Very fine needlework, a fabric tree and a book of inspiration

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to you all – may 2017 bring only good things your way!

And with a bit of luck some of those good things will be enjoyable stitching projects. Not much stitching got done over the holiday period while visiting the in-laws; there was family to be chatted to, food to be cooked and eaten, walks in the crisp winter air to be enjoyed, and the Cotehele Garland to be admired (this year’s version was blue and white). And not much stitching is getting done in this post-festive period either, as I am contending with a cold and new glasses, which take a bit of getting used to. That is not to say there hasn’t been needlework in my life – just not mine smiley.

Some time ago my husband passed on to me some hand-embroidered handkerchiefs that had belonged to his grandmother, Susan. The initial isn’t right for me, but they are lovely dainty little things and I use them with a lot of pleasure. Not, I hasten to say, to minister to my cold; their daintiness is such that one good nose blow would probably render them ready for the laundry. But they are just the thing to have in my handbag for cleaning my glasses with.

The needlework on them – satin stitch, cutwork, needleweaving – is incredibly fine; sometimes the cutwork leaves a single thread of the ground fabric in between the needleweaving. The corner below is about 13cm square, which will give you some idea of the scale of the work. My mother-in-law tells me that the handkerchiefs were most likely embroidered and bought in China, where her aunt and uncle lived for some years, and either sent or brought back as a present for Susan. She didn’t give me a date but I’m guessing the second quarter of the 20th century.

My husband's grandmother's hand-embroidered handkerchief

This sort of embroidery could make the average stitcher weep with frustration and discourage us from ever picking up a needle again, but I’ve decided simply to admire and dismiss any thought of ever emulating work this fine. I’m quite happy to stick with fairly chunky Hardanger and do that as best I can!

Talking of chunkier needlework, my mother-in-law showed me a project she had done at her embroidery group for Christmas: a Suffolk puff Christmas tree. A Suffolk puff (I keep wanting to call it a Suffolk Punch, but that’s a horse!) is made by sewing running stitch around the edge of a circle and then gathering it so it doubles up into a puffy disc. I’d seen them before made into leggy clowns or animals, with lots of puffs strung onto a thread to make the limbs, but didn’t know what they were called. Here twelve graded puffs are pinned onto a wooden skewer set into a base, and topped with a wooden bead (a star or something similar would work as well). The idea was to sew beads on as baubles, and possibly other decorations as well, but my mother-in-law decided that the fabrics she had chosen were quite decorative enough in themselves, and I think she was absolutely right. I’m not much of a seamstress, but this is one project I might have a go at for next Christmas – I think it just about falls within my capabilities smiley.

a Suffolk puff Christmas tree

The other stitching in my life at the moment is as yet on paper rather than on fabric: Mildred Graves Ryan’s Complete Encyclopaedia of Stitchcraft. It covers knitting, crochet and other things besides embroidery, but for the moment it is the embroidery part that I’m concentrating on. The book is full of interesting stitches, all presented with lovely clear diagrams, and over the years I have already taken one or two ideas from it, for example the Portuguese band or border stitch used in Song of the Weather: April.

Mildred Graves Ryan's Complete Encyclopaedia of Stitchcraft A sample page

So laying aside my “proper” projects for the moment, I’ve got my doodle cloths at the ready to do some non-challenging stitching over the next few days; anything crooked or wrong doesn’t matter there, and if I can’t see well enough I can just make the stitches bigger!

Doodle cloths ready to use

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