Saturday, 26 April 2014

Pretty Embroidery is Cool

This past week, embroidery hit the main stream media, once again, big time.  

Finally after weeks of reading poignant accounts about vanished airplanes, capsized ferries, and tragic strife two stories brought balm to the soul, at least from my perspective, which looks at life through the eye of the needle.

Broderie Anglaise smock -19th century from Wikipedia

 Many papers across the world splashed photos of a lovely broderie anglaise garment on their front pages. Of course it made news because it was worn by the Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, the real object of the story. Still it is was a stunning piece that could have stood on its own in embroidery magazine, like the Australia’s Inspirations, which is known for its fabulous handwork projects. 

Designed by Australians Nicky and Simone Zimmermann, the dress showed off embroidery techniques to a tee. The intricate patterned panels of white work were even held together with neat trestle stitch at the hems and seems. That was very clever!  Where did the fabric come from?  Only the designers know, but it was not run of the mill, that’s for sure. It looked hand stitched. But it probably wasn’t as the dress is available – or was available –from the Zimmermann collection.  

The second eyelet dress Catherine chose for her trip Down Under was less intricate. She wore it when she took George to the Sydney Zoo. To me the material looked machine made, and why not. It was again broderie anglaise fabric stitched in pale yellow. Pretty fabric, pretty design and practical too; it stood up to a baby’s drool in a pinch. 

Catherine is turning out to be quite a patron of the stitching arts. Remember her wedding dress embellished with handmade lace by the Royal School of Needlework? How refreshing that this trend-setting, down-to-earth young woman shows taste that is a blend of traditional and modern, and so politically/culturally savvy.  Wittingly or not, the future queen is making “pretty embroidery” cool, classy and comme il faut! Hooray! 

This brings me to second instance this week that big-name media wrote about embroidery. The National Geographic’s  April  issue carries a piece on embroidered headdresses of Brittany. 

And while Breton embroidery is, of course, about a quintessentially French style of white work, in some forms is strikingly similar to broderie anglaise. (I don’t want to start an international incident here, but note the French terminology to describe the English embroidery.)  The photos made by Charles Fréger show off the embroidery and the headdresses beautifully. Have a look.

The photos aside, the best part of the article comes in its summary paragraph. Writer Amanda Fiegl, categorizes the young French women who stitch and wear their traditional costumes at festivals like this:

A (Breton) woman is frank and unafraid..She doesn't let anyone walk over her. Like her headdress, she is a tower of strength.

With women like Catherine of Cambridge and the young women in Brittany as advocates, embroidery clearly is making a new statement. What strides feminism has made. Finally, pretty does not equal weak. Now that’s progress. 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Needlwork Guide: A Listicle

Daylight savings time arrived in Europe last week end, a tip-off that the summer holiday season, isn’t far behind. To boot, the week-end newspapers are full of travelogues and ads for the delights of exotic beaches and mountain treks.  As lovely as they are, I need more. 

As beautiful as it there embroidery nearby?

So this week I offer my readers –and thank you for being one -- a “listicle”, an article that is a list. 

Here a catalog of large scale embroideries I want to visit, if not this year, then some time soon.  This inventory is also  meant to appeal to long-suffering,  non-stitching members of my family who have a deep interest in history and all things mechanical.

My list  is offered as a work in progress, which just happens to kick off  in northern Europe.  And do chime in with your suggestions of museums, collections or pieces worth making a detour to.  The world is a big place with lots of interesting things in it.  Together we might just compile an insider's  guide to the fascinating world of embroidery. 

I review what I have unearthed, it is fascinating to note the similarities among the works. First, they are often misnamed tapestries. Technically speaking, a tapestry is woven, not stitched.  Perhaps the name tapestry has stuck because items are so large. Even by comparison with today's gargantuan paintings, these embroideries are huge. 

Then, the pieces seem to derive from a single work dating from the 11th century, the Bayeux Tapestry. It is as if communities have concluded that  ensconcing ancient tales in modern thread gives  history more power in the imagination of the local population than an a painted version might. One thing is sure, the projects certainly literally and figuratively stitched a community together for many years. And maybe that was a goals too.

So here goes: 
The Bayeux Tapestry - Bayeux, France

Probably the most renown embroidery in France, this 70-meter (230 feet), this English embroidery in wool chronicles the victory of the Norman William the Conqueror over English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was probably stitched by English professionals in the 11th century.  It has survived wars, revolutions, and moths!  

Replica of Bayeux Tapestry - Reading Museum, Reading, UK 

Created by William Morris and his wife during the reign of Queen Victoria in the 19th century, the replica is an astoundingly work in itself.  If you can’t get to the French original or this Replica, the Reading Museums’s website provides panel by panel view. 

Overlord Embroidery –  D-Day Museum, Southsea, Portsmouth, UK
Modeled on the Bayeaux tapestry, the Overlord Embroidery depicts events associated with 1944 D-Day invasion of France during World War II.  In 1968 Lord Dulverton commissioned a 22-year old artist, Sandra Lawrence, to produce drawings from  which the Royal School of Needlework interpreted in thread. The 34 panels measure 83 meters. 

4.      The New World Tapestry – Bristol, UK
The 24 panels of this 83 meter embroidery depict English colonisation in Newfoundland, North America, the Guyanas and Bermuda between the years 1583 and 1642. The work, begun in 1980, took 20 years to complete. When it is not on tour, the tapestry is on display in the  British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in the original 1840s terminal station designed by  the UK’s engineer Brunel near the modern Bristol Temple Meads railway station in central Bristol, England.

The Quaker Tapestry Tapestry Kendal, Cumbria UK

The Quaker Tapestry Tapestry comprises 77 panels illustrating the history of Quakerism from the 17th century to the present day. Based on an idea of Quaker Anne Wynn-Wilson, the tapestry has a permanent home at the Friends Meeting House at Kendal England.  Each panel measures 25 inches wide by 21 inches tall.  Over 4,000 men, women and children from 15 countries worked on the panels between 1981 and 1989.

New Ros Tapestry, New Ros Ireland

The Ros Tapestry, a series of fifteen panels, tells the story in thread of the Vikings and the foundation of Norman New Ross.  It took 150 volunteer embroiders 10 years to complete work on this project, which was conceived in 1998 by the local rector as an historic attraction for the town. The embroideries are based on the sketches of internationally renowned artist Ann Griffin Bernstorff. Countess Bernstorff’s Paris-trained daughter, Alexis, guided the embroiderers in translating the cartoons into vivid stitched images.

Now I'm pack my bags? Not just yet, but I'm thinking about it.