Among the various bits and pieces we brought back after my mother-in-law’s funeral there was a piece of red and white stitching on a scrap of blue fabric. It isn’t a full-blown embroidery, it looks more like a trial piece, but it’s unmistakably Dorset feather stitchery. I recognised it as such because some years ago I acquired a book about it, from (as I thought) a charity shop or possibly a car boot sale, describing the characteristics of this instantly recognisable style of embroidery: blanket stitch and chain stitch, both whipped and plain; fly stitch; single and double feather stitch; all worked into scrolls, lines and teardrop shapes.
When we got home I got the book out to show it to my husband side by side with his mother’s embroidery, only to discover that it very probably didn’t come from a charity shop at all, but from Elizabeth’s collection: her trial piece is an almost exact copy of the book’s Trial and Error Sampler!
She didn’t follow the pattern precisely – her top line is whipped chain stitch instead of blanket stitch, while the second-from-the-bottom line is feather stitch instead of chain stich. The teardrop band is flipped upside down, the chain stitch wave has no spikes and the teardrop fillings are not the same either. All that sounds as though it must be quite different, but as you can see from the picture the differences really are very superficial. When I first read the book I’d contemplated doing the sampler but I never got round to it; now that I’ve got Elizabeth’s version I’ve seen the style in action without having to try it myself .
Another of her embroideries which we brought back was very much a complete project: a mixed-media piece inspired by Monet’s waterlilies. The background is, I think, painted rather than dyed, and in keeping with her philosophy (although she’d probably laugh if she heard me call it that) the bridge, flowers and trees are worked in only a handful of different stitches – as far as I’ve been able to make out, straight stitch, French knots, and chain stitch; satin stitch and seeding as well, but they are basically types of straight stitch. And yet for all its simplicity it is remarkably effective. It is a style I could never master, it’s too informal and free for me, but I admire it greatly when I see it done by others!
And to change the subject completely – remember my spectacularly unsuccessful attempt at making gold thread? As I was putting together a birthday card for a friend (which may become a freebie in the not too distant future) I noticed that traces of the gold leaf are still clinging to the dining table. That probably means they’re now an integral part of this piece of furniture; a nice conundrum for the experts if future generations ever take it to the Antiques Roadshow…