Thursday, February 21, 2013

Embroidered Art

...and Silk Threads

One of the advantages of travel is collecting images and ideas that I can use to influence and inspire my designs. Recently, while visiting friends whose art collection reflects their many travels, I was drawn in particular to several pieces in their collection of vintage textiles.

In the crypt of the Basilica of San Isidora de Leon, The Royal Pantheon, in Spain, there is a 12th century fresco on an archway depicting the 12 months of the year and the agricultural labours associated with each month. In medieval times, seasonality was recognized and respected, because it meant survival to another season. With all the disease and wars that were rampant at the time, living to see the next season was not something that could be taken for granted, so the medieval calender became a celebration of sorts.

Purchased in 2005 at the studio of textile artists near the basilica, this piece is a replication of the month of September taken from the fresco, and celebrates the September grape harvest. 

As the background fabric, the artist used old church vestments, exact era unknown, but likely from the 1940's to the 1950's.

The piece is embroidered with a stitch that is unfamiliar to me. It looks like a tiny cord has been couched down, however, a closer look reveals very intricate, individual stitches. Perhaps it is a very tiny stem stitch. If anyone is familiar with this stitch, I would appreciate more information on the technique.

The stitch can best be seen in the gold thread that forms the garment of the farmer. (Zoom in to see the stitch). Various widths of thread were used in the piece to achieve the desired emphasis, but most of the stitches were done with this "corded" technique.

This luxurious Japanese wedding kimono (ca.1920) was purchased in an antique shop in Vancouver in 1981. The intricately embroidered patterns and motifs, are hand stitched with silk as well as gold and silver threads. Just as is the case in French "boutis", symbolism is an important design aspect in Japanese needlework, and in a bridal kimono it would represent characteristics such as long life, fidelity, superior character, strength, etc.

A rolled red hem is often seen in wedding kimonos. Some slight deterioration is beginning to appear on the hem.

Japanese needle artisans, whether embroiderers or quilters, strive for mastery of their technique and stay faithful to the traditional methods and patterns to accurately understand and appreciate the skill.

Japanese embroidery is always inspirational.

Close-up of the kimono. The white on white silk embroidery adds an elegance the design.

This last piece was found in an antique shop in Winnipeg, displayed as a liner under glass in a mahogany tray. Given the title "The Silk Story", beautifully silk-embroidered images illustrate the production of silk, from worm to thread. Believed to be from the 1930's, other then an embroidered image of a spool of "Belding's" thread, not much is known of it's provenance. However, it's another example of skillfully and patiently laid silk threads.   

Any history or background information of this piece would be appreciated.
Although it's not possible to become familiar with all skills and techniques associated with fibre and threads, I believe that an appreciation for them can enrich and enhance the skills that we as textile artisans focus on. Just like a painting hanging on a wall, skillfully crafted fibre art can also be appreciated for it's beauty as well as it's technique. 


  1. I would send your photo to Mary Corbett, who is usually good about answering questions on stitches. Her blog Needle'n'Thread is in my blog list in the right sidebar on my page. If she doesn't know, one of her readers may!

    The kimono is very beautiful, as so many of them are, and I especially like the history of silk piece. The sheen and colours are fantastic!

    1. Hi Monica. I also follow the "Needle 'n Thread" blog/website, but would not have thought to put the question to her. I will follow up on your advice. Thanks!

    2. I just checked her website, and wouldn't you know, her post was about Belding Thread. Thanks for the heads-up!