Afghan Embroidery – How do they do it?May 8, 2016 at 7:04 pm | Posted in Embroidery | 6 Comments
Last week I had the opportunity to see the Forest for Ever exhibition – one of a series of projects coming out of a German-Afghan non-profit initiative that aims to strengthen and preserve the traditional needlework skills of Afghan women while giving them the opportunity to earn some extra money with their stitching. You can learn more about this project at their website.
I admired the embroidered pieces as well as the creative uses the European needleworkers and quilters had made of them, and as is inevitable at those events, fell in love with a set of embroideries that were for sale together with the invitation to take part in the next such project.
Here’s the piece I ended up with:
While most stitching consists of some variation of satin stitch, these ones were special in using a kind of openwork in the left two motifs, and I think that is what drew me to them. Here’s a close-up of one of them:
Most of the stitches used can be recognized immediately: There’s satin stitch, buttonhole stitch for the edges, some stem stitch and chain stitch for creating lines. Things got interesting when I took a closer look at some of the wider satin stitch areas that were obviously tacked down in some way in the middle. Looking at the variegated areas you can see that the stitch is worked line-by-line and not in several passes.
When looking at the zigzags on the left, you can see the blue one in satin stitch, and the brown, yellow and green ones below with that little tacking stitch in the middle. When looking at the backside in order to find out how exactly this was stitched, I was surprised that there were no stitches at the backside in the area where the tacking stitches are:
I was stumped for about half a day until I remembered running across a stitch like that when looking for ways to decorate my raw-edge appliqué a while back. I found it in Art in Needlework, a needlework book published in 1900 that I prepared for Project Gutenberg together with other volunteers from Distributed Proofreaders a few years ago. The stitch is fittingly called “Oriental Stitch” there. Looking at the oriental stitch sampler, you can see the same effect we see on the Afghan motifs, especially on letters A, B and C:
Here’s the backside:
And here’s how it is worked:
Fits the evidence perfectly, doesn’t it? There’s a reason why I’m passionate about preserving those old needlework books! I don’t think I have seen this stitch anywhere else, and that includes the very thorough Encyclopedia of Needlework.
So, now the riddle is solved, what am I going to do with those pretty little pieces of art? I already have about half of a crazy idea, so watch this space for more!