A New Blog, which includes some Needlework Content

October 9, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Posted in Book Review | Leave a comment
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Yes, I know, I’ve been a bad blogger lately. Sorry about that, I’ve been occupied elsewhere, and I’ll try to post more regularly again from now on. One of the projects that has been taking up much of my attention during the last month has been the start of a new blog, written by the volunteers  at Distributed Proofreaders. I spend a lot of my time volunteering over there and have written about some of the needlework books you can find on Project Gutenberg’s Crafts Bookshelf as a result of DP’s work before. You can find them, together with reviews of  some more modern books, in the Book Reviews Category.

The DP Blog will have content about all the different types of books we work on, but since I’m one of the people writing for it, you can be sure there will be the odd needlework book or two reviewed over there. In fact, my first post is talking about a book I’ve referenced here before, more than once. Go read about my take on the Encyclopedia of Needlework , hope you like the post! All the other posts are great, too, so spending a bit of time over there is highly recommended if you like books. I’ll most likely post new reviews of books on the Crafts Bookshelf at the new blog, but I’ll make sure to mention them here so you can go read them if you want.


Book Review—Victorian Lace Today

May 24, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Book Review, Knitting | 2 Comments

There are tons of knitting books out there. Being someone who isn’t particularly interested in pattern books usually, I don’t get excited about a knitting book very often. But when I had a chance to have a look at Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby at my LYS a few weeks ago, I was immediately hooked and just had to have it for myself. Thanks to the wonders of Amazon that happened pretty fast, and even at second and third look that book is just marvellous. It works on so many different levels for me, I’m sure I’ll use it as  a source of instruction as well as inspiration for a very long time.

While browsing randomly through the book at the LYS I came across an image of a page from an old knitting book that looked oddly familiar:

My Knitting Book page 12

Reading up on that page confirmed my suspicion: It’s the only illustrated page from Miss Lambert’s My Knitting Book (link to google books). And since I’m currently working to make this one available on Project Gutenberg through Distributed Proofreaders, naturally I’d seen this page before. And I can tell you, those old knitting patterns look very strange to today’s knitters, starting with the fact that charts were not yet invented and some of the terminology was completely different from today, going all the way to not having illustrations of the finished items and the pattern descriptions being rather sparse for today’s tastes.

And this is exactly what makes Jane Sowerby’s work so amazing: She tells the story of those early pattern writers and their books, showing what they did for knitting, where patterns were usually handed down orally before. And then she goes ahead and moves those patterns into the 21st century, presenting them in a way that’s attractive to today’s knitters. The author comments extensively on the trials involved in figuring some of those things out, and the results are beautiful.

And she doesn’t stop there: At the end of the book, in addition to explaining all the different stitches used in the book and showing methods of cast-on etc. suitable for lace knitting, she goes on to explain how to use the patterns given to design your own, complete with a work sheet to help you crunch the numbers.

Faced with so much inspiration, of course I had to go and play. The requested object was a skinny shawl from one ball of yarn, to be completed within a couple of weeks so my mum could wear it to my brother’s wedding. Completely different from the elaborate lace patterns in the book, right? Yes, on first sight, but the pattern for one of the simpler center panels proved to be just the ticket, and gave me an enjoyable first experience of “real” knitted lace (meaning there’s patterning both in the right and wrong side rows).

Narrow Scarf in Faggotting Stitch

Oh, and that’s not all of it: the book would make a great coffee table book as well. There’s lots of brillant photography not only of the knitted items but also of Victorian houses, parks and gardens. The information on where exactly all those photographs were taken is in the back of the book, so one could make a trip to Britain to see the beauty for real. Now I only need an opportunity for wearing one of those elaborate Victorian shawls, so I can make one.

Book Review — Art in Needlework

March 15, 2009 at 8:11 pm | Posted in Book Review, Embroidery, Project Gutenberg | Leave a comment

As promised last week, I want to tell you a little bit about one of the sources I’m currently getting ideas for my crazy quilt project from. Art in Needlework by Lewis F. Day and Mary Buckle is basically a stitch dictionary, systematically exploring the different types of embroidery stitches and presenting them in samplers. At least that’s what makes the book useful today. Have a look, here’s the Herringbone Sampler:

Herringbone Sampler from Art in Needlework

For almost all the samplers the backside is also shown:

Backside of Herringbone Sampler from Art in Needlework

There are explanations on how all those stitches are worked, with drawn schematics where necessary. Great to look through and get inspired. In addition to traditional embroidery stitches there are chapters on appliqué, quilting, goldwork and others.

In addition to the samplers, there are also quite a few images of embroidery pieces worked in the different techniques in the book, for example this one in Satin Stich from a Chinese work:

Chinese Satin Stich

All in all a book well worth reading. While there are a few places where the author falls into the gender stereotypes prevalent in 1900, as here in the chapter on Appliqué:

Appliqué must be carefully and exactly done, and is best worked in a frame. It is almost as much a man’s work as a woman’s. Embroidery proper is properly woman’s work; but here, as in the case of tailoring, the man comes in. The getting ready for appliqué is not the kind of thing a woman can do best.

there are also quite unexpected gems of wisdom in the book, that I can agree with in the 21st century as well:

Let the needleworker study the work of the needle in preference to that of the brush; let her aim at what stuff and threads will give her, and give more readily than would something else. Let her work according to the needle: take that for her guide, not be misled by what some other tool can do better; do what the needle can do best, and be content with that. That is the way to Art in Needlework, and the surest way.

I really enjoyed preparing this book for Project Gutenberg with the help of lots of volunteers from Distributed Proofreaders. I hope you like the result, and will get some good use out of it!

Book Review — Lace in Fashion

September 7, 2008 at 9:39 am | Posted in Book Review, Lace | 2 Comments

I was browsing the museum shop at the V&A Museum in London when this book fell into my hands and subsequently followed me home: Lace in Fashion from the Sixteenth to Twentieth Centuries by Pat Earnshaw. There’s a lot of information inside, and I just finished reading the book a few days ago. What I got out of it is a much better sense of the historical developments in lace making.

In contradiction to a lot of other books on the history of lace this one doesn’t divide lace into different sorts. Hand- and machine-made laces, needlepoint and bobbin laces, drawn-thread embroidery, crochet and knitted laces stand next to each other and get embedded in historical context. This treatment fits the actual use of laces in fashion much better, where more often than not a certain effect was sought out, no matter how the lace that created that effect was produced. The cultural as well as the economical influences on the use of lace are traced, and I found the story of how the development of machine-made laces in the 19th century influenced the use of lace and eventually superseded most hand-made laces especially fascinating.

The book contains many illustrations showing people wearing lace as well as close-ups of the different laces, so a good comparison of the different styles can be made. It took me a while to read because there’s such a lot of information in relatively small print on those pages, and I needed thinking as well as reading time.

Pat Earnshaw also made me think about the role of lace making by hand in today’s world. Since this touches quite deeply on my understanding of myself as a lace maker, I’ll explore those thoughts in a later post. But I have to say that I just love books that make me think!

Book Review — Needle-Made Laces and Net Embroideries

June 21, 2008 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Book Review, Lace | Leave a comment

While browsing the market stall of an antiquarian bookseller who specializes in textile books, I came across a curious book and just had to take it home: Needle-Made Laces and Net Embroideries by Doris Campbell Preston was originally published in 1938. The amazon link above goes to the 1984 reprint, which is also what I bought.

I find this book very interesting not so much in the actual description of different lace and lace-like crafts, but in the choice of content. From the preface:

My aim therefore is to deal with such methods as, while characteristic of the old crafts, may be practically adapted to modern requirements.

In practice that means using all the advancements of technology, like machine-made nets and braids, to imitate the effect of old lace while taking less time to get to the result. As the title says, bobbin-lace is not included, but there are some crafts included that are not made with a needle. Here’s a list of the techniques presented in the book:

  • Needle-run Lace (as in this illustration from The Art of Modern Lace-Making)
  • Tambour Work
  • Carrickmacross Lace (see Book Review for more detail)
  • Irish Crochet
  • Reticella Work (for an example see this post)
  • Princess Lace (basically appliqué of machine-made braid on machine-made net)
  • Modern Needle-Point Laces (using the braids without the net and connection with lace stitches)
  • Filet Lace
  • Tatting

As you see, that’s quite a long list for a short (159 pages) book. So by necessity, the introduction to the different techniques is quite short. It’s rather an overview over what’s possible than a thorough guide, so if you’re interested in learning any of the crafts listed, this is not the right book for you. While reading, you get the distinct feeling that needle-point lace is on its way out, basically because it’s too time-consuming for the hobbyist to make. I see this as an interesting historical document, showing the views on lace-making as they were in 1938, and that’s where its worth lies for me.

Book Review — Handbook of Embroidery

March 31, 2008 at 7:09 pm | Posted in Book Review, Embroidery, Project Gutenberg | 1 Comment

Just hot off PGDP‘s press is the newest arrival on the Crafts Bookshelf, Handbook of Embroidery. Published in 1880 “BY AUTHORITY OF THE ROYAL SCHOOL OF ART-NEEDLEWORK”, this book gives an introduction to different embroidery techniques, without wanting to be a complete guide, as the preface says:

In drawing up this little “Handbook of Embroidery” we do not pretend to give such complete technical directions as would enable a beginner in this beautiful art to teach herself; because learning without practical lessons must be incomplete, and can only lead to disappointment.

We have sought, therefore, only to respond to the inquiries we are constantly receiving, and to supply useful hints to those who are unable to avail themselves of lessons, and are forced to puzzle over their difficulties without help from a trained and experienced embroiderer; at the same time, the rules we have laid down and the directions we have given may serve to remind those who have passed through the classes, of many little details which might easily be forgotten when the lessons are over, though so much of the success of embroidery depends upon them.

We have abstained from giving any directions as to the tracing of designs upon material, for two sufficient reasons: firstly, that the Royal School of Art-Needlework has never supplied designs alone, or in any other form than as prepared work; and secondly, that having made experiments with all the systems that have been brought out for “stamping,” ironing from transfer-papers, or with tracing powder, it has been found that designs can only be artistically and well traced on material by hand painting. Those ladies who can design and paint their own patterns for embroidery are independent of assistance, and to those who are unable to do so we cannot recommend any of the methods now advertised.

What it comes to is a big advert for the courses given and prepared projects sold by the Royal School of Art-Needlework, which are advertised in a separate section at the end of the book. The designs given are also just sample pieces, under the assumption that embroiderers would buy the prepared projects. Nevertheless, there is a lot of useful information in there. The first chapters give an extensive description of the different materials that can be used for embroidery, followed by instructions on the different stitches employed. The book ends with 22 plates of different embroidery designs, some of them in colour:

Iris Design from Handbook of Embroidery

This is a beautiful book, and I really enjoyed reading it. I hope you’ll enjoy it, too!

Book Review — English Embroidered Bookbindings

March 9, 2008 at 8:02 pm | Posted in Book Review, Embroidery, Project Gutenberg | 1 Comment

So, lets see what caught my eye in PG’s Crafts Bookshelf today. English Embroidered Bookbindings is a truly beautiful book and should be required reading for everybody who loves books and textiles. For a small taste, have a look at the frontispiece:

English Embroidered Bookbindings - Frontispiece
There are lots of black and white and a few colour plates in this book, and you can see a bigger version of any of them by clicking on the image. The book gives examples of the different designs used to decorate bookbindings with embroidery. After an introductory chapter telling some of the history and about the techniques employed to create embroidered bookbindings, the following chapters present books bound in canvas, velvet and silk, respectively. Each illustration is accompanied by some information about the book, its history and the designs used in the embroidery. All in all a really beautiful book I can’t get enough of.

As many other books on PG and the Crafts Bookshelf, this book was prepared for publication as an e-book by the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders. This site is set up so that everybody can help with e-book preparation by proofreading just one page at a time. I’ve been a volunteer over there for more than a year now and am still enjoying myself very much. So, if you’re interested in old books, about needlework or lots of other subjects, you might consider hopping over and having a look round, you’d probably enjoy it! 😀

Book Review — Quilts, Their Story and How to Make Them

March 2, 2008 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Book Review, Patchwork, Project Gutenberg, quilt | Leave a comment

Today I want to present the newest addition to Project Gutenberg’s Crafts Bookshelf. Quilts, by Marie D. Webster, is subtitled “Their Story and How to Make Them.” The emphasis in this book is very clearly on the story, or history, of quilt making. There’s just one chapter named “How quilts are made,” and that’s a pretty high level overview at that. So if you want to learn how to make a quilt yourself, I’d recommend to look elsewhere. But if you’re interested in the history behind patchwork and quilting, this is a great book to read.

The story starts with the wall-hangings of old Egypt, goes on through the Middle Ages and tells of the traditions in Old England before quilting was imported to America by the colonists. It’s an interesting read, supported by lots of illustrations, which are the real strength of this book. Many traditional quilts are pictured either in black-and-white illustrations or in colour plates. Here’s one of my favourites:

As Butterflies and Pansies

Although there are some very nice pieced quilts in the book, the majority of the pictured quilts are appliqué quilts. I’m not quite sure if that has any significance or just mirrors the preference of the author, since all the quilts that are marked as made by her are appliquéd.

Oh, and apart from using that book as inspiration, which I fully intend to do, there’s one thing in that chapter on “How Quilts are Made” that might be of use: A number of traditional quilt patterns are pictured here, so if you’re not sure what pattern to use for your traditional quilt, a look might be worthwile.

All in all, this is a very nice book, in the original as well as in the electronic version. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

Book Review — The Art of Modern Lace-Making

January 26, 2008 at 9:27 pm | Posted in Book Review, Lace | Leave a comment

So, while nothing much is going on around here that I could show you, here’s another look at the contents of Project Gutenberg’s Crafts Bookshelf. The Art of Modern Lace-Making explains how to make the kind of lace called “Irish Lace” in the Encyclopedia of Needlework. The basic idea of these kinds of laces is to use different woven braids for the pattern and fill in the forms built out of those braids with decorative stitches.

The book, printed in New York in 1891, consists mainly of examples of lace designs. At the beginning there is a short introduction about the history of lace-making, which seems to have more legend than fact in that regard. Following is a description of the different lace stitches, accompanied by illustrations of the techniques employed. The different types of braid commercially available at that time are shown next, before the main section of the book starts.

This section has short descriptions of different projects, each with an illustration. There are lots of lace projects, and a short section about darned net at the end of the book. Here’s an example of the type of projects shown:

Art of Modern Lace Making

Some projects are just shown as a pattern, not as a finished project, like this butterfly:

Art of Modern Lace Making - Butterfly Pattern

And here’s an example of the darned net work introduced at the end of the book:

Art of Modern Lace Making - Darned Net

Overall it’s really a fun book to look at, although of limited practical use nowadays, since it’s nearly impossible to get the materials needed to try out some of the stuff shown.

Book review – Jacobean Embroidery

November 4, 2007 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Book Review, Embroidery, Project Gutenberg | 1 Comment

Not a lot of fibery things seem to be happening around here, and I don’t want to bore you with pictures of the very slow progress on my needlepoint lace project, which is the only project that gets worked on at all. But one of the other things I do might be of interest to you, so I decided to start a series of posts about the E-books that are listed in the needlework section of Project Gutenberg’s Crafts Bookshelf.

I’ve been helping to prepare electronic versions of public domain books at Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proofreaders Project for over a year now. How I found this marvellous project has to do with one of those needleworks books, and it is the book with which I want to start this series. While surfing various fiber blogs, I stumbled across a post with a link to Jacobean Embroidery, a very nice book with 17th and 18th century embroidery patterns. When clicking this link, you’ll get taken to Project Gutenberg’s catalog entry for this book, where you can download your own copy, but just to show you what you will get, here’s one of the plates from that book:

Jacobean Embroidery

Only a few of them are in colour, but all are showing beautiful patterns of plants and animals. Jacobean embroidery is a wool embroidery where most of the background fabric is visible. The book has an introduction which details some of the history surrounding that kind of embroidery, the main part consists of plates with embroidery patterns taken from old works together with a description of what stitches and colours were used. Lots of ideas to be found here!

I was very impressed what I was seeing in that book. It’s a high quality electronic version of an old book that you’re very unlikely to find in your local library, and here someone had done the work of producing that version and making it available for free! I’ve been interested in old needleworks techniques for a long time, and I always have the feeling that a lot of knowledge is on the verge of getting lost, since almost nobody seems to practice those old, time-consuming techniques anymore. So, I was interested, and my unasked question about how this book had been prepared and published got answered way faster than I expected. On top of that catalog page there was a slim advert, asking for help preparing E-books at the Distributed Proofreaders site. I clicked that link, read a bit about the site’s concept, registered, and before I knew what was happening, I was hooked. I have to admit that during the last year I spent more time volunteering there than doing anything fibery. It’s amazing what I got accomplished nevertheless! 😉 Of course I’m not only working on fiber-books, but those are still the largest motivation why I’m there.

So, during the next weeks, whenever I have nothing new of my own doing to present, I’ll go rummage through that crafts bookshelf and tell you a bit about the fiber books that are listed there. I hope you’ll enjoy those excursions into history as much as I do!

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