Sunday, September 6, 2015

Cape Embroiderers' Guild Outing

Last Saturday a bus full of happy embroiderers from the Cape Embroiderers' Guild headed up the West Coast to Britannia Bay to visit Leslie-Ann Meek, one of our members. It's flower season here and we saw swathes of pretty white daisies along the roadside as we rode along in the bus. This was the picturesque view awaiting us on our arrival.

A few of the more adventurous took a walk along the beach towards the distant lighthouse - just in time to meet a light shower of rain and hurry back to shelter.

Fresh little lemon flowers dotted the dunes. Aren't they gorgeous?

Back in Leslie-Ann's studio, after a warm welcome of tea and muffins, we were treated to seeing a host of embroidered treasures. Some of you may recognize the Ndebele designs on the Biscornu and needlebook that Leslie-Ann taught a few years ago at the Ighali festival in Fish Hoek.

Below is one of Leslie-Ann's many samplers. It is embroidered with Queen stitch, a stitch extremely popular in the 17th Century. It's a counted thread stitch that is interesting to work and it gives a very distinctive texture that reminds me a little of clusters of crocheted stitches. 

Penny Cornell came well prepared and before lunch organized a short workshop on covering and wrapping tubes and balls

These can be used as embellishments on embroideries. Or they can be dangled to create elaborate tassels.

Leslie-Ann is working on a long term project to cover a wooden box with embroidered panels in the style of 17th century embroidered caskets. She has embroidered several smaller projects to study various techniques in preparation for this big undertaking. 

The white silk pincushion above is embroidered with counted thread stitches. You may wonder how it was possible to do counted thread work on satin. Leslie-Ann explained that she worked over a very fine waste canvas. She commented that it's tricky to use a sharp needle over waste canvas without piercing the canvas threads and then remove the waste threads without damaging the silk fabric or the silk embroidery threads.

Another project that Leslie-Ann is doing to practice the techniques she will use on the casket is covering a mirror-with-doors in stumpwork, typical of the 17th century. The design for the mirror is standing behind the little embroidered box in the photo below.

Laced to it's frame was the beautiful silk and goldwork embroidery destined for covering the mirror. That was until Leslie-Ann discovered with horror that the linen had stretched after the design had been transferred and it is now too big to fit the frame of the mirror! I think we can all sympathize with that awful discovery. Now Leslie-Ann is planning to cut out parts of this embroidery and use them to make traditional Christmas decorations. Then she will start over again by first stretching the linen and only then transferring the design for the mirror project.

Alongside the mirror project, the designs for Leslie-Ann's replica casket are being planned and drawn up. The drawings are then auditioned on a cardboard mock-up of the box which you can see below.

The high point of the afternoon was when Leslie-Ann explained more about the intricacies of the casket project. She carefully unpacked and the wooden box that will eventually be covered with embroidery and showed us how it all fits together.

The box comes apart like a puzzle.

It has lots of little drawers and some very intriguing secret compartments that are cleverly hidden in unexpected places.

Below are the little brass fittings that will trim the box and hold it together. They have been authentically molded and cast from an original 17th century embroidered casket. It was quite fascinating to see the tiny drawer handles and the ornate hinges for the doors that close up the front of the box.


Finally, before boarding the bus for the trip back to Cape Town, we were treated to a scrumptious tea. Who could resist that delicious looking carrot cake and those juicy koeksusters? Twenty one smiling embroiderers agreed that it was a wonderful day and we all left feeling much inspired.

You can find out more about Leslie-Ann's embroidered casket and the related projects on Tricia Wilson Nguyen's outstanding historical embroidery blog The Embroiderer's Story. There are many interesting posts on the the research that Tricia has carried out to source and even manufacture threads and hardware in order to make authentic replica caskets.

For more photos of the CEG outing visit their Facebook page here. Scroll down and click through the photos. There are two lots of photos and plenty to see and read about that lovely day.

Leslie-Ann would love to find another embroiderer in South Africa who is working on a similar casket. Either leave a comment below or email me at lynette[dot]warner[at]gmail[dot]com if you know of someone and I will put you in touch with her. 

Till next time, happy stitching!


  1. What a fabulous outing! I love the beach and so much to study - ideas for several years of stitching! I was particularly interested in the counted work on satin. There was a leather glove in the exhibition I saw in Melbourne last year that had been done by a similar technique but I just couldn't get my head around it. Your description made sense of it.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Jillian! It was a very inspiring day. Do click through to the CEG Facebook page. There is a closeup photo of the fabulous flower on the left of the mirror embroidery.

  2. I've always wanted to see what comes with the cabinet of curiosity but so far no one has really written a blog sharing their stitching of this project :|

  3. The only blogger I have come across that regularly posts about a casket is Janet Brandt here: Her casket is too amazing.

    1. I remember seeing the final result somewhere. Her casket is really beautiful. I'm reading through the posts now.

    2. Following along with the progress of the casket was fascinating and the photos were gorgeous to look at too. It's difficult to believe that many of the 17th century caskets were made by young girls.

    3. I can't believe it either. I'm looking at the pictures and don't know if I can do it. It's not the stitching really, it's the whole designing portion. A lot of work was put into the concept planning and then the time that was put into it to make it happen.

  4. The designing would be a challenge for me. I could perhaps get as far as writing out some ideas and making a few tentative sketches but then I would need someone to work with me on the drawings. It would certainly be a long term project.

    1. Same. Four years would definitely not be enough lol