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.


New Palestinian Embroidery

Last week I finally finished a piece I had been working on for some time. It doesn’t have a title as yet, but is designed to illustrate a reality for many Palestinians – that of living under occupation.IMG_7195

The fence in the composition divides a village from its agricultural land. In some cases the illegal Israeli wall or fence does precisely this. In other cases it is attacks from illegal Israeli settlers who threaten villagers’ access to their traditional land.

The work is hand embroidered using some motifs from traditional Palestinian embroidery. This is the case with the fence itself and the cypress trees. The other motifs are based on more modern Palestinian designs.

The fabric is an 18ct aida and cross stitch was used throughout, apart from the odd vertical stitch. Cross stitch is the stitch most frequently used in traditional Palestinian embroidery.

This piece was designed to accompany an exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War and the 37th anniversary of the Dundee-Nablus twinning. The exhibition is in the Central library in Dundee and is the work of the Dundee-Nablus Teinning Association.

Design from Albania

My latest project featured another pattern from the DMC book on Turkish Embroideries. This time I have adapted a design from Albania, originally part of the trimming for a towel. As with the previous piece from Bosnia, I restricted myself to two colours. Here is the finished work.


The fabric is a 18ct Aida in pale green. The main colour is yellow, though this time I chose a variegated thread, Saffron, from the Caron Watercolours range.  This is a 3 ply pima cotton and I used one strand throughout. The contrasting colour this time is a dark azuline silk from the Soie d’Alger range. I ended up using four of the seven strands to get the degree of thickness I wanted.

Most of the stitching is very simple with straight vertical or horizontal stitches predominating, along with some diagonal stitches. The one new stitch for me was an openwork cross stitch. This fills the very dense and slightly raised sections of the piece. The stitch is worked first vertically and then horizontally. In the photos of this stitch the threads are pulled tight, leaving gaps in the fabric to produce the openwork effect. This did not work with the Aida fabric, but I continued with the stitch as the slightly raised finish added to the overall design. In the book the fabric recommended is a tammy cloth, whatever that is!  Way before my time.

I enjoyed stitching this and look forward to choosing another design from the book.

Brigid’s Octomino in Four Way Bargello

Today I finally finished stitching my latest project. I wanted to do another Free-from bargello piece, but with a different design in the centre. For this part I returned to one of my favourites – Brigid’s octomino. The centre is thus is a composition with eight octominos, which of course together make up a larger octomino.  For the rest of the composition I gave up on a free form pattern and instead I used a four way bargello design. Here is the finished piece.IMG_5709

The octominos are stitched in cotton, with one strand of Caron watercolours 203 – molten lava. A simple diagonal stitch was used to make the little squares. Later on I decided to add in a single octomino on each diagonal line to break up the bargello background a bit.

The Caron watercolour is a variegated thread and my original idea was to use three colours, including a red in the bargello background, but the red dominated too much, so I ended up with just two colours for the background – purple and a pale yellow.

I used two strands of a silk thread for the bargello pattern. They are from the Debbie Bliss luxury silk range. Meant for knitting, the silk is lovely and soft and no doubt better used for knitting.  Nevertheless I like it fine for embroidery. The pattern is from the book Four Way Bargello by Dorothy Kaestner. In the book a variety of shades are used, as is normal with bargello. Here I adapted the pattern for just two colours. I needed a restricted colour range so as not to take away from the octominos.

The finished piece is almost a square – 244mmX254mm, and took me 44 hours of stitching to complete. Slow work indeed. Not sure what to do with it! Possibly a cushion cover? For my next project I am going for something a bit smaller in blackwork. Still working on the composition.



A Design from Bosnia

I have just enjoyed a brief interlude from my regular pattern of embroidery work, by exploring some other types of embroidery. The most interesting was a composition based on embroidery patterns from Bosnia. The one I chose was originally part of the trimming for a towel. I only used a section of the pattern and re-arranged it slightly to make a square. Here is the finished piece.IMG_5370

The original was white with gold on ecru. As I don’t have any ecru fabric I decided to change the colour scheme altogether. The fabric is an 18ct Aida in green. The threads are from the Rajmahal ArtSilk range. The bulk of the work is in Chartreuse, while the squares are in Vibrant Musk. I think this colour combination works pretty well.

I used all six strands for the squares in Vibrant Musk. With the Chartreuse thread, I used three strands for the diagonal stitches and all six strands for the rest.

The pattern is one of many in a book on Turkish Embroidery, part of the DMC Library collection. There is alas no date of publication for this edition. From some searching it seems that the first edition is from the 1920’s or earlier. What is unusual about the book is that hardly any of the patterns are from present day Turkey. Only three are listed as 18th century designs from Asia Minor.

All the rest are from Europe. Admittedly from parts of Europe that were once upon a time part of the Ottoman Empire. But this would be from well before the First World War. Designs come from Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Serbia. The book is fine collection of designs and I look forward to stitching many more.

The other embroidery was a return to an old favourite of mine – biscornus. Though in this case I did not make a biscornu with the finished pieces. Instead I used them to make pincushions with a plain fabric for the reverse. The design as usual with my biscornus, comes from Louison.IMG_5272Unlike most of Louison’s designs, this one is not in cross stitch, but in blackwork. I had to simplify the original design as it was not suitable for the threads nor the fabric I intended to use. The fabric is another 18ct Aida in green and the threads are variegated cotton – a Caron watercolour and two Oiver Twists.

The central pincushion is stitched with one strand of Caron watercolour in Iris. The other two are stitched with three strands of the Oliver Twists.

I am currently preparing for my next project, which will be back to crewel work. The central design is settled and outlined on the fabric. Just got to fix it onto the frame and all will be ready for stitching. Wish me luck!

Vintage Embroidery Design

I have just finished stitching my latest project. This was a design which goes back to the First World War period. IMG_5244

The pattern was one of a series which I found inside copies of Fancy Needlework Illustrated magazine. The issues date from 1914, 1915 and 1916.  Inside some of them were various iron-on transfers. The arrangement above comes from a transfer with four identical designs. I used two of them for the composition.

I was pleasantly surprised that the transfers still worked, a hundred years later. Though one was quite faint and I had to go over the lines with a fine pen. There was nothing to indicate the purpose of this particular design, nor the fabric or stitches to use. So I was left to my own devices.

The fabric is a fine linen in Orchid Haze from Wemyss, a Dundee based company. The threads are all silk from the Soie d’Alger range from Au ver à Soie. Just one strand was used except for the seeding.

The colours have some interesting names – it is a French company after all. The tendrils are medium orchid, which almost blends with the fabric. The bus are in a medium ophelia pink. The leaves are stitched with two different greens – a very light nile green and a medium dark silver green. The outer petals of the flowers are in two tones of blue – azuline and dark azuline. To complete the palette the centre of the flowers is rose des alpes pink.

Most of the design is filled with satin stitch. The centre of the flowers, in pink, is padded satin. The leaves are mainly long and short stitch. For the seeding I used two strands of the silk threads. The long tendrils are stitched in Quaker stitch. This is my first attempt at this particular stitch, which is a combination of a stem and a split stitch. A bit fussy, but it looks OK.

It was a bit of a daunting challenge to try stitching something so fine, but the silk threads are a joy to work with. I have a few more transfers from this period, which I will attempt from time to time.  Happy stitching!