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Embroidery Competition

Submitted by Vettoria di Gio... on October 10, 2012 - 3:06pm

As announced at St John's, there is to be an Arts and Sciences competition judged at this coming St Catherine's Faire. To enter you must produce a small embroidered item in any style of embroidery that you so choose, entirely constructed between St John's and St Catherine's. The item must be either a gift for another member of the populace, or a contribution to Their Excellencies store of largesse, to be given to a deserving person at a later date.

The competition is open to any who wish to take part - be they man, woman, or child - at any skill level. I will be sponsoring a small prize (or prizes, depending on the variety of entries and skill of the participants).

If you have never done any embroidery before, this might be a nice way to try it out by making something small. Due to the time constraints, items such as pin cushions, needle cases, handkerchiefs, and pot pourri sachets might be a suitable size. Or for the more ambitious (or those with more time to ply their needles), perhaps a knife or fan case, embroidered collar and cuffs, or decorative apron may appeal.

Although you can of course create a piece in whichever style and to whichever design you fancy, for the complete novice, I supply here a blackwork pattern that may appeal. This is a pattern that I drafted from an extant English sampler of 1598. I wouldn't suggest that you embroider the whole thing - I just drafted the entire pattern because I wanted to reconstruct it. Instead, choose one of the motifs that appeals - the grapes, OR the flowers, OR the knot - and work that onto a square to construct a pin cushion/scented sachet or needle case. If one was feeling enthusiastic, one might embroider another motif for the other side of the finished piece.

Alternatively, there are some fill-in patterns here that you could work a square of to make a small item.

Blackwork is fairly easy for a beginner to work. The design above is known as "counted" blackwork, because it's designed on a grid, where you can count the stitches. It's commonly worked in Holbein stitch, also known as double running stitch. This clip will give you a good visual demonstration of how this works. There is a really good primer that Alexandra Gray has put together, which will also take you through how to do double running stitch.

For a first piece to make a pin cushion, I suggest you try using Aida cloth, which is the most easily-available counted embroidery fabric. It comes in different counts - this means that there are a different number of stitches per inch. Depending on your eyesight, you will probably find a 14 count cloth easy to work with, although you could also try an 18 count cloth. For the ambitious, you could use a 32 count cloth - this also lets you use nicer-looking linens (like Belfast or Cashel). If you wanted to get one of those nicer linens, you could always get it and work it with one stitch per two squares, which would make it equivalent to 16 counts (that's 16 stitches per inch). You could do this on even weave linen, but that's really hard on your eyes, and difficult even if you're not just starting out.

If you would like to try freehand blackwork instead, there are a few patterns available here that may appeal.

Alternatively, there are actual, extant period design books available on the University of Arizona weaving website, with a variety of patterns - you may be able to find a small motif or picture that would work well on a square or the corner of a handkerchief, although a lot of the patterns would be better-suited to knife cases or shirt collars/cuffs:

  • La Vera Perfezione del Disegno - an Italian book from 1561 with patterns for a variety of embroidery styles

  • Il Burato - another Italian book from the 16th century - there are a lot of netting designs in the first half of the book, but after that are some general embroidery patterns

  • Modelbuch aller art - a German design book from 1527

For extra blackwork inspiration, Karen Larsdatter's site has links to extant clothing, and this pinterest board has a variety of (period and non-period) pieces.

Good luck to all of you who choose to enter! I'm looking forward to seeing your entries!