Sunday, November 16, 2014

Florence Caulfield & Art Nouveau Embroidery

I was intrigued when I saw a design featuring these three proteas on Mary Corbet's blog and wondered if there was a South African connection. It's quite unusual to find distinctly South African embroidery designs.

Protea motif
from the Illustrated Needlework Book
 at the Victoria and Albert Museum
A little research revealed that the designer Florence Caulfield, an embroiderer and a specialist in South African flora, went to England shortly before World War I broke out. Her embroidery book, titled The Illustrated Needlework Book, features Art Nouveau designs based on indigenous South African flowers but it seems that due to the War it was never published. Sad to think she was so near to publishing but that it didn't happen.

If you have been in Cape Town at the right time of the year you may have been lucky enough to see swaths of red disas, just like the one illustrated below, growing freely on Table Mountain. It's something I still want to go and see. Where's that bucket list?

Disa motif
from The Illustrated Needlework Book
at the Victoria and Albert Museum
The proof copy of Florence's book is held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and delightfully for us embroiderers some of the designs have been made available in digital format for downloading and using. They can be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum website here.

On the V&A website there is a brief description of the style of embroidery Florence used, a style that included a limited range of colours and mainly satin stitch. You can see too a wonderful photographic portrait of Florence wearing a dress that she herself embroidered.

If you do try one of Florence Caulfield's designs, I'd love to hear about it and will share it with other readers in an upcoming blog post.

Till then happy stitching!


  1. I'm so glad you picked up on this. I saw the post in Mary Corbet's blog and downloaded the designs from the V&A. I didn't follow up on Florence Caulfield but wondered where she had seen proteas. It is such a distinctive design. She must have been extremely talented. The composition of the portrait is extraordinary. Thanks for posting this - I found it quite exciting. I have a lot on my plate at the moment, but would really like to try the protea design in particular. I'll let you know if I do!

  2. It was interesting to find out that Florence was indeed from South Africa. Perhaps if her book had been published she would have been more widely known. I too love the protea design and would love to hear about it if you do decide to embroider it.