Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Textile Tuesdays : #2 Embroidery

I guess there are two kinds of people - those that don't really know what embroidery is, and those that could read about it, talk about it and do it all day long. In other words, if you really know about embroidery, you will love it! The history is fascinating. The technique and range of applications is amazing. The artistry is, in my opinion, at least on a par with great painting and sculpture. I can't go on all day, even though I would like to, so I will try to point out a few highlights to spark your interest.
If you ever get to London, go to the Victoria and Albert Museum. (Click on the link and explore!) They have a collection of textiles that is nirvana to me. In the ancient relics section, you can see embroidery from more than a thousand years ago. In the fashion galleries and in the textile rooms, you can see its development right up to the present. People have been using needle and thread to embellish surfaces and to tell stories throughout history and across the world. The Bayeux Tapestry is one of the most famous embroideries that was made to record history. One amazing thing about these old embroideries is that they were all done with natural dyes and the colors are still vivid in most cases. One of my favorite embroidery celebrities is Mary Queen of Scots. She stitched for years while she was imprisoned in the tower.

Embroidery can be done using silk, cotton, wool, linen, really any thread. When it is done with wool, it is called Crewel. The stitches are worked on fabric, or canvas mesh (known as needlepoint). Historically, it was done by hand, but now people sometimes use machines and there are even computerized machines that stitch a pattern automatically. There are thousands of different stitches that create various textures and patterns. The technique can be as simple as a straight stitch or as complex as the sheaf stitch. My favorite technique book is Mary Thomas's Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches. I also love the old books from the 70's by Erika Wilson.

Another goddess of embroidery is Constance Howard. The first time I heard about her was in an article I came across at a fiber arts convention in London. There was a photo of this elderly woman and her hair was long, twisted up in a beehive, and dyed bright turquoise. I was instantly smitten. She made art with thread and passed on her passion for embroidery as the head of the Textiles department at Goldsmith's College in London. Try to find some of her books or just do a google search to read more about her amazing contributions to this field.

Whether you are making old-fashioned roses on a cushion, daisies on your jean jacket, or pictures and scenes to be framed, there is room for all types of personal expression in embroidery. Personally, I cannot communicate an image in my head with a pencil or paint brush. But, when I start cutting with scissors, or stitching with thread, it comes out just as I imagined. Luckily, I decided that textiles and fiber arts were a viable path of creative expression for me. Also, it is nice that the popularity of these art forms is on the rise and there are currently many creative people producing new and fabulous stitching wonders. One of my favorites on ETSY is Mary's Granddaughter. The picture at the top is of her work. Check her out! and check out embroidery!

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