Hand Embroidery! Hobby, Passion or Obsession???
A lot of my hobbies have come and gone or have changed and evolved over the years. There is only one of those hobbies for which my love has only deepened and has stayed with me ever since I was 5 years old and my 'Nagy-mama' (grandma) showed me my first basic embroidery stitches. I come by this passion justly as she (Nagy-mama), was totally obsessed with and covered every possible fabric with embroidery. From cushions, tablecloths,table runners, bed linens, towels to curtains. Everything eventually got a special decorating design worked onto it.
I remember her bedroom curtains were the most exquisitely made window coverings I have ever seen. They were ivory stitching's onto ivory breath-thin batiste with a 10" wide embroidered and cut work border from ceiling to floor and along the whole hem line.A fabulous piece of art if I've ever seen any at all. Her kitchen had three large windows on which she had white full Priscilla's and again the flounce was embroidered with the traditional cut-work border in the Kalocsa embroidery style. (Kalocsa is a region in Hungary and each region there has its own different style of embroidery).
Unfortunately because Nagy-mama had severe varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis she had to spend a lot of time with her legs and feet elevated. She used a lot of this time embroidering for her household, as gifts for the whole family and she also sold enough to keep herself in pocket money,embroidery floss in hundreds of colors, shades, hues, types, thicknesses and naturally bolts and bolts of different fabrics too.
The times I was given to spend with her are some of my favorite memories that I will cherish forever. As a little one I was never prouder then when she would let me choose the color of thread for the next flower or bud. She laid the roots for the love of handwork really deep into me.
As I never do things in parts and have a mind that needs to know what,where, how and why I researched years ago all there is to know about Hungarian patterns in embroidery and painting throughout the ages. As a matter of fact my thesis for my design arts was a 138 pages essay based on Hungarian folk-art. I believe this is when my hobby that had become a passion morphed into an obsession.
While I was trying to find 'my style' I experimented with most of the techniques and types of handiwork. However the pride in my roots always brings me back to the style Grandma was so fond of.
This is the first major piece I made for my own 'hope-chest' which took almost a year to finish. It follows the Hungarian Matyo region's style of embroidery. The 36x36 inch table cover is worked onto black background with just about every square inch covered by floral motifs worked in rayon embroidery thread. The table cover also has a 6 inch wide pin-weave fringe around the edge (used to be 8 inches wide but over the 40 years that it's been used it needed a trim or two as it gets tangled up a bit).
I only use it for special holidays and woe be to anyone who touches it. And heaven forbid anyone placing a glass on it as that would be punishable by the loss of limb or worse.
This was my first big project and I started it shortly after we came to Canada in 1969. Nagy-mama was my guide throughout the whole project. She was more proud of my accomplishment then I was and kept teasing that her work here was done because I could take over for her. Little did we know at the time when we were happily stitching together, she on baby outfits for my cousin and I on my tablecloth, that bone cancer would steal her away from us within the next 18 months.
I bet you understand why this piece of embroidery means more to me then just an actual tablecloth. It is more of a tribute to the calm little lady who was in pain most of her life. It stands for her patience to teach and instill a deep rooted love for cloth art to a teenager who would just as soon have been out climbing trees or digging worms for fishing then sitting still and stitching away.
Every so often I need to take the frame apart to clean it inside and out. This time when it was apart I took a few picture to share here. 39 years and the colors are still as vivid as they were when she had stitched it thanks to my Moms foresight and framing it and naturally always hanging it away from the sun.
I always wish I knew what ever happened to the rest of her fabulous work. Especially those glorious curtains. None of my cousins were ever really into hand-work.
These three pieces are 10x18 inches and ready to be framed.
Shhhhh! Don't tell, this set is one of my daughter's birthday gifts. She will join the rest of us old 'over thirty bunch' next week (I keep teasing her that it's only a tiny step away from cane and depends....oh, to be thirty again). Designated to brighten up the back stairwell in her new log cabin style home. These are not made in the traditional Hungarian patterns but were just as much fun to make.
Its odd but the camera and the lighting has made the background look black but it really is a dark chocolate brown.The embroidery fabric is what they call 'Even Weave' and is of 100% cotton made in Ireland. (my favorite fabric to work on)
The bells are also more blue then the lilac that the pictures makes them out to be.
The stitches used are a very simple staggered satin stitch, the outline or stem stitch the french knots and back-stitch. All of these stitches are very easy and quick to do.
The embroidery floss that I used is the DMC 100% cotton pearl embroidery thread. This name brand is possibly the best color fast type of floss that I have ever used. (Not to say that the others aren't just as good. Nagy-mama used DMC and the Anchor kind so I just kept on using it too. Mainly for colorfastness and it also doesn't twist together as some of the cheaper types.)
Am I nuts?
My 3 biggest projects yet!
In my travels along the handy-work world I realized (as this hub points out no doubt) that I love embroidery. I like the multi colored pieces very much but I absolutely love the mono-chromatic the best. (Meaning the fabric and embroidery thread are the same) This goes for my crazy quilting the same as for embroidered pieces too.
As always embracing what seems like impossible tasks I thought I would make a table cloth and matching napkins for each of my children for Christmas. I get bored with the every day stuff so I thought I was ready for a challenge. I think I bit off more then I should have but that has never stopped me before. Here we are more then halfway through the year and I'm just finishing the first set. I had to do cut-work... the most tedious of all types of embroidery. The cloth and napkins also have a scaloped edging also finished off with the buttonhole stitch.
Again I just love to work on 100% cotton which would make this a total pain to iron once it's being used. So I opted for a 50/50 blend of poly and cotton. Not the easiest to work with as it tends to make the embroidery thread twist a lot more then when using pure cotton.
Embroidery Floss Used!
As I'm working with a piece of fabric that has been preshrunk I had to make sure I used thread that also won't shrink when washed. Most embroidery floss manufacturers assure that their thread will not shrink but to be on the safe side I do what Grandma used to do all those years ago. She used to take a skein of 100% cotton floss cut it into 24-26" long usable chunks then loosely braid it. She would then place the braid into a bowl of hot water let it sit for a few minutes then let it dry on a towel with out touching as she didn't want the fibers to mesh together.
This is a total pain 'in the you know what' but as its going into projects that will take hundreds of hours each well worth the trouble.
The buttonhole stitch or sometimes also called close together blanket stitch is the one used the most as it encloses the holes cut. I surround the holes with short back-stitches before I cut the holes. The satin stitch and outline or stem stitch are also used for trailing off vines and curly-cues etc.
Do you recognize my obsession yet? Yup, a totally deep seated addiction that is taking its tole on my eyes. I can't stop myself I'm afraid that this has turned out to be my grass or opium.
Unfortunately hand embroidery is losing out to the easy and fast computerized machines. I had a fabulous embroidery machine, but love the hand stuff much better.
Please definitely NO cure wanted! Do you think there is any hope for me? (Of finding more fabulous projects that is) After these 3 sets of tablecloths are finished for each of my kids (I'm sure my son will just pull up his shoulders but then maybe his future wife will appreciate it) I have my eye on a couple of pieces that will start off my granddaughters hope chests too. I know that sounds really old fashioned but they will be able to start off their households with something that Granma loved to work on and made for them with love....
I will post pictures here as the projects get completed.
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