Mad In Pursuit Notebook


More on Handstitching

5.1.2014 [cont'd from 4.25.14] I'm continuing with my evening hand-stitching, aka embroidery. I was going great guns, finishing one each night and posting it on Flickr. Then I had to get complicated. First, when I post on Flickr, I like to caption my photos. Who stops to look at "DSC03516"? While I'm naming, why not get a little poetic? The piece above -- where I added the complication of reverse applique* --is obviously a sun. But no, I had to squeeze my eyes till is became a sea urchin.

Then when I was trying to figure out the engineering to turn my squares into a cloth sampler book, I decided the titles should be included. So then I started backstitching 1/4" letters. Not pretty. But this is practice, so I just forged ahead. The lettering on "alas, the sea urchin" is my best, using 2-ply floss and trying to push my thread INTO the prior stitch to avoid ugly little gaps. I don't know that I'll continue with adding the lettering this way...

Meanwhile, I'm reading "The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine" by Rozsika Parker (1984). It reminds me that in my 1950s childhood, girls were taught embroidery to demonstrate their gentility. I have vague memories of "hope chests," where young women stored their embroidered tea towels and tatted doilies in breathless anticipation of marriage. This was all a throwback to 19th-century Victorian times, when (according to Parker) embroidery symbolized the chastity and meekness of the stitcher. Good girls, refined girls embroider.

I'm more familiar with the days of Second Wave Feminism, when embroidery broke out of the parlor and into the commune, appearing in unconventional designs on jeans and jackets. And then... it was done. At least to my eyes, it disappeared as something too domesticated -- for grandmas and sheltered wives of male chauvinist pigs. By the 1980s, I for one had rejected all domestic arts, preferring computers and career to needle and thread. (Turns out I had embroidery hoops -- 3 sizes! -- amid my sewing supplies. No memory of what they were ever used for.)

The wheel goes round. Embroidery is back. It is more likely to be called "handstitching" now, as one component in the needle-arts boom, which includes the big business of quilting. I just picked up two recently published books: "Creative Stitching" by Sue Spargo and "Modern Hand Stitching" by Ruth Chandler. Both teach the classic embroidery stitches, but show them being used in wild freeform designs, combined with applique or whatever strikes their fancy. No delicate daisies on wispy little stems. Very liberating.

I'm happy to reclaim what I once rejected as too old-fashioned. Like the song says, "everything old is new again."


* REVERSE APPLIQUE: applique is behind the ground material, which is cut away to reveal it.