The Art Of Getting Side-Tracked

This September is being a really busy month around here. Since my last blog post, I have slithered from the holiday in France, straight into the new student job at uni and onward into studying for the second block of exams. And, during this whole time, I have really missed the blog and reading about all the wonderful things you have been up to.

In this post, I will play catch-up and give you a quick update on all the new things that have happened in and around my sewing room since the last blog update. Even though it has been a very full month already, there has been some room for sewing. In fact, there was enough time for me to start two new projects and to get side-tracked more than once. But let us start at the beginning:

The month began in France. It was my first time going there and I absolutely fell in love with French fabric stores and the small merceries where you can buy the loveliest lace, ribbons, buttons and all sorts of other notions. Here is my haul:

Fabrics and notions from France.

At “Toto”, a small chain store, I bought 2 yards of both cream and white voile, as well as a coupon of salmon muslin with nearly transparent woven stripes. All of these will most likely go into making Regency attire. I also found 2 1/2 yards of a very delicate cotton lace and an embossed button at a local mercerie. The button is made of pewter and just begs to be turned into a brooch or necklace. Finding all these wonderful things makes me wonder whether I might have time-travelled back into the Napoleonic era upon stumbling into these shops…

Back home, I set about starting a gown to go over the finished Regency undergarments. I got as far as assembling the e-pattern (I am using Sense & Sensibility’s Elegant Ladies’ Closet with some alteration) and cutting out a first mock-up:

The first stages of the new Regency day dress.

Then I became indecisive about the fabric choice. I wanted to use a sheer white muslin and embroider it with some florals to match the HSM’s upcoming “Brown” challenge. Then this chance find side-tracked me:

Another unexpected fabric find.

It is a sheer, white pima cotton with blue woven stripes and an light check pattern in the base fabric. And it settled my indecision about the dress the moment I picked up the bale. Since it is a leftover, there will not be quite enough to accommodate the sleeves. But I already have some ideas what to do about that.

But first, I had to find a new, quick project for the “Brown” challenge. And I finally got an idea while browsing Pinterest the other night: garters to hold up my stockings. There I ran into two ways of doing them. One was Liz’s tutorial for tied 18th-century garters and another was this post by Isobel Carr, detailing early 19th-century spring steel garters. So I went about patterning my own pair and putting together an embroidery design to match the challenge.

Here is a glimpse of the, thoroughly brown, notions and the embroidery patterns. Since it was customary to add a motto to garters in the period, I came up with one as well: Coeur ouvert – Âme honnête. It means “open heart – honest soul”. That is not quite as cheeky as some of the period inscriptions. Yet, as a good friend has put it: A gentleman “should bloody well have those qualities if he gets as far as your garters.”

The notions for the “Brown” project.

The embroidery patterns; adapted from Ackermann’s Repository, c.1811.

It already feels as though this project is going to be a lot of fun. The plan is to finish it in time, despite all the studying, and to, hopefully, have a tutorial up for you by next month. So it is about time I go on working on it. ;)

Conveniently, this concludes the stream of exciting updates so that I can continue doing just that and wish you all a good start into this week. It feels good to be back with you and I am hoping to write up another post on the garters very soon. I have missed you all a lot!

Much Love, Nessa

We Have A Dragon

Just before I got cracking on my corset mockup, I finally finished the embroidery project I have been working on since January: A dragon-themed wall hanging. It is for my special friend Lauren who has just moved house. Very recently, she has also started out as a self-published author of children’s books. She is a huge fan of dragons, so it was not hard to decide decide on an embroidery design: Naturally, it became a dragon. :)

I patterned the design onto a piece of green canvas. As a base, I used the line drawing of a baby dragon in a coloring book. When I last showed it to you, just after stitching the outlines, it looked like this:

The outlined baby dragon.

I filled out the shapes with different shades of green for the scales and some pink and purple highlights for the wings and tail. To make it all look a little scaly, like it is usual for dragons, I mainly worked with tiny satin stitches. It took ages, but worked out pretty well. The rest, like the wings and the edge of the ears, were worked in tight rows of stem stitch. I also added some writing, worked in stem stitch to complete the hanging.

When all the stitching was in place, I hemmed the edges and attached a piece of self-fabric for backing. As a finishing touch, I stitched a small heart to the bottom right corner, using red wax beads. Now here is the finished product. All it needs now, is a little ironing:

The finished wall hanging.

I am very glad it is finally done. Lauren has already had a glimpse at it and she liked it as well. Now I only need to wait for the mail carriers to end their strike, so I can send it to her, all the way across the big pond. Now I shall go back to corset-making and some Waterloo-related research. I will try and tell you some more about the latter bit very soon. Maybe it will even be just in time for the 200th anniversary on Thursday. We will see. ;)

All the best, Nessa

War & Peace: Josephine’s Toque

With the exam season finally coming to a close, it is due time for me to fill you in on my April “War & Peace” endeavor. I have thought long and hard about this one but, at last, I have come up with a solution of which I am very happy. As a result, this month’s thing item will focus on Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine de Bonaparte. Here is a posthumous engraving of the two, walking in the gardens of their estate at Malmaison:

Posthumous engraving of Napoleon I and Josephine, c. 1824 (Found on The History Blog).

The Backstory

Now, how is this project linked to the “War & Peace” challenge theme? Well, I have thought about it in the following way: The piece I am making is meant to portray the wealth and splendor that can be achieved through a series of successful war campaigns. With Napoleon turning himself into the ruler of France and becoming the protector of an increasing number of territories, his success on the battlefields also reflects on his wife and family. During the first decade of the 19th century, Josephine enjoyed the status of a fashion icon, sporting an impressive collection of lavish outfits.

For this challenge I will be making my own lavish fashion item, based on one of hers. It is a gold-embroidered turban cap, or toque, modeled after this extant one:

Josephine’s extant, gold-embroidered toque.

Making Up The Toque

Based on the photos and this tutorial from the Oregon Regency Society, I patterned my own cap. Instead of a circle, my crown came out slightly more oval, with the vertical diameter being slightly longer than the horizontal one. To find the right drape and sizing, I made a muslin and adjusted it by the trial and error method. Here is a quick photo history of my tries:

My toque mock-ups, progressing from left to right.

With the final pattern down, I decided on how to embellish the finished product. As a student, splurging on lavish decorations is not always easy, but I have found my fill of nice things to use: Textured gold embroidery floss, some washable seed pearls and a reasonably priced length of gold braid. Seeing as the braid color does not match the thread all that well, i might leave this one for another project… ;)

The modest selection of embellishments ;).

As for the embroidery design, I decided to swap the Napoleonic bees, which were mainly reserved to be used by the members of his royal family, for a period leaf pattern which I outlined onto my net fabric with a pattern marker. At the moment I am in the process of embroidering it.

The outline embroidery pattern on the crown.

The plan is to also repeat the leaf design on the cap’s band, using the beads. Since I have never beaded anything before, it is something I would really love to try. But, until then, there is still a mountain of gold embroidery to tackle… Although, at the current rate, it is likely that I will finish my “Practicality” item for the May challenge before the toque. I will keep you posted on the progress on either front. (No pun intended ;) .)

Love, Nessa

P.S.: Today, Cassidy has posted a more general overview of the Napoleonic War’s impact on fashion across Europe and America on her blog. It sets a nice backdrop for the “War & Peace” challenge and is well worth checking out.

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HSF # 17: An Embroidered Reticule

Even though it may look tedious, embroidery can be so relaxing. That is why I am glad I decided to make my embroidered reticule for the Yellow challenge. Because, right now, life is being a bit hectic again. When I got back from my merry journey to Sweden last week, I was told that I would be moving house in a week hence. So, here I am showing you the finished item from atop a pile of boxes. ;) I am really glad most of the embroidery was already done on the road and I only had to make up the reticule when I got back.

Here is how it all went along, from start to finish:

First, I picked a pattern that would go along well with the shape of reticule I wanted. I picked this one here from an 1821 issue of Ackermann’s Repository:

The 1821 needlework pattern.

 

Next, I transferred the pattern to the fabric and back-stitched the outlines. As the outer fabric was a wool blend it was not really co-operative when it came to tracing the pattern. So I had to resort to the paper-tracing method also used in my blackwork tutorial. It worked okay, but requires a lot of patience on loosely woven fabrics… Here is what the tracing process looked like. For this, I used a no. 3 fine crewel needle:

Paper-tracing and back-stitching the lines.

Then I carefully removed the paper with a pair of tweezers and started filling in using a no. 5 crewel. For the big petals, leaves and the garland I used two different satin stitches (split and regular). The smaller flowers were filled with long and short stitch to create some shading. it does not seem to be a 100% period stitch to do, but I wanted to try it. Everything else (stems, veins and the yellow buds) I filled in with stem stitch. Here is a picture of the finished embroidery:

The filled-in embroidery.

 

While I am not certain whether the long and short fill stitch was popular during the Regency period, the stem stitch was definitely a favourite for outlining and filling, in white as well as coloured work. By chance I found this wonderful embroidery detail in the Met collection, filled almost entirely with tiny rows of stem stitching. When this whole moving craze is done, I will try and give you a quick tutorial on this, very versatile, stitch.

An 1820s corset embroidery, filled in with stem and satin stitch.

Afterwards, it was time to make up the reticule. My pattern inspiration was a blend of the two reticule patterns that come with Sense & Sensibility’s “Elegant Lady’s Closet” pattern. Here is a picture of the lining, to give you a better idea of the shape:

A look at the lining.

At last, I joined the inner and outer fabric at the top hem and fed a yellow satin ribbon through the drawsting casing. Luckily, I remembered to attach the tassel before this, so I could bury the knot on the inside, never to be seen again. ;) Here is a picture of the finished reticule, along with the challenge details.

 

The finished reticule.

The Challenge: HSF #17 – Yellow

Fabric: Shell: Yellow silk-wool blend; Lining: Light blue cotton canvas

Pattern: Reticule: My take on the Sensibility reticule patterns (Elegant Lady’s Closet); Embroidery: 1821 Needlework pattern from Ackermann’s Repository.

Year: 1820s

Notions:9 skeins of cotton embroidery twist for the embroidery and the tassel; 20 inches of yellow satin ribbon

How historically accurate is it? The fabric and patterns are period-approriate and everything was stitched and finished by hand. So, rather accurate altogether.

Hours to complete:Embroidery: approx. 36 hours for I am a bit slow; Making up: 2 hours.

First worn: For the photos.

Total cost: € 14 for the yarn and shell fabric. The lining was made from a piece of scrap.

And that was it already. I shall see you with some catch-up posts on this project, and maybe also some new, exciting ones, after moving and regaining internet access in the new city. Until then, take good care.

Love, Nessa

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An Elizabethan Blackwork Tutorial – Part Two: Stitching and Finishing Off

Hello again everyone!

After the first part of this tutorial and a little pile of coursework on my end it is now onto the second and final part. I was glad my last post was helpful to quite a few of you. I hope the second part will prove equally useful. :)

In Part One we talked about how to prep and trace your blackwork project. Now I will tell you a little about the basics of the double back-stitch, planning the stitching order of the embroidery pattern and finishing off the project. I hope it is okay I did not work with black thread but used my colourful Christmas leftovers instead. ;) Off we go:

The Double Back-Stitch

Although it is really pretty simple, the double back-stitch forms the heart of Elizabethan blackwork embroidery. It is a two-way stitch in a double sense: Firstly because it needs two trips along the same line, one forwards and one backwards, to be completed. Secondly, it “works both ways”, looking identical on the front and back of the fabric. Here is how you work it:

Insert your needle from the back of the fabric, leaving a tail of unknotted thread hanging out on the underside. You will use it to secure your stitching later.

The First Line

The First Line

Start the stitch by bringing up your needle from the back of the fabric, Working from left to right in a stabbing motion, make one stitch forward. You are now on the back of the fabric again. Here you make another stitch forward that is identical to the first in length, coming back up. Repeat this alternating stitching until your line is finished. This creates a dotted line, looking similar on the front and back of the fabric.

The Second Line

The Second Line

Now you have to go back, filling in the spaces. This works just the same as the first line of stitches, only into the opposite direction, from right to left. In my sample, the first line finishes on the front of the fabric (which it should not do). What you do now is to make a stitch to the back, filling in the blank.  On the backside, you take another stitch, just like before. It should come up again on the left of the visible stitch you made on the first go-round. From here you go back down, filling in the next blank.  Keep doing this until you have an unbroken line of stitches, front and back. Your last stitch should come out on the back of the fabric, next to where you started.

Finished Double Back-Stitch

Finished Double Back-Stitch

For a gapless line, you should work the second line by going into the same holes created by stitching the first line. However, this does not work for the very first stitch of the second line. Here you have to go in close to the last hole. Otherwise you would unpick the previous stitch. And that is your double back-stitch already. Easy, right? Now, to the slightly trickier part:

Planning the Pattern:
To cover the whole of your pattern with thread, you need to plan ahead when doing blackwork. To embroider all the little lines and corners without getting stuck somewhere in the pattern, unable to go back, you need to separate your pattern into different sections. There are a “main journey” and several “side trips” you finish off on the way. Sometimes this can be a bit like playing labyrinth games… But don’t fret, I will show you how it works:

The Main Journey

This line of stitching is your “lifeline” you use to “walk” into a section of the pattern and get back to the starting point, once this section is finished.

How to do that? Well, basically you only work the first line of stitches, as described above, until you reach an outlying section of the pattern. You then finish this section and “go back the way you came” afterwards, completing the second line of stitching on your main journey, until you reach the starting point. Once you reach it, you can embark on another main journey towards another end point of the pattern.

You can see what I mean in the two pics below. I basically finished one end of the leaf, leaving the main journey unfinished till then, so I can go back to my point of origin. With the acorn it is exactly the same.

CIMG3661

CIMG3667

Side and Round Trips

In the patterns you can see smaller lines and shapes branching off your main journey line. These are the so-called side trips. Sometimes I call them “round trips”, too, because it makes more sense.

These kinds of trips are little detours you take off the main journey. You finish them in one go. This means, you work the first-line of stitches, until you reach the end point of the side trip. There you reverse on the spot and go right back towards the main journey, finishing this side line as you go. Then you just move on with your main journey as described above.

In the picture below you can see my main journey in the center. The completed lines left and right of it are side trips I finished as I went by. Where my thread comes up is the end of the main journey. The tip of the leaf is what I would call a “round trip” as it will be worked in a circle, going one way and then right back to the main “lifeline”.

Main and Side Trips on the Leaf

Main and Side Trips on the Leaf

To make the whole planning process a bit clearer, here is a little example of how I have separated my two patterns into main and side trips. The main journey is red and the side trips are green:
leafs

Finishing Off

When you are done with your embroidery, you need to do two more things to finish off your project: neatening the loose thread ends at the back and removing your paper pattern.

Neatening Loose Ends:

Step One

Step One.

Thread the tails of thread hanging on the back of the fabric onto your needle.

Step Two.

Step Two.

Carefully weave the thread through the stitches on the back. Repeat with the other loose tail. Snip off the leftover thread.

And Finished.

And Finished.

Removing the Tissue Paper:

You will need:

  • Tweezers
  • A needle, pin or seam ripper (optional)
  • Some patience
Step One.

Step One.

Unpick the basting thread with your fingers or an aid of your choice.

Step Two.

Step Two.

Carefully tear off the tissue paper in smallish bits with your fingers. Use tweezers to wriggle free the tricky bits of paper in the centre. Caution: Try not to tug at your stitching as you do this! This takes some patience and practice, but you can do it. :)

All Done!

And All Done.

And, tadah, here is your finished piece of blackwork. Or red-and-gold work, in my case… ;)

I hope this tutorial was helpful to you all and will get you inspired for your own venture into historical embroidery.

Love, Nessa

An Elizabethan Blackwork Tutorial – Part One: Supplies and Tracing

A Happy New Year to you all.

Over the past few days my blog has seen quite a lot of traffic. This makes me very, very happy. Before I start off with this little embroidery tutorial, I would like to thank everyone who has read, liked, followed and commented on this blog. You are awesome guys. Your support motivates me even more to go through with blogging, even though I am still a relative novice to historical needlework. Thank you so much for it. :D

As a tiny new year’s goody, I have decided to write a tutorial for you. The idea for it I got after talking to Silvermedusa. She liked my plans of posting about embroidery on here, since she was interested in the topic but has not had the chance to try it out herself, yet. So, this tutorial is for her, and everyone else interested in doing some embroidery. It will show you how to make some simple Elizabethan blackwork embroidery using the double back-stitch.

In Part One, I will give you some background info on blackwork, tell you which supplies you will need and how you can trace your pattern onto the fabric. In Part Two, I will show you how to do the actual embroidery, using the double back-stitch. Since it is my first tutorial ever, please be gentle with me. ;)

 

A little background information

What is blackwork? Blackwork is a kind of embroidery that was especially popular in the Elizabethan period. It was used to decorate clothing as well as tapestries and other ornamental fabric works. Basically it is called blackwork because it is usually picked out in black thread. But the use of golden or coloured threads was also popular. Usually, the patterns consisted of line-draw-like imagery of flowers, fruits or braids that could be as simple or as intricate as you like. Below you can see a very gorgeous extant coif with elaborate black and gold work from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Extant coif with black- and goldwork

Extant coif with black- and goldwork

How is that Regency? Well, it is not. ;) The Elizabethan era is just another historical period I am very fond of. And blackwork was what rekindled the love of embroidery I once had when I was a little girl. Last year, I made a coif and forehead cloth which I embroidered with a simple freestyle pattern of thistles and clovers. It was my first venture into historical embroidery. Here is a little peek of them. Sorry for the minimalistic view on the coif, but making selfies of the back of my head proved somewhat tricky. ;)

My forehead cloth and coif with freestyle blackwork.

My forehead cloth and coif with freestyle blackwork.

For your blackwork project, you will need:

  • A piece of fabric you want to embroider: I will be embroidering a table runner for my mum.
  • Embroidery thread, preferably black: The yarn I like best for this is purl cotton, size 5 or thinner. It is nice and shiny and gives the work a pretty, pearl-like complexion. Regular embroidery floss will do as well.
  • An embroidery hoop in the size of your choice.
  • Embroidery needles matching your fabric weight: For very delicate fabrics like muslin, it is best to use fine embroidery or small milliner’s needles which have a narrower eye less likely to rip biggish holes into the weave.
  • A pattern: For this tutorial I have picked a pattern of autumn leaves and acorns from The Blackwork Embroidery Archives. It is a sound resource to start with when you are just beginning. :) leaves

To trace your pattern, you need:

  • Tissue paper (a.k.a. tracing paper)
  • A pencil
  • Sticky tape (optional)
  • Sewing needle
  • Basting thread

Tracing the pattern onto the fabric:

Here I will outline the basic tracing paper method. You can use it for copying pretty much any simple line embroidery pattern, historical or modern. Of course, you can also use any other tracing method you like. Personally, I have always found this one the most easy-going, low-tech solution, especially for beginners. So I have decided to include it, just in case someone has never traced any embroidery patterns before. ;)

Step One

Step One.

Grab your pattern and put it on a flat surface, making sure it stays in place for tracing. I usually do that by carefully affixing it to the floor or table with a few bits of sticky tape.

Step Two

Step Two.

Put a piece of tissue paper over the pattern and start tracing through with your pencil. Tissue usually has a smooth and a papery side. I usually put the papery side up because it is easier to draw on. The tissue should be a bit bigger than your pattern so you can later baste it to your fabric. To make sure the paper does not run off, it should be held in place by tape or a weight as well.

Step Three.

Step Three.

Cut out the pattern piece, leaving enough of an edge for basting.

Step Four.

Step Four.

Place the pattern piece where you want the embroidery to go on the fabric. These leaves will later be in one corner of the table runner. For now, the tissue paper will stay on the fabric, but we will get rid of it when we are done with our embroidery.

Step Five.

Step Five.

Hand-baste the tissue paper to the fabric with your regular sewing needle. You will unpick these stitches again once you have finished embroidering. Make sure your pattern piece lies flat on the fabric and there is no scrunching from pulling through the basting thread.

And Ready To Go.

And Ready To Go.

That is pretty much it. Now you put the fabric into your hoop. Ideally it should be big enough to fit round the whole pattern. But try telling that to the four yards of skirt hem you might want to embroider at some point…. ;)

This was part one of my embroidery tutorial. I hope it was helpful and easy to follow. Once the pile of uni work here has gone away, I will get back to you with the second part where we will talk about the mysteries of the Elizabethan double back-stitch, which looks the same on both sides of the fabric.

 

Until then, all the best,

Nessa

My First Sewing Class – and more embroidery patterns

Hello dear readers,

As promised, it is time I reveal my little secret from earlier this week to you: Today I took my first-ever sewing class at a cute little sewing cafe in Vienna. Well, not really a proper sewing class. It was more of a crash course in machine sewing. And it was very exciting. :)

As you know from my About page, I have never touched a sewing machine before. Honestly I was always a bit frightened of threading them and thought of them as little thread-eating monsters that make life harder. The first part, as I know now, is a myth. Threading the machine was easy once I understood what all those funny arrows meant. But the second bit still needs some puzzling out. This machine seemed to find the red thread very tasty. ;)

I must say that today changed my opinion on machine sewing. Somehow, I am not totally anti-modernism anymore. Yet it does not mean I will switch to it completely. Some of my friends call me “the human sewing machine” (no kidding) because my hand-sewn straight stitches are just as neat. And I do want to keep that reputation alive.

Yet the long inside seams of skirts are really testing my patience sometimes. Feeding them through a machine would really make life easier. Though, knowing myself, I would still do the visible outside seam of my French seams by hand. Another matter that has been on my mind, is whether my short stays would not become a little more durable if I did the main seams by machine instead of back-stitching them with quilting thread. Well, we will see what happens. I will make sure to keep you updated on this little adventure.

What else is new?

First of all, the blog’s wallpaper. Do you like it? I made it from an embroidery pattern published in Ackermann’s repository in January, 1826. How did I find it? This time it was not at the library, but on Google… I was really happy to finally find some late Regency muslin patterns on the web after all. On her blog, EK Duncan has put together all the embroidery patterns published in Repository from 1826-28. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do right now. :)

Wishing you all a merry second advent weekend.

Nessa

 

Useful links:

EK Duncan’s blog featuring needlework patterns, fashion plates and historical artwork, not only from the Regency period.

Bordering on Pretty – Muslin Embroidery Borders

Hello everyone,

At the moment, I am really pining to embroider something. So, tonight I went through the drawings from my last scavenger hunt through the fashion institute. And in there, I found three lovely patterns I would like to share with you. They are three border patterns for muslin embroidery from the 1816 collection of Ackermann’s Repository. As it really hurt me to take photos of such a sensitive old document, I copied the patterns by hand and touched them up a little for your viewing pleasure.

embroidery1

Border embroidery pattern from Ackermann’s Repository (1816)

embroidery2

Border embroidery pattern from Ackermann’s Repository (1816)

embroidery3

Border embroidery pattern from Ackermann’s Repository (1816)

I found the second pattern especially curious. It would make a great starting point for some needlepoint lace. That is something I am currently learning after finally getting the hang of a decent buttonhole stitch. I would love to embellish my chemise with it. Of course I will keep you posted and get back to you with a handy lace-making tutorial once it is happening.

And now that we are on the topic of learning new things: There is something else crafty I will get to learn this Saturday. :D But that is still a little secret, so psst. ;)
I will let you in on it all soon, in my next post. Wait for it…

Love,

Nessa