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.