Needlecraft is art, not a frivolous pastime. A millennia-old tradition, it is the natural progression of the practical stitches that hold a garment together. Before machine embroidery, the skill of seamstresses was the only thing allowing plain garments to be turned into something beautiful and worthy of wear.
Every time I stitch I tap into the knowledge of millions of women over thousands of years, women who created and proliferated stitches like chain stitch (475 BCE) and cross stitch (500 CE). The earliest examples of needles date back to 30,000 BCE and evidence of embroidered cloth dates from between 5,000 BCE and 500 CE. The Bayeux Tapestry, the 70-metre-long embroidery depicting the Norman Conquest in 1066, is famous for its historical significance in its depictions of the era.
I love embroidery. Over every other creative endeavour, stitching brings me the most peace and satisfaction. Often as I stitch I sit in the same room as my boyfriend while he works for the day, and together we make a fine picture – me sewing away and him tapping at the keyboard. Sometimes when I’m not there he says he misses being able to look over and see me working at the fabric. I wish to also work from home someday and be able to recreate this scene more often.
I recently got back into it after a years’-long dry spell by starting off with a small project on a 4” hoop. Using a limited colour palette based on thread I already owned, I used only four stitches – backstitch, chain stitch, and colonial and French knots. I’d have liked to expand my knowledge and used some stitches I had yet to try, but for my first foray back into the craft I decided to keep it simple. I’m really proud of it, and showed it to my grandma, who loved it!
My grandmother is a prolific seamstress, and I grew up watching her sew, knit, and embroider. To this day I never see her without a sewing project. I took a textiles class in my final years of high school, for which she made me a sewing kit, and I’ve never looked back. On my most recent visit she gave me a stack of sewing magazines she’d finished with, in case I found a project I’d like in them. Looking through them, I’ve discovered one I absolutely adore, found in Vol. 1 No. 4 of Country Patchwork & Craft. The multitude of stitches in the project will be a fun challenge. Some, like the bullion knots and the buttonhole stitch, I’ve never before attempted. The amount of skeins of thread I have to buy is a little mind-boggling, but I want to recreate it perfectly.
The pattern for the designs is located on a large folded piece of paper in the centre of the magazine, and I’ve traced it onto plain calico. Catch me holding both up to the window to use as a poor-man’s lightbox as I traced – my noodle arms were so tired. Calico is my fabric of choice for projects where the embroidery is the main focus and will be displayed in a hoop or a frame. A single-woven fabric of unbleached cotton, its off-white colour makes a perfect base on which colourful threads can pop. Furthermore, it lends a natural, almost rustic look to projects without being overly-stark like bleached cotton. Owing to the unprocessed nature of the fibre, it’s a cheap option for anyone starting out with decorative sewing. Sold by the metre, it goes for $3.99 at 90cm width or $7.99 at 150cm from Spotlight and Lincraft.
I was at my boyfriend’s on the weekend, so he took me to his local Lincraft. I always say he’s welcome to go look around elsewhere if he doesn’t want to stand around while I shop here, but he’s quite happy to stay. I really appreciate that he indulges me in this and listens to me ramble on about the properties and uses of various fabrics and sewing items. He watched me find and pick out all 20-ish skeins of thread, and now I’ve started he gives me encouragement as I go along. I’ll be posting updates as I go, but right now I’ll finish with my progress so far: