Hello, Felting and Fiber friends.
It’s me again, a beginner felter, a novice in knitting and crocheting
(have I told you the story of my then-boyfriend’s knitted scarf? the one that kept getting longer and longer the more he used it, and his mother, an accomplished knitter and crocheter who knits a new woolly jumper for my kids each Christmas, kept undoing the last bit of the scarf and fixing it? well, he is my husband now, it goes to show that even disastrous knitting is useful…)
no skills in weaving, BUT I used to do quite a bit of embroidery, and that’s how I began my adventure in textiles, so I better tell you a bit about it.
I started with cross-stitch as a little girl (maybe 10-11-years-old) at my local Parish: an ex-teacher of Feminine Skills at schools (yes, she was that old that the subject existed with that name when she used to teach) had accepted to run a class of basic embroidery stitches for little girls at the Parish, with the aim of having a few of them join the Parish group of embroiderers who would sell their works for charity once or twice per year at the Church. She was a spinster, with loads of nephews and nieces to dote on, and she was prim and welcoming: we addressed her as Miss, Signorina in Italian, ate the cookies that she brought as treat, and loved her. My mum accepted to send me only if I promised not to lose my time and sight on finicky embroidery, and at the beginning it seemed that we were making quite small designs, such as cross-stitch butterflies for cards, or a grass stitch embroidery on a cotton bag that was supposed to hold bread.
I have kind of disappointed my mum during the following years: the idea of painting with thread caught my fantasy, and I started spending more and more time (sometimes secretly) embroidering, especially cross-stitch. Miss and the group of local embroiderers were an oddity like myself, all guiltily enjoying together an outmoded craft while chatting away a few hours. My schoolmates were half in awe of my skill and half disbelieving that I could spend so much time on that.
In time I cross-stitched a lot of things, cushion covers, cards, bathroom towels, tablecloths of various sizes (never the big ones, though) and place mats and runners, babies’ bibs, alphabet samplers and Christmas decorations… I loved the fact that you could achieve marvelous paint effects just with thread and a wise design. I also liked the idea of following a pattern, and the repetitiveness of the cross-stitching itself, that helped me calm down in difficult times and made me happier.
I used to have a subscription to two main Italian magazines that were my inspiration:
- one is the monthly “Le idee di Susanna”, skewed towards cross-stitch, but with loads of practical crafting ideas around it, and also a bit of knitting, crochet and sewing thrown in to entice you to more. See it here if you are curious.
- the other was a magazine about any kind of embroidery, especially the free stitch types of hand embroidery, it makes you dream about the highest skills of the ancient embroiderers and the top modern ones, and had been published since 1929. its past issues of the Sixties and Seventies were more practical, with knitting and useful sewing, and are still traded online by crafters. Unfortunately, it has gone downhill very quickly around the 2010 after being sold to a new publisher, and I can’t seem to find any recent issue, so I guess it is not active anymore. Such a pity, but I guess I could sell my old issues for a good price in a few years! See some of its cover images here.
Most of what I embroidered and made in those years was sold for charity or gifted to friends and family, and there weren’t mobiles to take a quick photo, so I do not have much left of them. Not because I am particularly generous, you know, it was just safer not have all those proofs of my not-studying lying around the house… Anyway, I did not need twenty baby bibs, but they were all so cute that it was hard to resist when my nephews were arriving… Oh, well, some of the bibs actually came back to me when my kids were coming in turn, so.
Here are just a couple of bathroom towels that I cross-stitched for myself when I started getting serious with my then-boyfriend (way after the longest-scarf-of-all-times): I have the photos only because those were on linen, and thus light enough to come with me when we moved from Italy to England. I loved cross-stitching on linen or cotton-linen blends: slower, but the final effect is so neat and lovely!
(I apologise in advance for the fact that none of the things are properly ironed or pressed: those are all things that I fished out of drawers as they were, and I can not face the iron at the moment, please forgive me!)
We have some more cross-stitched towels in storage boxes in Italy, to gather dust there, along with a few other embroidered things. Here are cross-stitched place mats that I embroidered on an ecru linen-cotton blend fabric, that we use as breakfast place mats. I embroidered the edges with the simplest point-a-jour: I am not really a fan of making point-a-jour, but I like having my edges neat and hate hand-sewing even more!
During my University years I started improving my free-stitch embroidery skills, and could not resist a forage into the variety of embroidery stitches that I was seeing on my magazines. Firstly, just learning about patterns and stitches, I soon started to use elements from books and magazines and adapting them to my needs and taste to create new things. Lately, I created a couple of things completely to my own designs. Here again I am afraid that I do not have much to show, because most of my creations were gifted to special persons or are in storage boxes in Italy at the moment. One day we will get all our stuff out of storage, who knows.
I only have three examples of my free hand-embroidery to show you: two of them, bathroom towels and a small tablecloth for teatime, I have brought with me to England, and the third is a small curtain that I have embroidered and hand-sewed for one of my best friends, and she graciously sent me the photos during the Christmas holidays.
So, here we go.
The bathroom towels are of the finest linen and I wanted a refined effect. It took me ages to complete the complex point-a-jour of the border, but it gave me plenty of food of thought for other embroidery projects (more on that later on). The embroidery itself is white on white: my initials framed by flowers and leaves for the main towel, and a smaller version of the initials for the small towel. I am afraid that I do not know the names for the stitches in English and I am kind of hazy about the Italian names as well right now: we are talking about nigh on twenty years ago, and even then I tended to focus on doing more than on names. The design of the embroidery was taken from a book or magazine that I had, and I modified it only a bit to simplify the framing elements, if I remember correctly.
As to the teatime tablecloth, we use it as breakfast table tablecloth: I like my breakfast as you may guess! and I really need something fresh and lovely for it to work, as I am not a morning person and waking up to ugliness would be too much. This is finest cotton, very lightweight and almost see-through. I designed it completely, and I wanted it quite simple and colourful. I started by edging the border: at the beginning, it was a lot of fun changing colours randomly every little while, but it was a long way to the end, I can assure you.
The violets were quick to embroider, I remember, just a stem of grass-stitches and the violets themselves done with different violets or white (also mixed together) in lazy daisy stitches (is this the right name? I think so, I felt very lazy for sure, I wanted to finish it quickly). The leaves I outlined with grass-stitch and chose to cover only half with satin/full stitches in different greens. I like how it feels a very easygoing and modern type of tablecloth, in the end.
And, lastly, the curtain that I made for my friend. Well, that was my first curtain, so I just could not reassure my friend of the final results: she was a bit doubtful, and also more than a bit afraid of my mum’s disapproval of me “wasting my time in useless old stuff”, I am guessing.
I presented her with my idea of design for it in a secret meeting at my place: she was going to live in a terraced house and I adapted her a terraced houses outline, taking inspiration from one of the magazines, that had a very intriguing design. In my mind the idea was already taking shape drawing from my experiences with variants of point-a-jour , openwork and different embroidery stitches, but she had to take a leap of faith and trust in my skills.
We went together to the market to buy the fabric, and she sensibly opted for a mixed synthetic and cotton: after all, she would have to wash it, not I! It took my around 2-3 months to finish it and present it to her: I remember that I was so excited when she lastly saw the finished curtain!
I wanted all the houses to be very different one from the other: each of them has a different door and various windows made using different types of stitches. I made the windows all openwork, and used this as a way to practice different openwork effects. I hand sewed it completely, as I did not have a sewing machine.
I asked my friend to take photos of some details to her taste, and she sent me these:
My friend reported neighbours and passersby asking for information on her unique curtain that they could see from the outside, during the first years that she lived there. I want to think that it helped her make friends there faster.
I then went on to make two free hand embroidery curtains for myself before my daughter was born: both white on white, a small one designed by me, all butterflies of different sizes and was actually a sampler of stitches and openwork. The other one quite big, an adaptation of an idea and design from a magazine, was embroidered on all the borders (apart from the upper one) with a continuous repetitive swirling pattern, all in one single easy type of stitch, chain stitch. I finished it with my belly growing and going in the way of embroidering and sewing, but I got it done, and had the help of my first sewing machine to finish it faster. Still, it took me a couple of months to finish it (I was not working, and paused most of my attendance to my second degree at University due to not being able to move.), and none too soon: my daughter was born shortly after the last stitches.
As to point-a-jour, openwork and needle lace, they made me sweat swear and tense, but I love the look of them once it is finished, so my big unfinished project of embroidery is a linen towel set with a maybe 8-in-height border (20 cm) of openwork-needle lace. I got through maybe half of it on the first towel. I guess that it must be in one of the storage boxes in Italy, although I could swear that I brought it to England when we moved, still hoping that in time I would be able to go on..that was around nine years ago! Embroidering takes too much time for my current life style!
I hope that I gave you some ideas of embroideries to try!
See you next time for a bit of felting!