Friday, February 27, 2015

It's Crewel Work! - Stomacher and Petticoat Border

Did you know that February is National Embroidery Month? I didn't either until recently. Just the perfect reason to share these two projects.

As promised here are some photos of my finished 18th century crewel embroidered stomacher. For those unfamiliar with the term, a stomacher is an article of clothing, an accessory really, that filled the front portion of gowns throughout much of the 18th century. The stomacher is pinned to the front of the wearer's stays. The open fronts of the gown are then pinned to the stomacher. There were no zippers in the 18th century and women's clothing, with few exceptions, lacked buttons. Everything was pinned or tied into place.

This stomach was started many years ago at a Hive sewing workshop organized by the wonder Ladies of Refined Taste. The kit for the stomacher contained a piece of vintage linen with the pattern per-drawn, wool embroidery floss, and vintage linen for the backing. I used a wooden embroidery hoop to hold the fabric as I worked.

Once the embroidery was finally finished it was time to trace the finished shape of the stomacher. I used one I made before as a guide. I was careful to trace the pattern larger to allow for seam allowance. When I was happy with the shape I cut the linen. I did the same for the backing. The edges were turned in about a 1/4", pressed, and slip stitched together.

Tracing my pattern. I use the same stomacher for my purple and white gown and my cross barred gown.
Back of the embroidery

I really have no idea how many hours went into this. When I started working on the stomacher back in January I only had a very small section left to embroider. I think it took less then an hour to complete that. It was probably another hour to trace and stitch the two pieces together. If I worked straight through I could most likely complete another project like this in a weeks time.

Another crewel work project I've been working on off and on again for a few years is a border for a petticoat. Mine is based on this one at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. There are many surviving examples of 18th century crewel work. Happily many of them are from New England. To create this border I downloaded an image of the original. With some help from my dad we enlarged the image as best we could to its actual size of 10 1/8 inches x 65 1/16 inches. The resolution wasn't great but it was enough to see the design. My dad printed it out for me at his office. (One of the advantages of knowing someone with access to printers used for making drafting blueprints.)

Petticoat border American (New England) 1758.  Accession Number 40.571 Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Petticoat border American (New England) 1758.  Accession Number 40.571 Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
I had to trace over the printed design in pen to darken it as the resolution wasn't great. Using a light box I traced the design onto my linen fabric. I also used a brown colored pencil to mimic the color of the ink or charcoal that would have been used originally. The colors on my border differ slightly from the original as do some of the flowers but that is mostly due to tracing the design from a lower resolution image. The photos online at the MFA now are a much higher quality!

The book, Eighteenth Century Embroidery Techniques, was helpful in deciding what kinds of stitches to use. The vines are embroidered using a back stitch. Most everything else is done using a short and long stitch. According to Winterthur's  American Crewelwork: Stitches of the 17th and 18th Centuries, "The work of the average needlewoman of Colonial times shows only three or four stitches in any one piece." (p2)    

Same examples, like this one at the MFA, are embroidered straight onto the petticoat. More often it seems a separate border piece was embroidered and then added to the finished petticoat. My guess is that was done so that the embroidery could be removed easily and saved or reused should the petticoat need to be rework, recycled, or discarded. The designs are mostly floral but you see lots of animals too. This petticoat border, attributed to American Catherine Woods Brigham, includes butterflies, birds, trees, squirrels, stag, dogs, rabbits, and even a little house! Occasionally you will see people too.

Set of fragments of a petticoat border. American mid-18th century. Attributed to Catherine Woods Brigham (American, born in 1733 American) Accession Number 25.186a-b Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
I still have a lot of work left on my border and I apologize for the lack of pictures. There is one whole panel that still needs the design transferred before I can begin the embroidery.

1 comment:

  1. This looks awesome! Great job and I love the color combination! Hopefully our paths will cross at an event sometime this year. : )


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