Thursday, October 21, 2010

How'd they DO that?

When last I, your intrepid travel correspondent, checked in I was in the midst of a full day of checking out the embroidery at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I must say that the V&A is one of my very favorite museums, and I've been lucky to visit several times in the past.

I spent most of the day in the textile study rooms, almost dizzy with the quality of stitching in virtually every study frame.  It was sometimes hard to concentrate on one item. . . knowing there were so many others just waiting. . . each more beautiful than the last.

What I probably ended up most taken with, though, were the items that helped me answer the question I think all stitchers have looking at some of this exceptional work:  How the heck did they DO that?

As I browse through my photos, the items I keep coming back to are ones that seem to allow a little peek into how the work might have been done.  And of course, perhaps it's JUST POSSIBLE I'll absorb a little something that will let me begin to approach the quality of work on display.

Here's a photo of one of my favorites -- a partially stitched mirror surround.  (Do you find yourself taking some comfort that there are antique UFOs?  I do.)

Looks like the stitcher just walked away, doesn't it?  Her threads are still parked waiting for her return.  And look how bright the colors are.  I wonder why the piece remains uncompleted.  I hope it was for a happy reason. . . maybe the young stitcher got married and left this piece behind. . . or maybe she was a young wife and didn't have time to stitch after having her first child.  I don't like to think of sadder possibilities.

I LOVE the fact that we can see the drawing our anonymous stitcher began with and how she chose to complete some of the motifs.  Just look at the detailed drawings of the main figures (which according to the V&A label are Venus and Paris)!  Interestingly, a fair number of the completed motifs (like the flowers and leaves next to Venus and Paris below) are tent stitched slips. . . which is a not-too-difficult technique.   

But just look at the quality of the needlelace in the rocks surrounding the fountain!  Not easy. . . no, not easy AT ALL!  I wonder what type of fabulous clothing our stitcher would have created for the figures. . . how she would finish the faces. . . and hands! 

I do hope to print out some photos and compare the drawings to some photos of completed similar pieces to possibly understand more how similar pieces of clothing were constructed. So the piece provides a little "how'd you do it" insight. . .but frustratingly little.


  1. Thankyou for sharing this Martha~ I especially enjoyed the close up picture of the stitches. Hey~ have you tried the new dmc memory thread? looks like it could be quite useful in embroideries such as this, I expect it is much cheaper than Access Com. silk wrapped purl, am not sure~ I can see all sorts of flowers and hair and mermaid tails done with it. I havent seen any in person yet, but plan on looking for it when I go down to Houston in Nov. Are you drawing up a frame as we speak? This is so inspirational, it makes me want to make one :)
    xoxoxxo rachael

  2. I too have been looking with interest at photos of the DMC memory thread. . . but haven't tried it yet. Something to put on the "to do" list. I've worked with the silk wrapped purl. . . and in Tricia's mermaid class last Feb. one stitcher made her OWN silk wrapped purl by wrapping silk around wire. So there's yet another thing on the "to try" list. No mirror surround on the drawing board yet. . .but maybe someday!

  3. I can think that a person could do a magnificent surround for say, a wedding picture~ how special would that be! Oh, and I got a closer picture of the extra piece of the fabric I was asking you about earlier~ found it right on the V&A website, and they sent me a high res picture of it~ how awesome is that!? THANKS Martha!
    ps....on the silk wrapped purl~ how do you keep the ends from raveling off when you cut it~ do you just crimp it over a little, or does it stay put by itself?
    xoxox rachael

  4. I'm not sure how to keep the do-it-yourself silk purl from raveling. It's one reason I haven't tried it yet. Crimping ends is a possibility. . .or I thought about using a tiny amount of glue.... (Did you see the pictures of the "coral rock" threads (June 25 post? For that raveling isn't a big issue since the gylt silk twist - the outermost fiber - has the metal thread wrap to help keep it in place.)

  5. I just used some memory thread. The ends were fraying, so I used a drop of Fray Stop and let it dry. Worked perfectly.

    Haven't tried with Silk Wrapped Purl tho.

    Owe you a mail to your great one about "How Did They Do That" but just gone back on antibiotics. :-( Sick Meges. I'll get to it :-)

  6. Oh wow, just followed you link from Elmsley Rose :-)

    stunning piece of embroidery thanks for sharing.