From the Balkans

Finally finished my latest embroidery project. The composition features five designs from three countries in the Balkans. The central circle is from Albania and the two flower like shapes come from Macedonia. These three designs were all originally from towel trimmings.  The other two designs, with green stems, were originally used on women’s chemises, and come from Bosnia. Here it is in all its glory!IMG_7419All the designs used in this piece come from a book on Turkish Embroideries, published by DMC Library. The book must have originally been published before the 1st World War. Though the title is Turkish embroideries, all but two of the examples come from the Balkans and the designs are likely to be from the period when this part of Europe was part of the Ottoman Empire. It is a lovely book full of interesting patterns, some of which I have already used.

The impulse to create this particular composition was to work with some very old threads I had inherited from colleagues in the Embroiderer’s Guild in Dundee. Nearly all the threads are silk and mainly from the Brainerd and Armstrong company. This was based in Connecticut, but went out of business in 1928. So the threads are about 100 years old.

Most of the threads are in various tones of yellow and brown. So I felt this colour palette would go well with a red linen fabric I had in my stash. As I started working it became clear that some other colours would be needed to add a bit of contrast to the composition. Hence the bright vermillion which is from the Rajmahal silk and rayon range. The blue for the main stems and surrounding the flowers is from the Soie d’Alger collection. Finally the green for the trellis and the stems of the leaves is a perle cotton from DMC.

The stitches are all standard crewel stitches mainly long and short and satin, the latter sometimes padded. The blue is in simple chain stitch, while the green stems are in Quaker stitch. The inner circle of the central design was stitched as a woven wheel. This proved a tad awkward as my first go had an insufficient number of spokes, which meant the outer lines piled up on each other. It was not until my third attempt that I finally succeeded in something acceptable.

This type of embroidery is very slow work, at least for me. The older I get the slower I seem to work. This particular piece took just over 40 hours of stitching. All for a relatively small piece – 23cmx18cm. Enjoyable work though and I am quite pleased with the outcome. As ever not sure what to do with it. Any suggestions?


Mexican inspired piece finished

I have just in the last week finally finished my latest embroidery project. This was (very) loosely inspired by some Mexican lacquer ware. For information about the background to this piece, see my previous post here.  The finished work looks like this.IMG_7382

The fabric is a 28 count Brittney in dark pine green.  The four flower like shapes and the connecting lines are all stitched in purple from au ver à soie’s Soie d’Alger collection. Only two blackwork patterns were used for the flowers, both quite dense. Each pattern was stitched once in a vertical line and once in a horizontal line. A mixture of two and three strands were used for these sections. The outline of the flower shapes are stitched in stem stitch with just one strand. For the connecting lines I decided on a quaker stitch, using two strands of the silk thread.

The background is filled with just one pattern, a fairly open one. For this I used four strands of a 12 ply silk in jade from the Glissen Gloss Colorwash range. To complete the piece I stitched wavy outline in heavy chain stitch, using one strand of Appleton’s two ply wool in dark green.

When I say the piece is finished, this is only partly true. I am still debating with myself whether I should add a dash of yellow to the centres of the flower like shapes. I will leave the embroidery in its hoop frame. Which reminds me that I still have to tidy up the back. So it is definitely not fully finished!

Anyway I now have two more projects almost ready for stitching. More later.

Designing my current embroidery piece

This will be a rather unusual post for me. I have only just started stitching, a couple of days ago in fact, so there is not much to show. So, instead I have decided to focus on how I ended up with this particular design.

I use the term design with some trepidation, as I don’t really design anything. At least not in the traditional sense. For a start I cannot draw. Neither do I have the kind of creative imagination that enables one to create something out of nothing.

A lot of my embroidery work does not involve any designing at all. Often I just follow a pattern from a book or from an online site. To the extent that a piece involves more than just copying my contribution is more akin to arranging or re-arranging patterns or designs of others.

My current project is an example of this. Though it has undergone a few ups and downs on the way. My starting point this time had nothing to do with a finished design or  even an arrangement. The whole thing began with a frame and the fabric.

The frame was found in a charity shop. I liked the size and the colour of the wooden frame. As you can see I haven’t yet taken out the print inside. IMG_7349

The fabric is a 28 count Brittney a dark pine green. I have only a small amount of this fabric left and it would fit nicely into the frame. As I usually only use this fabric for Blackwork embroidery, everything was coming along nicely. I had even decided on the thread to use, but before I could get started things began to fall apart.

Firstly I had no idea of what design, pattern to stitch. Secondly and probably more relevant, the more I thought about the frame and the fabric, they did not seem to match. The green of the fabric was just too dark and dense to go with the rust brown of the wooden frame.

So, back to the drawing board. I started by revisiting some photos I have of shapes, patterns that could possibly be used for embroidery. Some were most suited to a circular frame. This reminded me that I had an embroidery hoop, just waiting to be filled. So a circular design it would be, and the fabric was almost cut in size with the hoop in mind.

I still had to find/create something to stitch. After much cogitation and rummaging through books I finally decided to base my composition on an example of Mexican lacquerware. I have in my collection an illustrated book on this beautiful traditional art. One example has always attracted me – a tray in the Four Flowers style. The tray is circular and below you can see the intricate painting on the base.


I liked the overall circular shape of this part of the design. I particularly liked the mixture of lines and flower patterns. The final inspiration came from one little section of the design on the sides of the bowl.


I liked the dark curving lines in this section and decided to use this as the central feature for my own composition, which you can see in outline below.

IMG_7356As you can see I have used two curving lines with a flower shape at the ends of each line. This flower shape is also from an example of Mexican lacquerware. I have still to decide whether to enclose the piece in a circle.

My arrangement is of course a very simple affair. But I quite like simplicity. The four flowers will all be stitched in the same colour – a purple from au ver à soie’s Soie d’Alger collection. I intend to use only two blackwork patterns for the flowers. For the background I am using another silk thread. This time from Japan – a 12 ply silk in jade from the Glissen Gloss Colorwash range. The whole background will be in just one pattern. The photo above gives a glimpse of the background pattern and one of the flower patterns.

I have still to figure out how I will stitch the curving lines, and in what colour. There will be plenty of time for that, as this is pretty slow, but satisfying work.

A (slightly) unusual 4way bargello

This was to be my final small piece to get me over the holiday period. Alas it turned out to be not quite so small. With one thing and another I have only managed to finish the stitching today. It is another Four Way Bargello piece from Dorothy Kaestner’s wonderful book of the same name.  However as you will see it is slightly different. IMG_7341

Regular, common garden four way patterns are in the shape of a square.  While this one is very clearly a rectangle. Which means that the four way pattern only emerges at both ends. In compensation the centre is somewhat elongated. There are a few of these patterns in the book, which Dorothy Kaestner refers to as a bench as opposed to the usual square.

My original idea was to do a very, very much simplified version of the pattern. But once I got started and discovered that I had enough fabric to more or less complete the whole pattern in the book, I was hooked. I am quite pleased with the finished piece, both the elongated shape and the colours.

The fabric is my usual 18ct Aida in light green. Most of the threads are Anchor cotton, thought a couple are from the DMC range. What I find interesting is that the ecru colour really stands out, though the outline is stitched with a dark wine colour. The very dark sections are not black, but black brown. This slightly softer black fits in better, I think, with the rest of the colours.

Christmas and New Year is well and truly over. At the moment I have only a very hazy idea of what projects will emerge over the year. Wish me luck!


My second easy piece for the holidays is now complete and framed! Here it is before the framing.IMG_7310

The design is from Dorothy Kaestner’s book on Four Way Bargello.  It is her attempt to make a Snowflake suitable for embroidery. The original is very much larger and I had to reduce the size and make some minor adjustments so that the finished piece would fit into an IKEA frame I handily had lying around.

The fabric is my usual 18ct Aida in pale green.  I used three strands of DMC cotton for the stitching. The centre is ultra light plum. The other colours were two shades of turquoise and winter white for the snowy effect.  My final holiday project will be another bargello embroidery piece.  Happy New Year to everyone.

Yet another biscornu

Over the Christmas holiday period I will be concentrating on smaller, easy to finish pieces. The first is this biscornu.BCDC9B94-9BE2-4CDC-8D25-C335AB40032BThe design for the biscornu as ever comes from Louison and her wonderful blog au pays des biscornus. The fabric is an 18count Aida in pale green and I used two strands of cotton for the cross stitches. The reddish coloured thread is from the Anchor range. For the other side I went for a variegated thread from Les Fils du Rhin, called Quetsch d’Alsace. These variegated cotton threads are hand dyed and you can see the full range here.

My next mini project is another 4Way Bargello design. Below are photos to show the complete design of each side of the biscornu. Happy stitching.

Colbert Embroidery 2

I have now finished stitching the Colbert embroidery composition I started in November. Slow work indeed! The design is an adaptation of one of the patterns in the DMC Library publication on Colbert Embroideries. I was given this lovely book as a gift and a treasure trove of ideas lie within. There is no date of publication, but the original must go back to the early years of the 20th century or possibly earlier. Here is my composition.


The fabric is a 32 count Murano in Sky Blue. This is a mixture of cotton and modal, which I use instead of linen, as it has a smoother and more regular finish. The raised outline in a darker blue is stitched with No 5 pearl cotton 169 from Anchor. For the background filling I used two DMC cotton threads – medium yellow green and topaz.

The blue outline is a simple whipped back stitch. The yellow filling is an eight point star, while the green filing is a double cross. The finished piece measures 274mmX218mm.

This is my first attempt at a Colbert Embroidery design. According to the book this particular kind of embroidery is usually of large dimensions and the original, square, pattern in the book is recommended for rugs, cushions, easy chairs, sofas, chairs, footstools, etc. Not sure what I will do with my reduced size piece.

In the book all the designs have the outlined pattern left clear and unstitched. The outline is traced onto the fabric, while the background is made up of counted thread patterns. The book recommends a canvas or linen fabric made with coarse threads slightly stiffened. Not at all what I used!

For the completely uninitiated, which included myself until very recently, here is a bit of background to Colbert Embroidery, thanks to the Embroiderer’s Guild of Western Australia.

This embroidery is named after Jean-Baptiste Colbert, finance minister of Louis XIV in the 17thC who wanted to revitalize home industry, in particular the production of luxury goods such as lace which was in great demand but had to be imported from Italy and Flanders. These expensive imports were a drain on French finances. He set up lace making centres in France and brought over Dutch and Italian lace makers to teach.

The term “Colbert” became associated with a special type of pattern, inspired by the Baroque style of art, popular in the 17thC. In the 18thC, this embroidery aimed to emulate the needle laces (such as Dresden lace). It is not as fine as Dresden lace, and in fact, Colbert embroidery tends to look rather bold and coarse next to the delicate whitework of Dresden lace. Whereas Dresden is white on white, Colbert embroidery is usually worked in colour.

The design elements are bold, heavy flowing lines and curves outlined with couched braid or whipped stem or chain stitches. The structured, counted filling patterns contrast vividly with the flowing lines and curves of the designs. The background of the work is fully embroidered in counted thread geometric patterns.

This embroidery was adapted over the centuries. It was very much favoured in the Victorian era in England but soon went into decline.