Sunday, 20 February 2011

Living in the moment

One of the things I love most about skills such as embroidery is that they’re more often than not passed down from generation to generation, and usually within a family. It ensures the survival of that knowledge simply by instilling a love of the craft in each successive generation, becoming a common thread that weaves its way through family history.

Trends may come and go – the current trend for homemade and hand-crafted will pass just as surely as it came around again earlier this century – but it’s good to know that those with a lifelong passion for their craft will continue the tradition and likely pass on their skills and knowledge, thus keeping it alive and well.

In the case of embroidery, I can only imagine how many women (and men) through the ages have derived much pleasure from the act of stitching. But as sentimental as I am about having learnt to wield a needle and thread from my mother, who learnt from hers, who learnt from hers… I have to admit that I’m glad to be a stitcher in this particular day and age. I feel as though I'm living in a transitory period between old times and new, which makes for an exciting crossroads in the evolution of the craft.

The notion of being conveniently alive at this particular time in the history of needlework struck me when I came across an old book on crewelwork in a charity shop a little while ago. By old I mean published in 1974. It appealed to me because although the projects were dated, the stitches and techniques were not, and they immediately threw some new (old) ideas at me.

Later on, when I had my new purchase safely ensconced at home with a cup of tea, I came across the instructions for cloud stitch. I’d never heard of it, neither had my mom. And although it was included in the stitch instruction pages, it didn't seem to have been used in any of the projects. So there was no photo reference for this stitch.

This is where living in modern times came in handy – log on, Google, 0.10 seconds… Cloud stitch, also known as Mexican stitch, is a filler stitch done by working an area of evenly stitched straight stitches and then weaving a contrasting (or not) thread through the straight stitches to this effect:

A quick browse of a few other references to cloud stitch yielded the same instructions as Sharon B's. But this isn't the same stitch that's demonstrated in my book:

Fortunately, search engines aren't all there is to the web. And so I'm using it to put this question out there: What stitch is this? Can anyone tell me? Is it the same stitch, just a lesser-known variation?

The very fact that I can put a question like this out into the ether and (hopefully) get a reply from anywhere in the world got me to thinking about the advent of the internet and how it's benefited crafters. If I'd been living in Elizabethan or Victorian times, would I have known someone who knew all the stitches? Only if I was upper class and had time to indulge in embroidery, for sure. And even then, I'm sure some stitches were more fashionable than others, or simply less obscure.

It's quite remarkable the way the web has linked us together, allowing us to share our passion and knowledge – for embroidery and textiles in my case. It made me stop and think for a moment, how it really is a phenomenal resource that shouldn’t be taken for granted. I know how I feel when things go wrong and I can't get online… And I wonder if the latest resurgence of craft would have happened to such a large degree if we hadn’t had the net?

Then again, it's all too easy to get caught up in the modernity of the craft. The speed at which I can surf myriad websites is seductive and the latest books are full-colour, glossy and design-driven. But technology without content is all flash and eye candy, and embroideries and resources from the past can be great teachers. My experience with cloud stitch – or whatever stitch it turns out to be – has taught me to keep an eye out for the little gems from the past that simply require you to look past the dated applications. Because old stitches can learn new tricks.


Julie said...

No disrespect to Sharon B,but I've mostly always seen the Cloud Stitch as you've stitched it...

Celia said...

Jan Beaney, in 'Stitches: New Approaches' calls the one in the drawing 'wave stitch' - not sure if that helps or not!

Paula Marcondes said...

This is a very inspiring post - and here I am asking you if I can translate and put in my blog (brazilian portuguese - I am a Historian and embroidery teacher. I completly agree with you about "Living in the moment" - this period of the needlework history is great also because we can share knowledge in very easy ways!

Moonsilk Stitches said...

I've recently been looking at all of my books on crewel, including some from the 70s, and even the most unlikely looking books generally have one or two gems. I've also found the Internet a wonderful resource and tool. It also provides wonderful connections. But it will never replace my books!

suz said...

Celia's comment sent me searching. Mary Webb, in her book "Embroidery Stiches" (2006) calls in an open wave stitch.

It really is amazing how much technology has opened up the world to all of us.