be purchased at the Guelph Civic Museum or ordered directly from Audrey Ruhland at audreyruhland@gmail.com

I hope that you will be able to visit. The museum is in downtown Guelph at 52 Norfolk Street, adjacent to the Church of Our Lady, a prominent landmark. The museum is open daily from 1 pm to 5 pm but there are occasional variations so check first. The museum phone number is 519-836-1221. Group visits can be arranged. The exhibit closes on November 2, 2014.

Guelph is one hour west of Toronto, within easy reach of most of southern Ontario and border cities such as Buffalo

You have not heard anything from me lately as my time has been spent working on my book. It is on Hand stitching recognizable Summer Flowers and should be available soon.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Beginners Gold Work Class

First, an apology. I have not forgotten about this blog but have been busy working on my eBook on Summer Flowers. It is progressing well but such a project takes up a huge amount of time. Publication is delayed until the fall as I would like to appreciate the summer weather after our endless winter.

This is an opportunity to catch a breath and to flaunt the achievements of the members of this class. They were true beginners not even knowing the names of the thread let alone how to use them. They listened well and stitched well. We started with learning the techniques on two small designs which between them, introduce most, but not all the techniques. This was not taken at a leisurely pace as I wanted time for them to work on designs of their own choosing. Some members stitched the learning samplers while others continued on a design of their own.

This was one of the designs on which the stitchers learned how to use the materials. The leaves are appliqued organza. The centre of the flower is highly padded and covered with parallel lengths of gilt. The edges of the petals are very fine Pearl Purl which is hard to handle and the main stalk uses the S-ing technique. Notice the smooth curve of the heavier Pearl Purl connecting the leaves. Stitched by Sandra Ackerley.

This small acorn spray was stitched by Renate Georgeff. She placed it between the two learning motifs where I had left space in case someone wanted to add something interesting. Notice the nice smooth curve of the Pearl Purl. The acorns include appliqued leather. The photo is slightly out of focus. I wish that my photography skills were as good as the stitching skills of this class.

Pat Harwood stitched this piece trying out brick stitching Japanese Gold and Or Nué neither of which I had taught as neither was included in the learning pieces. The central stalk is a cord. She used a twisted red and gold thread for continuous couching within the flower petals. This is an effective way to use this twist as it gives a textured effect. The framing enhanced all four of Pat's pieces perfectly.

Gail Bailey stitched the seed head pictured above. She used appliqued leather, sequins and beads together with appliqued organza for the leaf. I think everyone in the class mastered stitching Pearl Purl in a smooth curve and the leather is well stitched down.

Marsha Fontes designed and stitched this Art Deco motif. The darkness of the organza contrasts well with the beads in the petals and centre of the flower. The star shaped sequins break the curve of the outer circle most effectively. The slant of this piece when on display at our annual show reflected the overhead lights. The fabric is cut from a Pashmina shawl. It is closely woven, soft and needs more back-basting than is normal for stitching security.

Janet Sunderani stitched the fish to practice combing organza and leather in one piece before using it on a depiction of St. Basil's in Moscow. Then she added the seaweed and pebbles to create this piece. The sequin waste used in the sea weed and the square beads for the sea floor make this an interesting piece. I am looking forward to seeing St. Basil's when completed.

The class worked hard over six lessons to accomplish all this stitching. We will have an Advanced Class starting in September when the students will stitch their own designs. I am looking forward to the challenge and the results.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

1870s in Britain: a Breakthrough for Education, Textiles and Embroidery

By the 1870s, there had been radical changes in Britain. The Industrial Revolution had been in progress for a century. The sources of power such as water, steam and electricity were developing and being accepted, manufacturing machinery was widely used, transportation systems were growing as were imports and exports, there had been a mass migration from the countryside to urban centres, the birth rate had accelerated and building in the cities had mushroomed. Legislation during the first part of the century had focussed on working conditions and the employment of child labour in the factories and mines. By the Education Act of 1870, education for children between the ages of 5 and 13 years became mandatory. This triggered the establishment of 3000 or more schools in areas where educational facilities were not adequate. The face of Britain had changed. The massive amount of building and the increase and redistribution of the population was a whole new world. And new worlds create challenges, and opportunities, that did not exist before.

One of these challenges was for employment and opportunities for unattached women. The lag in the development of labour saving devices for the home meant there were still many people in service in both large and smaller houses. Mechanization of farming also lagged behind the developments on the industrial front. This would continue until World War One and later. Labour saving devices for the home did not surface widely until after World War 11 when willing labour became scarce.

The result (that is of interest to stitchers) of this huge change in societal conditions was the founding of the School of Art Needlework. (Wow, we finally got there!). The Wemyss School of Firth was founded in 1877. Located in Scotland, its mission was to teach needlework skills to the daughters of miners and farmers so that they could find employment. Still in operation, even now revived, you can read more about this at: www.needlenthread.com (December 3, 2013). Mary Corbet wrote an article about the school including pictures. Well worth a visit. In 1879, the Leek School of Embroidery and the Embroidery Society were founded by Elizabeth Wardle though she had been embroidering for churches in the area since 1864. The school gave her the opportunity to pass her skills on to other women.

Wherever I read about embroidery in the nineteenth century, the subject of dying surfaces. Dyes for colouring fabrics and threads were originally sourced from plants, insects and minerals. Subtle in tone, they were not always colourfast. In the 1850s, aniline (chemical) dyes were discovered by an 18 year old chemistry student trying to create artificial quinine for the prevention of malaria. The number of colours proliferated but the processing was toxic. Even now, instructions on using aniline dyes include the necessity of a face mask and a well ventilated area. In 1878, Sir Thomas Wardle exhibited tussur silk cloth printed with patterns by William Morris. Included were tussur silk yarns dyed with rich but subtle colours. He also developed threads shaded between light and dark especially suited to Art Needlework. And from there on, Art Needlework flourished. The truism is correct. Given suitable fabric and threads, elegant embroidery will happen. We all, even now, owe Sir Thomas Wardle a huge vote of thanks.

The School of Art Needlework was founded in 1872. The 'Art' was to differentiate it from the canvas work stitched with bright coloured wools known as Berlin Work. Berlin Work had been hugely popular for 50 years to the point that stitchers no longer knew how to do anything else. A revival and development of suitable skills was needed. Put together single women needing employment, the availability of fabric and silk threads, the consumerism and fashions of the Victorian era which created a market, some gifted interior designers whose interests were textiles and the Arts and Crafts Movement and the result is Opportunity. And from this, came our ancestor, the School of Art Needlework.

The interval between entries on this blog has lengthened. The history has required much research and encapulating it into a brief summary has not been easy. Also, my time has been focussed on writing a book on stitching Summer Flowers. It would be nice to complete this before warm summer weather arrives when a vacation from writing will be welcome. Our summers are too short to spend in front of a computer.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Getting Closer to the Founding of the Royal School of Needlework

Life's events often seem to be the outcome of other events and a grand intermingling of individual and historical influences. Far fetched though it may seem, the founding of the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) was one of the outcomes of the Industrial Revolution.

In Britain, this started in the mid 1700s with the invention of the Spinning Jenny. Until that time, weaving was done on hand operated looms and it took three carders and three spinners to keep one weaver supplied with weft thread. This was essentially a cottage industry and England was famous for its wool and worsted cloth. The East India company started importing cheap cotton fabrics from India, China and Persia often printed with patterns now called chintz. The patterns were an easternized version of crewel work designs. About 1740, fabric brokers began supplying cotton to English weavers who wove it into fustian, a coarse and heavy cotton cloth which was made into clothing for the working man. From there, weaving looms were developed powered by animal or human energy. This form of mechanisation lasted a long time specially in rural and farming communities. One can see treadmills and wooden machinery in museums and historical villages dating back into the 1800s. Britain forbade the export of both machines and their design though enterprising individuals were able to remember the details adequately to reproduce the technology in other countries. An example of this is in Lowell, Massachusetts with its 19th century textile mills. In 1781 James Watt patented a steam engine with a continuous rotative motion. Steam power had been in existance for a long time but the use of it was not practical. The rapid development of powered industry is well known history but I wanted to 'set the scene' for the following.

The result of mechanization on the populace was profound. Coal and water provided steam and power, the mines needed labour as did every developing industry. The huge exodus of people from the country to the cities radically changed society. The birth rate soared and population increased. The numbers of working poor increased as did the wealth of the employers. The development of small businesses and tradespeople led to the emergence of the middle classes, something new to the British experience. There were the usual number of wars overseas which reduced the numbers of young men and death in childbirth took a heavy toll among young women. Wealthy ladies had their social lives to occupy them and the poor working classes struggled with injury, diseases, poverty and malnutrition. Mechanization was not available for household chores so service in the households of both the wealthy and the middle classes gave employment to a large number of the working poor. But there was a problem with occupying the excess number of middle class women who now had time on their hands but whose employment opportunities were extremely limited. They could be a companion or a governess. Nursing and office work had not yet been invented nor was education widely available. A need for acceptable employment for the middle class, something both genteel and clean, was evident.

Another factor was that Berlin Work had been the rage for 50 years and, although it is ideal for kneelers in churches, it was not a suitable technique for new vestments, altar frontals or for replacing those pieces that had worn out.

Add William Morris to this mix. He was a gifted designer with a strong interest in textiles and interior design. He grew tired of Berlin Work and he was also tired of the often shoddy mass production of poorly designed goods. He sought a return to the days of simple items that were attractive and functional. He started the Arts and Crafts Movement. He met and became good friends with Sir Thomas Wardle. You will remember that Sir Thomas imported Tussar silk from India and developed methods of dying and spinning this silk which was cheaper than the fine silk threads available from China. Most importantly, he dyed silk threads that came in different shades of each colour (Leek Embroidery - November 26, 2013). This made Satin Stitch and Long and Short Stitching not only possible but gorgeous.

Some designs attributed to William Morris

I am sure there will be readers who will find this analysis to be inadequate and biased and, of course, they are quite right. There is no mention of transportation, science, slavery or the competition with almost every other country in the world but I wanted to focus on the effect the Industrial Revolution had on the development of textiles. The effect was a profound one.

In searching for designs by William Morris, this coat surfaced. Not made by Morris but inspired by him. I included it as I think that it is gorgeous. A fantasy garment. Hope that you like it too or find it interesting.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Berlin Wool Work

The course of research does not always flow smoothly in the intended direction but often leads one to other destinations. But as all endeavours, including embroidery, are influenced by other factors, then one needs to take notice of the other players in the field. One major influence was Leek Embroidery. Another one is Berlin Wool Work.

Not surprisingly Berlin Wool Work originated in Germany. It was enormously popular in the first half of the 19th century. Worked on a coarse canvas using a thick wool yarn, it was stitched in tent stitch or cross stitch. Other stitches were used but these predominated. The finished pieces became firescreens, cushions, upholstery, small rugs and pictures and some panels would be joined together to make carpets.

The Industrial Revolution created a larger middle class where more ladies had the leisure time for stitching. The creation of more wealth and more stitchers fostered a demand for canvas, wool and patterns. Public taste for increasing decoration in the home was part of the Victorian lifestyle.

This chart (1825-1850) was hand coloured and is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The charts were initially coloured by hand until the printing industry developed the ability to print increasingly large and detailed charts and, eventually, they appeared in colour. The records state that the designers and printers circulated 14,000 different patterns. Although charts were plentiful, there were also hand painted canvases available. The designs were floral but also included animals, pets, children, religious subjects and reproductions of famous paintings.

Another achievement that helped fuel this boom was the invention of analine dyes. This process created wools of vivid colours hitherto unavailable though the range of shades was limited. The wool came from Merino sheep in Saxony, was spun in Gotha, both of which are in southern Germany, and dyed in Berlin. The production of Berlin wools was discontinued in the 1930s. Charts, wools and canvas were exported to Britain and the USA where they also became very popular. In fact, Berlin Wool Work became a craze and basically ousted all other sorts of embroidery in England. Berlin Wool Work was a major interest that kept the stitchers of the western world busy and excluded other styles of embroidery.

As well as tent stitch and/or cross stitch, beading and tufting work could be included. Tufting goes by many names including Turkey Stitch. The loops formed by the stitch are cut and the resulting pile is trimmed to contours and shapes. The sample above contains tent stitch, beading and tufting.

While searching for images to illustrate this style of embroidery I found that many charts still exist but the actual stitched pieces are harder to find. Also, many have become faded and discoloured and are not as visually appealing as are the charts.

Further information on this subject can be found in books with titles such as Berlin Wool Work and Victorian Canvas Work.

It would appear that this style of embroidery has had a lasting effect on the designs and stitches many enjoy today. I am sure we can all think of examples of types of embroidery influenced by Berlin Wool Work.