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.

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