Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mrs Archibald Christie's samplers

In my last post I revisited some of the embroidered treasures housed at the V&A and I  promised to show you some of the work I saw done by Mrs Archibald Christie. (How strange it seems today to be known by one's husband's name instead of as Grace Christie.)

Grace was a well known embroiderer of remarkable skill in the early 20th century. I had admired her book Samplers and Stitches on the Open Library at, so to come across the actual worked samples was a real find for me.

My favourite has to be the little mice eating the ears of wheat in the wheat field. They even had little bits of wheat sticking out of their mouths! The stitching is all so enchantingly regular and the apt use of stitches and changes in thread tone make the charming little scene come alive and I could just imagine the little mice secretly tucking into their dinner somewhere among the wheat storks.The mice are embroidered with Trellis stitch and if you click on the link above you can see Grace's stitch directions in her book for this unusual stitch.

And how hedgehog-like is that hedgehog! I wanted to run my fingers over the surface and feel the prickly spines - not that I would actually do it, even if it wasn't behind glass, but it sure looked invitingly tactile.

Besides the surface stitchery the Reticello and Needleweaving sampler also caught my eye. I like the idea of making up small samplers of the different embroidery techniques.  Hemming them and finishing off each unit makes them attractive and presentable, and also useful as a record of the various types of embroidery such as this form of cutwork. Perhaps these days with the number of good books that abound and access to lots of patterns and technical stitch information on the Internet, samplers like these are becoming increasingly rare.

Sadly the Textile Room at the V&A is being moved to new premises and its not open to us anymore. I only hope that once the move is over, those cabinets of embroidery will again be available for us to feast our eyes on - if we are lucky enough to get to London,  and if we are able to get to see them. Its nice to dream though isn't it?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Embroidered Samplers and Whitework at the V&A

This morning, going through my photos, I found some of my visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London a few months ago. The photos were all rather dark, but I have finally worked out how to improve them - thanks to PhotoScape, free software! Unfortunately the embroidery was difficult to photograph behind heavy glass, but you do get an idea of the fineness of the stitchery.

The cabinets in the Textile Study Room at the V&A had some real embroidered treasures. Again I was very glad to have Rod with me to help lift the heavily-glassed work out of the storage cabinets for a closer look. I was searching for examples of Dresden Lace. I found a few pieces and also examples of the very similar-looking Danish Tonder work too. 

I didn't think of taking along a magnifier so I missed some of the finer details I'd wanted to see - like how close the couching stitches are on the Tonder work outlines and perhaps identify some of the pulled work stitches. The base muslin is so fine, probably around 100 or more threads to the inch(!). A magnifier is definitely necessary to see the incredibly fine detail.

Danish Tonder embroidery, 18th Century. The outlines are couched and the background is entirely filled with pulled work.

The next piece intrigued me. Its an exquisitely worked 18th century English whitework border. The border is only about 7 or 8cm wide but just look at the many and perfect repeats of that 'pulled work' block pattern in the centre scallop, each one possibly over just 4 threads.

The label indicates that this piece is 'drawn thread work', but I did wonder about that. From what I could see it looked rather like drawn fabric work, or the term I prefer 'pulled work'. It seems unlikely to me that it has threads cut and withdrawn which is the defining characteristic of drawn thread, but then I'm just speculating.

Also, because I was on a quest to find Dresden Lace, I was amused by the irony that it had been bequeathed by an Edmond Dresden and I couldn't help wondering if the surname was in some way linked, but no, it seems that Edmond Dresden was a great British philanthropist and businessman and not an embroiderer.

Although on this visit to the V&A I intended to focus on whitework embroideries, I couldn't resist having a look at Jane Bostocke's sampler. It is like a magnet to me at the V&A.

The sampler commemorates the birth of Jane Bostocke's young cousin Alice Lee, born 'in the afternoon of 23 November 1596'.
The photo of Jane Bostocke's sampler on the V&A website is much clearer. Just click on it there to enlarge it.

Jane's sampler is the oldest surviving, dated British sampler. I marvel at the sense that we can communicate across that space in time and learn a little bit about her through her embroidery. For example, if you look carefully, you'll notice that the line under the family crests near the top has her name and is dated 1598, but why do you think that only the letters 'Bostoc' are in a silver metallic thread? Did she run out of thread or just change her mind about using a silver thread? Or perhaps she was just experimenting?

It's inspiring to think of her embroidering the sampler in 1598 and yet it has survived all this time and we are able to still see her work 413 years later. For me it also raises questions like what sort of conditions did she work in way back then? And I wonder too what sort of needle she used?

Also in the Textile Study Room, I was also delighted to find the most charming little samplers embroidered by Mrs Archibald Christie. I'll show you some of these little treasures next time. 'Till then if you are in wet wintry and windy Cape Town, keep warm and dry.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Duchess of Cambridge's Wedding Dress on Show

At the time of the royal wedding of William and Kate, it was announced that Kate's dress would go on show at a future date. The Royal School of Needlework have recently put up these dates on their website.

The RSN worked on the delicate lace on the wedding dress, the veil and the shoes. They will all go on show and we will be able to see the splendid embroidery and handwork that went into making them when they go on display at Buckingham Palace from 23 July to 3 October 2011. They will form part of the Special Exhibition of the Royal Collection during the annual Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace.
I am fascinated by how the lace, in the style of Carrickmacross, was made and applied to the dress and veil. Carrickmacross lace is both intricate and time consuming to embroider. I can't imagine the dediction and the hours of work that must have gone into the wedding dress and veil to complete them in time for the wedding. If you are lucky enough to see the exhibition I'd love to hear all about it.