Thursday, April 28, 2011

How to make a hat in *mumbledy* easy steps:

Everybody remembers this dress, right? Okay, good. Now take a look at that delightful little hat. Roses, pale straw...wonderful. Of course, there was nothing on the market like what I wanted for a hat base. I already had a straw hat in the shape I just wasn't available in as light or fine a straw as I'd like. So I said, "Self, how hard could it be to make your own straw hat base?"

Answer: not hard, just tedious. But totally worth it! Here's what I did.

Step 1: Google "creating a hat block".

That turned up this video, which may be slightly goofy and not exactly what I wanted, but it did give me the idea to use expanding insulation foam to create a block from an existing hat.

Step 2: Figure out a way to not destroy the existing hat in the process of making a mold.

The video said to use cooking spray to grease the inside of the mold hat so the foam wouldn't stick to it. I'd like to still be able to wear that hat after this, so I experimented with a number of different materials available at your local grocery store. I eventually settled on using parchment paper to line the hat crown with, since my hat had a square crown and no fancy curves to it.

Parchment paper mold.

Inside the mold form.

Step 3: Apply expanding foam.

Hey, guys? When they say the foam will expand, they mean IT. WILL. EXPAND. In case you were wondering.

Follow directions better than I did...

Step 4: Poke holes in too-big expanding foam so the inside will cure.

Obviously, you don't have to do this if you didn't overdo the foam in the first place.

Yeah. Overkill, much?

Step 5: Pry giant lump of foam out of hat mold.

While I don't recommend over-filling the mold to the extent that I did, I would recommend giving yourself a little bit of extra so you can trim the bottom off level, like you would with a cake you're going to decorate. This is less tasty. I ended up trimming mine off to size, rather than scoring a groove in the bottom like the video recommends. I used a giant bread knife, which worked well, and I didn't even cut myself, which was even better.

Step 6: Procure unsized, unblocked hat blank of your choosing.

I ordered from Hats by Leko, and was extremely pleased. The $28 minimum order is a little troublesome, but when you factor in other supplies (I got millinery wire, velvet leaves, hat sizing, and two hat blanks), it's not so bad. Their shipping is what I would consider steep, but USPS Priority ain't free, and it got to me quite quickly.

Soft, unblocked straw capelines.

Step 7: Block hat.

This will be messy. Wet the straw, start stretching, pulling, poking, prodding, etc. Your straw hat blank will probably shed little bits all over the place.

With your block being foam, you can stick pins into it wherever you need to.

At this point I realized that my hat blank wasn't going to play nice in the transition from crown to brim, so I ended up taking a tuck in the straw to get rid of some excess material. It worked, and the seam will be covered with a band and flowers, so no harm done. I then turned the raw outer edge of the brim, pinned, and stitched it. For all the stitching, I just used my machine, and kept the straw just a bit damp so it wouldn't be brittle.

Lovely, pliable damp straw. Clammy.

Step 8: Size hat.

"Sizing" in this case refers to adding a stiffening agent to your hat. This keeps it from drooping out of shape in a light rainstorm...although I'd try to avoid rainstorms (light or otherwise) either way. I used the Hydrolac B-5 powder from Hats by Leko, and while I was very dubious about it initially, I was pleasantly surprised. It starts out looking like cake batter and transforms into a clear, amber-colored liquid over the course of about an hour.

Starts out goopy...

...Turns clear. Weird. But effective!

I did not use a spray bottle, which is what the directions said to do. I was doing this in my living room with silk and organdy laid out all over the place and that seemed like asking for trouble. I used a junky paint brush instead, and it worked just fine.

Step 9: Try hat on, realize it's too small.

My theory is that the foam shrank a little after I had un-molded it and it had cured a little farther. This is no doubt due to my ineptitude with the foam in the first place. Either way, I fixed this by wrapping a strip of fun foam--you know, that spongy craft stuff you cut little shapes out of--around the block and re-wetting the hat, re-stretching, and re-sizing it. It took me maybe half an hour. It was still irritating.

Incidentally, you could save yourself the trouble my measuring first, and I do highly recommend fun foam for padding if you end up needing to do so.

Step 10: With the hat now fitting properly, stitch millinery wire to inside of brim.

What it says on the tin--a single round of millinery wire will help the brim keep it's shape once you've steamed it in place.

Step 11: Scald fingers Steam hat.

I used a conventional iron and liberal application of the "steam" button for this, and just prodded the straw into its final shape while it was still slightly pliable. The Hydrolac B-5 directions say that steaming will set the sizing, too. This is also when I added the curves to the brim, steaming them in place as I went.

Et voila!


Next, we'll talk about how to finish the hat...but that's for later, since I still have 3 dresses for me and a dress for my mom to finish. Need to get a move on!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Public Service Announcement

I found this comb on Etsy, and it's exactly like the one I bought at Abraham's Lady in Gettysburg...except I paid more than that. ;) It's a Beth Miller-Hall reproduction 1860s comb, perfect to finish off your Civil War kit. I love mine to pieces, and I hope someone here can snap this up for such a good price!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Period Incorrect...But Do It Anyway

You wouldn't know it to look out the window today but spring is here and summer is swiftly approaching, and with it, our time spent outside increases dramatically. For some of us, it means whole weekends (or weeks, if you're my parents) spent camping, which means increased exposure to the elements. Skin care is a subject upon which I stand firm, regardless of my current activity. Reenacting is no different. Whatever clothes I may be wearing, if I'm going to be outside, I wear sunscreen. Because:

You see, people, THIS is what happens if you decide that sunscreen is not an important part of your kit. That was the second worst sunburn of my life, and after the first*, you'd think I'd have learned my lesson. See, I can't stand the feel of sunscreen on my skin. It feels like bugs crawling on me, and it's gross. The same goes for bug spray, but that's another story. Anyway, because I don't learn from my mistakes, the above pictured burn, while not as bad, was gotten in some of the colder weather I've experienced while in historical clothing. It was May in Northern Michigan, which still regularly sees temperatures in the forties and fifties, and with a brisk wind blowing, it made sense to sit in the sun to keep warm. Lesson: even when the temperature belies it, the sun's rays are still hazardous.

The damage from that particular burn was deep and lasting, too. It took almost a whole year for the last traces of the tan from it to disappear, and I could see a noticeable deepening in the nasolabial folds--smile lines--between my mouth and nose. My skin lost some of its elasticity and was more prone to irritation, too. This was four years ago now, and the damage is mostly healed, but it took time and I've been extra-careful of my skin ever since.

Since then, I've done much better. (Honest.) I'm blessed with fairly olive skin, which, while it means I'll never have the ideal porcelain complexion of yesteryear, also means that I can use a fairly mild sunscreen to prevent disasters like that train wreck above. My daily facial lotion of choice is SPF 15, though it's also available in SPF 30 for those of you with lovely fair skin. I actually usually buy the generic version, but the principle is the same. I like this stuff for not-just-facial use because it's lightweight and doesn't leave that nasty feeling behind.

So long story short: Reenacting is fun. Being outside is fun. Don't be stupid and make it not fun by getting an awful sunburn. Use protection! (What, like you haven't heard that before?) There is no shame in using SPF 50 or 60. Someday, your skin will thank you.

*The absolute worst burn I ever got was during a canoe trip where I spent all day out on open water in an aluminum canoe with no sunscreen on at all. I spent the next two weeks peeling, with the highlight being my arms--the flakes were the size of post-it notes. Disgusting. After that, you'd think I would have learned!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pink Progress

I've finished the trim on the pink bodice, minus sleeves (still waiting for lining material to get here), and have moved on to the skirt. Proof:

As I told my mom, "my stitching isn't perfectly even, but the good news is that it's on velvet so even if my stitch lines looked like a drunken monkey did them, you wouldn't be able to tell because the nap hides a multitude of sins." Thank. Goodness.

My next 1860s project is NOT going to involve stripes going 'round the skirt. Ugh. That being said, I'm really happy with how this is turning out!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Having a Ball...

Very early in my garment-sewing career, Gwendolyn of Idlewild Ilustré brought to my attention that I used more than the average amount of pins on any given project. In comparison, she used almost none. Over the years our pin usages have equalized, with me using less and her using slightly more, but one thing we've had in common the whole time has been our pin-keeping equipment--a magnet. Anyone who is acquainted with the use of sewing pins knows how diabolical they can be, sliding off tabletops and embedding themselves in feet at the least opportune moment. And heaven help you if you have an open container of pins lying around--if I get within ten feet of them, you can bet those suckers will be all over the floor faster than you can say (in a tone of consternation) "Ka-tieeee!"

Being accident prone in the extreme, my pin-keeper of choice is a Grabbit pin magnet, color fuchsia. That way, when I drop pins on the floor, I can swoop them back up with a pass of the magnet. My nephews (ages four and six) think it's a pretty nifty gadget, too.

But before magnets, what did people do? I can walk into Hobby Lobby and buy 120 pearl-headed pins for less than $5 now, but that wasn't always the case. Pins were valuable, laborious to make, and used for much more than sewing. Holding your clothes on your body, for example. You know, slightly vital things like that. So, if you don't have a handy-dandy magnet and you need to have your ever-important and probably-expensive pins on you at any given moment, in case of sewing emergency or wardrobe malfunction, what's a lady to do?

Carry a pinball, of course! I mean, everyone probably thought "pincushion, duh...what a stupid question," as soon as they read the last sentence in the paragraph above. Maybe it's because I've never used or carried a pincushion, but I'm absolutely fascinated by pinballs. With a little searching, I found a proliferation of them online, dating mostly from the 18th century. I've seen them dated as late as 1861, though, and is it any wonder? They're adorable. I want ten one.

Queen stitch pinball, Winterthur Collections

There are several examples online on various auction and museum sites, so I've linked a few of my favorite examples below:

Knitted silk from the V&A collections, 18th century
Knitted silk from Colonial Williamsburg, 1759
Cross Stitch in silk on linen, tentatively dated 1808
Quaker Pinball, no picture, but description dated 1829
Knitted silk, lined in linen, tentatively dated 1760s

Several of the examples out there have metal rings around their middles, often with a chain and a clip for a belt or a chatelaine. A number of the examples I've seen in person have a ribbon or tape serving the same purpose, though, so pinballs can be made without the expense of a fancy little collar, which I'm told can be quite pricey.

While many pinballs seem to have been knitted, or worked in a counted stitch over a linen ground, there are some embroidered examples as well. The ones I've seen have been done on a silk ground, and some have even had their little belly-bands embroidered. The photos below were all taken by yours truly, and are from the Winterthur Collections.

Pink on top...

Purple on the bottom, and embellished in-between!
This one reminds me of an easter egg...

Hello, flame stitch! Hell-LO, picot edged ribbon! Aren't you cute?

This one is unembellished, but you can see a couple cool details,
like the linen lining, and the wee sliver of tape, stitches visible, under the ring.

I'm by far not the first person do take a serious look at pinballs, either. I mean, I might have a slightly disproportionate fascination with them, but there are a number of resources and beautiful reproductions out there, too. Erica Uten penned the lovely book Tokens of Love: Quaker Pinballs which contains charted patterns to knit, but it looks as though it wouldn't be too awfully hard to use the templates for other forms of counted work, too. These beautiful knitted examples appear to have come from Uten's book, as is this one. Katherine (Koshka-the-Cat) knitted herself one, seen here, and then sent another as a gift, based on the knitted pinball from the Williamsburg collections.

As always, this has been just a little slice of the facts, and an excuse for me to look at (and share!) pretty pictures. If you're as interested in pinballs as I am, Uten's book is available on Amazon here, and the Needleprint society has another book of templates available, too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Fire: Examining the Flame Stitch

A drawer full of pocketbooks...can you spot the flame stitch?
The Winterthur Collections, March 2011

According to the World Wide Web, the needlework commonly known as the flame stitch is part of a larger category called Bargello, originating from some chairs in the Bargello Palace in Florence. Bargello is typically worked in wool thread on canvas, which makes it quite durable for use in home decor. Or, as you may have seen, accessories of the 18th century.

In theory, the flame stitch isn't hard to master. It's composed exclusively of vertical stitches worked in a staggered pattern across the canvas. The variety in patterns is astounding, to say the least. Here is a flame stitched pocket dating from 1761 in the Winterthur collection, and here is another example of a pocketbook, also seen at Winterthur.

It's quite common to see subtle shading of colors in the use of the flame stitch, and the color choices know no bounds, and you'll also often see a repeating pattern in the motif. That's not always true; the pocketbook (laid flat) below looks to be a combination of flame stitch and possibly a cross stitch (?), combined in a vining floral design. Other forms of Bargello work can incorporate undulating curved lines, and sometimes even circular motifs or stylized fruit. From what I've seen of flame stitch work, though, designs are typically more geometric despite the occasional outlier.

Yet another Winterthur find.

Recently, Nicole of Diary of a Mantua Maker did a post about her 18th century accessories, including a flame stitch wallet that she made. She includes a brief description of how she constructed the pocketbook, and a handy photo of the inside. Beautiful! Winterthur's engrossing textile room again provides an extant example of the inside of a wallet circa 1774 (the outside is queen stitched, and dated by the maker). Another blogger here has some in-progress photos of several flame stitched projects. And, if wallets aren't your style, why not consider a pinball?

Not to sound like a broken record, but Winterthur is awesome...

I could (and may very well) do another post just about pinballs, since I've developed quite the fascination with the little nuggets of needlework recently. The one above is a lovely example, and here's another. You can get quite a good view of the diagonal stair-step pattern of the vertical stitches. Rather than working them side by side, row by row, they're staggered diagonally. Worked in bands of color, you get the characteristic "flame" shapes from which the stitch gets its name. As you can see from the above examples, there's plenty of room for creativity with in the framework of the basic stitch!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Painting the Roses...Pink?


The Giant Rose Post actually did have a purpose. I've decided I'm tired of trawling craft stores for silk flowers that aren't actually silk, or paying through the nose for unsatisfactory paper flowers that aren't exactly what I want. Actually, I thought about ordering paper roses online, since there apparently aren't any nice ones available for retail in the greater Grand Rapids area. And then I stumbled upon this Martha Stuart tutorial.


I've got to say, this is a lot of fun. I picked up a package of No. 4 cone coffee filters at the grocery store, and some 18 gauge floral wire and floral tape from Hobby Lobby. All told, I must have spent, oh, $6? Not too bad! It took a little practice to get a good shape while wrapping the petals around the wire, but each one got a little better, and a little faster.

The hard part for me is the painting. I'm far from artistic, but during one of my "I wish I were more creative" fits while working at Hobby Lobby, I picked up a number of Daler-Rowney Artists' Water Colour paints. They're pretty pricey if you buy them retail, but they were on clearance so I paid about a dollar a tube. I have to say, I can't imagine trying to do this project with cake watercolors. It's much easier to mix different colors and concentrations with the tube colors.

There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.
Henri Matisse

The rose in the photo is painted with nothing but lots of water and a little alizarin crimson. As with most watercolor work, it pays to be delicate. I was a bit heavy-handed on my prototype and the color, while lovely and vibrant, wasn't as delicate as I want for my purposes. I have another try drying right now, painted with Naples yellow tipped with more alizarin crimson. Painting stiffens the almost fabric-like coffee filter paper, and once it dries the petals become quite pliable. Rolling them over a bamboo skewer gives each petal lovely dimension and fluffs the blossom up quite nicely.

Looking at the illustrations from Les Roses, I think I might get another package of coffee filters and play around with the petal shapes a bit. Other than that, though, I find that I'm really loving this little foray into paper craft!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Okay, okay.

After having composed a ridiculously long post, with a bad pun for a name, about the use of roses as accessories between 1761 and 1876, I feel the need to apologize to the public. So here it is--just one picture, a detail of my current project.

Rose from the dead...

I'm so sorry about the title. It was just so much more entertaining than "A Brief History of Roses Through the Study of Period Paintings." I couldn't help myself. with most things, I didn't start out to write about roses from the past. And yes, I mean roses--the iconic flower of love, friendship, and anything else you might care to mention, depending on the color. To be honest, roses aren't even my favorite flower. I prefer peonies, gladiolas, and irises. However, my latest project is the pink dress pictured below, smartly accessorized by a straw hat trimmed with--you guessed it--roses.

Spot the roses? Seems pretty and appropriate to go with a pink dress.

That got me thinking, though. That's where I got a little carried away. My friends tell me that I overthink things...and this is totally proving them right. Anyway, I started wondering about roses throughout history. If nothing else, I got to look at a bunch of pretty paintings, and it helped me kill some time of a morning, so I figured, why not share? So here we go.

Obviously roses have been around for a heck of a long time. In Romeo and Juliet, which is thought to have been written between 1590 and 1595, Juliet monologues, "That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet." My interest in their existence dates significantly later, however. Namely, how were they seen, used, and worn in the 18th and 19th centuries?

pastoral frances boucher 1761
Pastoral by Bouchard, 1761

This charming couple (and their goat) presides over a basket of flora. A couple roses nestle among the blossoms, and the young lady has affixed a full-blown rose to her bodice. Hopefully she was mindful of the thorns, first.

rosalba carriera 18th c
By Rosalba Carriera, date unknown

A little more formal, this painting (Mme. de Pompadour?) shows another take on roses in the 18th century. The subject wears a garland about her neck, with a lovely pale pink rose blossom taking center stage.

Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun

I love Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun's work. She painted radiant ladies with a soft, glowing touch that makes every painting just delicious to look at. This portrait of Marie Antoinette looks to me like it was done in the 1780s, going by the clothes. The roses are obvious, both in the hand, and on the table.

1812 fashion plate
A fashion plate c. 1812

When it came to the early 19th century, I was hard-pressed to find examples of roses in illustrations. Certainly they seemed less prolific than in earlier paintings, both as background decor and fashion statements. This plate from 1812 shows a woman in full evening dress, with a coronet of roses in her hair.

1812 fashion plate2
A fashion plate c. 1812

While I saw numerous examples of roses and other flowers on ladies' dresses in the works of 18th century artists, no such trend appeared in the early 19th century works I looked at. However, the bonnet on the top left looks to have a cluster of roses at the crown, proof that somewhere, someone thought roses were pretty to use on clothing in some way.

madame vincent 1820 boilly
Madame Vincent by Louis-Léopold Boilly, c. 1820

Look, look! Roses, and there's a yellow one. The beginning of the 1800s was a good time for roses. Empress Josephine purchased the Chateau de Malmaison in 1799, and hired a number of horticulturists to help her landscape it in the English style. And when I say "help her," I don't imagine she was out laying turf herself, but you get the idea. One of those horticulturists, Andre Dupont, had a great love of roses which Josephine came to share. Her goal was to collect all known roses from around the world (no doubt facilitated by her husband's global escapades). Between 1817 and 1824, Pierre-Joseph Redoute published Les Roses in three volumes, containing his paintings of Josephine's roses. A Picture of Roses has nearly 200 of these illustrations available online, and it's absolutely fascinating to see the different varieties so precisely depicted.

1860 - Mrs János Matta
Mrs. János Matta by Miklós Barabás, 1860

One of my favorite uses of roses--in the hair! I'm a little biased, but I think there's little as lovely as a softly-colored rose in a coiffure of smooth, dark hair. One thing I can say from experience, though, is that it's not easy to pin big fat blooms like that in one's hair.

adelina patti winterhalter
Adelina Patti, by Frans Xavier Winterhalter, 1863

See, like I said--dark hair and roses. It's a thing with me. In any case, the acclaimed operatic soprano above wears not just a rose in bloom, but a cluster of buds as well.

Roses were also pinned on dresses for special occasions. In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott writes about Meg having "A cluster of tea-rose buds at the bosom..." of a borrowed dress, and all three younger sisters wore, "blush roses in hair and bosom," to Meg's wedding.

1876 Godeys plate
Godey's 1876

And, because if something is worth doing, it's worth overdoing--check out the pink and white confection. Forget just pinning flowers to our bosoms, ladies. We're going to festoon our entire bodies with them. And, if you scoff, take a look at this recreation of that particular gown. If that's not an inspiration to start sticking roses to everything you own, I don't know what is!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hair Peace: Learning to Love False Hair

When people ask me at reenactments, "Is that all your hair?" I usually answer, "Yes, I bought and paid for it fair and square." Because the truth is, especially when I do 1860s events, very rarely is all the hair on my head actually growing from my head. This may seem a little like cheating, but fortunately, it's period cheating! Even if it weren't, though, I would still say that you can pry my hairpieces out of my cold, dead fingers. Realistically, it's the only way I'll be able to approximate a good, full 1860s hairstyle, regardless of how women in that decade acheived their coiffures. Certainly, some of them had luxuriously long hair to style, but some of them didn't. And they, like I, used hairpieces.

Hairpieces in ladies' magazines, c. 1862-3

For the greater part of my youth, I wore my hair long. At its longest, it was down below the small of my back...and it was a big giant pain. Literally--I couldn't wear it up because it would give me pounding headaches from the weight. I cut it during my first year of college and it hasn't been quite that long since. When it comes to hair in the Victorian era, though, my long locks would have been considered quite short by some. Laura Ingalls Wilder quotes her mother as saying "I had lovely long hair when your Pa and I were married...I could sit on the braids." Charles Ingalls married Caroline Quiner on February 1, 1860, which places the date just before the start of the Civil War. As long as my hair was in high school, I came nowhere near being able to sit on my braids. I could wrap them around my head, but sitting was out of the question.

For me, shorter (and thinned!) hair is a health and sanity-related life choice. I like having long hair, but I my lifestyle (and attention span) doesn't lend itself to the care and work that truly long hair requires in order to keep it happy and healthy. It's also a personal statement. As a self-empowered woman, I reserve the right to choose my haircut, and I consider it to be my prerogative regardless of anyone else's opinion. So for everyday wear, I have longish hair with layers. As such, I'm a huge advocate of hairpieces when it comes to Civil War reenacting! When I first started doing Civil War events, my hair was this long. Check out that wee little stub of a ponytail! I had shorn it all off that winter, and it was getting just barely long enough to put the back into a ponytail. Not exactly 1860s chic. But, I figured, if I could style the front and disguise the back, I should be all set! That's exactly what I did, and you can get an idea of the end result below.

Impromptu sewing circle
Greenfield Village, 2009
Photo by Gwendolyn Basala

My 'fancy' hairpiece was purchased at Abraham's Lady in Gettysburg, but it's not hard to make your own from inexpensive lengths of fake hair. Pictured above is the first one I made, back in 2008. It's a simple round braided chignon, mounted on buckram that I shaped over a cereal bowl and anchored with a medium-sized plastic comb (and a dozen or so bobby pins).

The fancy hairpiece in use...note the color match.

I'm fortunate in that my natural hair color is a dead match for fake hair color number 4 (aka brown-just-shy-of-black). I buy bags of fake hair at Sally Beauty Supply for about $2.99/bag. If your hair is a less perfect match, or you want a better color variety, I recommend finding an ethnic hair shop near you. There are a couple in Grand Rapids that I've been to, and both of them had walls just plastered with bags of fake hair in all types, textures, and colors. If your budget is a little bigger, you can go with human hair. The advantage there is that it can be dyed more easily if you're unable to buy a good match off the rack. Me, I stick to my cheap plastic hair, since it's near enough in color and texture to my own.

If you're a glutton for punishment, here are instructions for wefting your own hair (or, I suppose, someone else's) to make your own hairpieces. Rest assured that this is not something I ever hope to do. I do, however, know someone crazy enough to do something similar. My dear Julie, my first-ever roommate, saved the clippings one summer when she got her hair cut. She then proceeded to section it into small bits and seal one end of each section with glue. I then curled and sprayed each section into a little ringlet for her, since in our relationship, I am the wielder of the curling iron, and she fashioned the resulting curls into a hairpiece by sewing them to buckram that she painted to match her hair color.

Can you guess which hairpiece is Julie's? Hint: it's curly.
Photo courtesy of Jenny Esch

If you guessed the one that looks like this, you would be correct!
That's all her's just not attached to a follicle anymore.

I started this post with the idea that I might do a hairpiece tutorial, or something like. I still will, if there's interest. Hopefully, though, this has piqued your interest in the use of hairpieces in general. If you haven't tried, or haven't thought of trying hairpieces to supplement your historical hairdos, I'd have to say you're missing out. Sure, you can spend a lot of money on fancy pieces, but you can easily put together a lovely, versatile hairpiece yourself, for a fraction of the cost. All told, it's a great way to get a truly impressive look with minimal muss and fuss!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Quite the Stitch-up

Close-up of a queen-stitch pinball
in the Winterthur Collections

During my visit to Winterthur last weekend, I spent a lot of time with some absolutely gorgeous needlework pieces. Actually, I spent so much time with them that I joked to Tyler that he should have brought a book to read while I photographed everything in sight. He didn't contradict me.

There's a wonderful variety of work in those sequestered rooms, but one type of needlework that I found to be very prevalent can be seen above in the photograph of an extant pinball. At the time, I may have said, "Look, Tyler, it's more of that funny eyelet-y stitch!" Upon further investigation, I found that it's something called a Queen Stitch. I've also seen it called the Rococo Stitch and the Renaissance Stitch, but most commonly "queen stitch."

In all the examples I saw at Winterthur, the stitch in question was worked as "ground cover," so to speak, with any blank spaces (such as on this pinball) being part of the design, rather than dead space.

Queen stitch sampler
Winterthur Collections

Keeping in mind that I am abysmal at needlework, I decided to give it a try. I like the look of it, and I have a thing for pinballs. However, since I'm not sure I've got the fortitude to actually undertake a whole project, I asked my mom for some materials. She does Hardanger embroidery, so I borrowed some 22-count fabric and sz 8 Perle cotton to try my hand.

I used the directions found here, and the diagram for the queen stitch heart linked at the bottom. It took me about half a heart to find a method that was most comfortable for me, and I actually found it easier to work the stitch sideways than upright. All in all, though, I don't think it turned out too badly.

A bit chunky, but not bad!

If I were to take on a project, say, doing a repro pinball or pocketbook, I would use an even-weave linen with a slightly larger gauge, and a finer thread. However, for an experiment that took half an hour at most and cost nothing, I'd call it a success!