If you’ve gotten to know me a bit through Needle ‘n Thread, you’ve probably figured out that I like books – and I love needlework books. Occasionally, I read a needlework book from cover to cover, but it’s rather a rare thing for me to do, especially if it is a book on a specific needlework technique. In such cases, I “scan” – I look for the information I need. For the first time in a long time, I read a needlework book from cover to cover yesterday. It wasn’t hard to do, as the book is filled with pictures, and the text is made up of clear, succinct instruction.
Basic Principles of Schwalm Whitework by Luzine Happel is a self-published book that I think will become the definitive guide to learning Schwalm embroidery. The English version, recently edited by Joey Colbert (who formerly owned a great little embroidery shop called Twining Thread) and with an introduction by her, is one of the best instructional books that I’ve seen focusing on teaching a specific needlework technique.
Do not be put off by the fact that this is a self-printed book bound with a plastic comb. I say that because I’ve purchased many such printed books, and some of them have been complete fizzers, even though written and sold by rather well-known names in the needlework world. This book is not a fizzer.
The book is printed in color on nice paper, bound with a plastic comb, and has a clear plastic cover. The binding, actually, is an advantage – the book lays flat on the table, which is a boon for stitchers who are following the instructions within.
The book is written around one (beautiful!) Schwalm whitework project which incorporates all the major aspects of Schwalm embroidery, including many filling techniques, from simple to intricate. The premise is that, if you work through the project – a small decorative square linen with a Schwalm design around the four sides – you will become familiar with, and practice, all the techniques involved in Schwalm whitework, including excellent finishing techniques. The author takes you through every step of the way and leaves no question unanswered.
After beginning with a discussion of materials (fabrics, threads, tools), Luzine shows you, through pictures and text, how to set up your fabric and transfer your project so that you begin on the right foot.
This section alone would be of interest to any stitcher, regardless of technique preferences, because the principles in the set-up of this project apply to setting up practically any embroidery project. The proper marking of the fabric so that the design is centered and lined up perfectly, the transfer of the pattern, including transferring an extra corner piece – all this information is useful to the hand embroiderer.
You can see here a glimpse of the design. On the right page, in the left corner of the design, you can see how the extra motif for the corner is being aligned with the rest of the design.
Luzine addresses the question of how to treat your threads – how to arrange them for easy access and in a way that keeps them neat and organized as you work through the project.
The stitches are explained with step-by-step photos, but more interestingly, the whole progress of the projects is explained with step-by-step photos, too. Each time you get through a stage of the project, a complete picture of the area is given, so you can see what it’s supposed to look like at the end of that stage.
Little red arrows in the photos point to the areas that require special attention – a little instructional hint on how to come to a perfect point, for example, or how to end a thread, or where to come up next, etc. (Like I said, no question is left unanswered!)
Progressing to the next stage, you’re taken step-by-step through it, and then given a clear picture of what your work should look like at the end of the stage.
Since different results are often desired from the same stitch (for example, depending on the shape of the leaf, satin stitches will be worked differently), Luzine includes photos of all the results you will want to achieve, discussing them and explaining how to achieve them.
One of the most beautiful aspects of Schwalm whitework is the variety of fillings used inside the various motifs. There are three basic approaches to fillings in Schwalm, and the author explains all three, then takes you through different stitches within the three categories. The project incorporates all different types of fillings, working you from the basic to the more intricate.
Close-up photos and detailed explanation take you through what could be tricky ground. This is the aspect of Luzine’s book that I prefer vastly over Christine Bishop’s book, Schwalm Embroidery Techniques and Designs, which I’ve already reviewed. While I like Christine’s book and find it informative and inspiring, when it comes to actual stitch explanations (especially in the filling techniques) and their sketched diagrams, the book leaves the novice stitcher with questions that require troubleshooting. Luzine’s explanations of the filling techniques used in Schwalm are clear, precise, and well illustrated.
And, again, as you go, you get the photos of the work as you complete a stage.
Now, in many technique books, the finish work is either neglected completely, or, if finishing is discussed, it is in the most generic of terms. Not so in this book. The author takes you through every step of finishing the project.
The finishing section alone is worth the book, for anyone interested in any kind of drawn thread or whitework embroidery that requires hemming with a decorative edge. Once you u
nderstand the principles, you can apply them to a variety of decorative treatments.
Finally, in the back of the book, you’ll find two semi-transparent pages with clear line drawings of the motifs used in the project. These are marked with dashed lines on the center points, so that you can line up the design precisely on your fabric.
Now, the book is available, but it has to be ordered from Germany either directly from Luzine or from the Museum der Schwalm website in Germany, which is rather difficult to order from. This is the direct link to Basic Principles of Schwalm Whitework by Luzine Happel at Museum der Schwalm. Better yet, you can contact Luzine directly for the book and she can send you a Paypal invoice (which is much easier!). Her e-mail is leuchtbergverlag [at] aol [dot] com.
The price is a bit daunting, I know, at 29.9 EURO (about $42US). And you might think that, because it isn’t a professionally published book, it couldn’t be worth that. I think it is worth that. If you want to learn Schwalm, or you want to explore it further and learn some of the tips and tricks, I think this is the best book for doing so. There’s just no comparison between it and the other two popular Schwalm books on the market (Christine Bishop’s and Renate Fernau’s). While both of those feature beautiful embroidery – and the sampler in Christine’s book is really nice! – the actual instruction in both books fall short when compared to this book, in my opinion.
So, if you’re interested in Schwalm or whitework in general, I think this is a book to add to your library!
Since reading it, I’ve decided (ut oh!) that, with the exception of the current long and short stitch stuff I’m preparing for the website, my next “complete” project – as in “real” and “serious” project, is going to be this piece. It’s beautiful. And I want to learn from Luzine!! Don’t be surprised, then, to see me setting up this project in the next few weeks!
[The Fine Print: No affiliation here – just a Really Good Book that I think you’ll like if you’re interested in whitework!]