I’m not sure what it is about me and whitework lately, but here I am, back on another whitework subject! I received a really nice book this past week, and I wanted to tell you about it.
The book is called Schwalm Embroidery Techniques and Designs, by Christine Bishop. Even if Schwalm embroidery doesn’t seem to be your thing, I discovered a couple good aspects of the book that would make it useful for those who enjoy other surface embroidery techniques.
But first, a little information on Schwalm embroidery. It’s a whitework technique hailing from the Schwalm region of Germany (think Hansel and Gretel and other fairytales…). The characteristics of Schwalm embroidery are basically bold outlines and delicate fillings. Schwalm whitework creates a lacy look, but it isn’t properly lace. Some stock shapes are typical to Schwalm embroidery – hearts, tulips, birds, leaves, etc. – but the technique is not limited to just these shapes. The shapes are outlined with a bolder line, made up of coral stitch and chain stitch, and then they are filled. The filling is the thing that amazes me – the range of filling designs is limited only by the stitcher’s imagination, really. The fillings are executed on the fabric with threads drawn out, to lighten the look of them, or to enhance the pattern.
As far as materials go, Schwalm whitework is worked on high-count linen (32 count and higher, generally, with 50+ count being standard and even preferred for intricate designs). The thread employed is coton a broder, something I’ve been mentioning a lot lately. This is a non-divisible 4-ply mercerized cotton that comes in sizes 12 (large) to 40 (small). Actually, here in the States, it’s easier to find 16 through 40 – sizes 16 through 35 are produced by DMC, and Anchor seems to be the only available size 40. You can find coton a broder in the US through specialty shops – I usually order mine through Lacis.
If you want to see what Schwalm whitework looks like and read a little more about it, check out the Essay on Schwalm Embroidery at Heritage Shoppe. There are two really pretty pictures there.
Many of the websites devoted to Schwalm embroidery are in German, and even if you don’t read German, it’s still worthwhile to check them out. For example, the site of Margarete Grandjot, Stick-Atelier, has an excellent gallery on it, where you can see some beautiful examples of Schwalm embroidery. Scroll down to about the middle of the page, and you’ll see a fantastic circular linen (it’s really shaped like a doughnut, with a hole in the middle!). There are close-up photos underneath the main picture, showing the different motifs around the piece. There, you’ll get a good sense of the variety of fillings used in Schwalm embroidery.
Another website on the topic of Schwalm embroidery is Hessenstickerei, the site of Renate Fernau. Unfortunately, the site is still under construction, and the last evident date on it was 2005, BUT – on the German version of the website, it has a decent gallery, though the photos don’t enlarge very large! The thing I like in particular about this website is that, on the English version, under catalog, you will find a section on patterns for Schwalm embroidery. You can get a good sense of the “look” of Schwalm patterns here.
One thing you’ll notice about Schwalm embroidery is that it looks rather “folk-ish,” and there’s a reason for that. Schwalm developed among the peasants of Germany, as a decorative embroidery for the “average” person, rather than for the wealthy. The “wealthy” counterpart of Schwalm whitework could perhaps be considered Dresden whitework, which looks more like lace and was worked by professional houses to supply the stuff to those who could afford it. Dresden whitework reached its zenith of production and popularity in the mid-1700′s. Strangely enough, it was worked on muslin (very, very fine muslin, imported from India). Schwalm was generally worked on linen by the peasants, for their own personal decoration – household linens, clothing, etc. It’s quite a bit “rougher” than Dresden work.
Funny how things turn around – linen is a much dearer fabric today than muslin or cotton! Of course, you have to consider the sheer fine-ness of the muslin then, and that it was woven by hand. An interesting story is told in a pamphlet published by Lacis on their whitework museum (PDF): “The story is told that when a Nawab reproved his daughter for allowing her skin to be seen through her clothes, she demonstrated that she was wearing no less than eleven thicknesses of such material.” So – very fine stuff! If you haven’t read that pamphlet (linked to above) and you’re interested in whitework, you might give it a look – you’ll find heaps of photos of different types of whitework and lace.
Now – I’ve strayed from the point – back to Schwalm and the book at hand.
Schwalm Embroidery by Christine Bishop is a great introduction to the techniques of Schwalm whitework. It’s perfectly suited to a beginner, with techniques and designs of varying degrees of difficulty throughout the book.
I particularly like the sampler that’s presented in the book. Samplers such as this one are great for those interested in trying out the various techniques within a particular type of embroidery before launching into a major project involving those techniques.
You’ll also find some really nice project ideas in the book. See the needlelace on the edge of the cushion? The author goes into detail on creating that edge, and the instructions are clear and accessible for the beginner.
Notice that the projects in the book are not all executed on white linen. I really like the look of the white on the natural linen, as in the sampler above. While I was out shopping yesterday, I went to Two the Point, a little needlework shop in Kansas City (where I bought some goodies I’ll tell you about later!). While I was there, I picked up a remnant of a high count natural linen that would be perfect for such a sampler. I’ve tucked it away, though – too many other projects coming up – but I plan to go back to it, with this book in hand, before the year’s out. We’ll see!!
last point on Schwalm embroidery – I like the fact that it involves various techniques that carry over into other styles of embroidery: pulled thread, drawn thread, satin stitching, a variety of surface stitches – all are used in Schwalm embroidery. So if you play around with Schwalm embroidery, you’ll pick up skills useful in other types of embroidery, too. And this book by Christine Bishop will help you learn those skills!
The book is part of the Milner Craft Series, and is available through Amazon for $14.00 new.