STUMP WORK Mary Dodkins “Orders of the Daye” – August-September 2003 Flowers, Plants and Fishes, Beasts, Birds, Flyes and Bees: Hills, Dales, Plaines, Skies, Seas, Rivers and Trees; There’s nothing neere at hand or furthest sought, But with the Needle may be shap’d and wrought. In cloth of Arras I have often seen, Men’s figurd counterfeits so like have been, That if the parties selfe had been in place, Yet Art would vye with Nature for the grace. Moreover, Posies rare, and Anagrams, Signifique searching sentences from names, True History, or various pleasant fiction, In sundry colours mixt, with Arts commixion, All in Dimension, Ovals, Squares and Rounds, Arts life included within Natures Bounds, So that Art seemeth meerley naturall, In forming shapes so Geometricall. John Taylor 1631 This highly individual type of raised embroidery flourished in its original form for only a few decades of the 17th century. Although it is often know to collectors and modern embroiderers as stumpwork, there is every reason to believe that, in common with the professional embroiderer of the 15th and 16th centuries, the 17th century domestic embroiderer referred to her work simply as ‘raised’, ‘embossed’, or perhaps ‘embosted’ embroidery. Its capacity for conveying life and humour, and the way in which it combines many different embroidery and lace-making techniques make this type of work an ideal vehicle for modern embroiderers seeking to achieve similar effects in a contemporary idiom. Fascinating and enjoyable in themselves, 17th century raised embroideries provide a rich source of ideas and techniques. Raised embroidery flourished between about 1640 and 1680, during the reigns of Charles I and Charles II, though work of an earlier date does exist, and embroidery in this style continued until the end of the 17th century and a little later. It is generally regarded as a domestic embroidery, but there is little precise information about the many people who stitched the great quantity of panels, boxes and caskets, mirror surrounds, cushions, book-covers and other items. For Tent-worke, Raised-work, Laid-work, Net-worke, Most Curious Purles, or rare Italian Cut-worke, Fine Ferne-stitch, Fisher-stitch, Irish-stitch, and Queen-stitch, The Spanish-stitch, Rosemary-stitch, and Mowse-stitch, The smarting Whip-stitch, Back-stitch, and the Crosse-stitch, All these are good, and these we must allow, And these are everywhere in practise now. The training necessary to achieve the high standard of 17th century embroidery was begun at an early age, and needlework formed an increasingly important part of a girl’s education. Ralph Verney wrote of his eight-year-old daughter, ‘being a girl she shall not learn Latin, so she will have more time to learn breeding hereafter and needlework too.’ The detailed household accounts kept by Lady Grisell Baillie of Mellerstain House in Scotland record the education of her two daughters in 1707. The instructions for Grisie, aged fourteen, include: To rise by seven a clock and goe about her duty of reading etc etc and be drest and come to breakfast at nine, to play of the spinet till eleven, from eleven till twelve to write and read French, at two a clock to sew her seam till four, at four learn arithmetic, after that dance and play herself until supper and be in bed at nine. How was it done? Well the nearest form in modern day is a collage. Remember how as children we used gum and paper, with maybe the odd pipe cleaner and piece of material to create a picture? Well, that is the basic form of stumpwork: a collage of embroidery consisting of various pieces and different stitches put together to form a picture. As we would expect in the 17th century, the picture would usually have a religious theme, or if you were of a Royalist family, the King and Queen would be prominent. First you chose your picture subject. A Puritan family would maybe cover their casket with scenes from the Old Testament story of the life of Joseph. You started with your piece of silk stretched over a wooden frame to keep it taut, then just like a painting, you started with the background. This could be painted or embroidered, or even left blank with just the colour of the silk showing. A lot of the embroideries of the period had flowers and trees in the background, with butterflies and mythical figures, often out of proportion to the rest of the picture. Designs would be of bold foliage with exotic flowers growing on a small hill, sometimes with rabbits, deer and turbaned figures, denoting a growing interest in Eastern design. With the establishment of the Dutch and English East India Companies, rare and expensive Chinese and Japanese items such as lacquerware, ceramics, painted and embroidered cottons and silks came to Britain. Then came the figures. Jackets and trousers would be made separately. The shape needed was mapped out with a strong thread, tacked down on a piece of strong material, and then the colour chosen woven across the shape, rather like a tiny piece of woven material. The stitches for this weaving would vary, so the texture of each item would be different - for instance a skirt could be made in several panels. Once the weaving was completed the strong thread would be released from the strong material, and the shape needed was ready for attaching to the embroidery. To make the raised effect, sheep’s wool would be stuffed underneath. The faces were made by cutting a small oval of material, usually cotton, and with small stitches a gathering thread would be run round the edges. When this was pulled tight, the centre was again stuffed with wool, raising the face, onto which the eyes, nose and mouth could be embroidered. Hands would be made of bound pieces of wire covered with silk, which could be then moved into any shape or posture required. Hair could be made from dyed wool, embroidery thread or felted material, again added to the picture as necessary. The picture would slowly build up into the complete article. Then came the time when the material would be gummed to the box side or mirror surround chosen to be decorated. If you have the luck to see a piece of original stumpwork, do remember that the colours have spent three hundred years fading. I once saw a magnificent casket which had been embroidered on four sides, but one side had always been kept against a wall out of direct light. The colours were truly sumptuous, rich and vibrant, whereas the other three sides were beautifully muted with age. I leave you with another piece of verse by John Taylor, from his book “The Needle’s Excellency”: And for my countries quiet, I should like, That woman-kinde should use no other Pike, It will increase their peace, enlarge their store, To use their tongues less, and their needles more. This article first appeared in “The Parliament Scoute”, the magazine of the Roundhead Association, and is reproduced here with the permission of the author/editor.
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