Monday was a banner day – several needlework books I’ve been itching to own were delivered to my front door, and though I couldn’t spend all afternoon with any of them, I did get to linger over one with my lunch and a cup of tea, followed by another cup of tea, followed by…. you get the point!
I’ve been dying to own Jane Nicholas’s beautiful book, Stumpwork Embroidery: A Collection of Fruits, Flowers & Insects for Contemporary Raised Embroidery, for a long time. It was worth the wait…
For beginner embroiderers, you might think I’m nuts if I told you that you CAN do this stumpwork stuff. Yes, it generally falls under “intermediate” or “advanced” techniques, but if you find you are getting the hang of beginning stitches and you’re liking your new-found embroidery hobby, don’t think you have to wait years, practice your fingers off, and relegate yourself to backstitch for the rest of your life because you consider yourself a “beginner.” Not so, not so!
If you understand how a needle works (you stick thread in it and use it to manipulate the thread in and out of fabric), then you really can enjoy this type of embroidery. All it takes is a little gumption and some commitment to trying it!
I only bring this up because this is often the reaction of relative newbies to types of embroidery like stumpwork or goldwork.
In fact, the first remark a friend – who is just getting into surface embroidery – made upon seeing the book was, “I could never do that.”
When I protested, she insisted it would take “years” before she was good enough to do stumpwork! So we talked over the book, read some of the instructions, looked at the diagrams, and eventually she said, “I could probably make that bee…” followed by, “I think I’ll try that bee, and the hive, too…” And now, she’s sold, and determined to do it! (I told her to buy her own book!)
As we were growing up, my Mom always said, “I Can’t is a sluggard too lazy to work.” I don’t know if that’s always true. There are some things I know I can’t do – I can’t ski, I can’t run a 25K marathon (not even a 10!), and I can’t eat bananas raw without gagging. True, I haven’t tried the first two, but I’m pretty sure I’d be putting my life seriously on the line! Lazy? Perhaps!
The fact is, I’m not really interested in taking up skiing or running a 25K marathon. Niether is something that I’d put my mind to or energy into.
But if you have a genuine interest in something, especially something like needlework of this kind, if you put your mind to it, despite your current skill level, I think it’s something you can do! Yes, it may take a little practice – like skiing or long-distance running – but you can do it!
So if this grabs your attention – if it makes you say to yourself, “Wow – I’d love to do something like that!” don’t be inhibited by thinking you’re “not good enough yet.”
That’s my pep talk.
Here’s the book.
I’ll show it to you and then discuss my personal pros and cons.
The cover is beautiful. It’s a hard-bound book and looks well made. It’s one of the Milner Craft Series books, and they generally do a very nice job on their books, I think. The cover reminds me a lot of Celia Fisher’s books on illumination, if you’ve ever seen those…
When you open the book, you’re met with this Jane Nicholas masterpiece on the endpapers of the book. I’ve seen this piece on the Jane Nicholas Stumpwork Embroidery website – in her gallery – but on there, you can’t really get upclose to the piece.
But in the book, you can see such beautiful detail. You can linger over each little motif in the picture. I almost think the endpapers are worth the cost of the book, I got so much pleasure from looking at them!
About half-way through the book, you start to run into color plates. The first half of the book is black and white instruction, with line drawings and so forth – but the last half of the book is definitely the icing! Colored projects are depicted in their glory – simply, on white pages, some of which just have a little 4″ x 4″ colored photo smack in the middle. But what a photo!
The projects featured in the book include a supply list, instructions on working the project, a color plate of the finished project, and a line drawing of the pattern. The instructions are titled “Order of Work,” which is nice. They take you step-by-step through completing the project, cross referencing Chapter 3, “Individual Elements.”
In Chapter 3, “Individual Elements,” the author instructs on creating each type of technique. This is where you learn to work each element featured in the projects – from grasshoppers to flower petals to leaves to bees to hives to caterpillars, and so on.
The last chapter of the book is a stitch glossary. From the simple backstitch to turkey work to needleweaving to trellis stitch, every type of stitch you need for the projects in the book is explained. The stitches are illustrated with line drawings, usually several per stitch.
And the book ends with the same picture with which it begins.
All in all, it is a beautiful and useful book for the embroiderer interested in stumpwork and raised embroidery techniques.
Like most good embroidery books, the first chapter is dedicated to materials and equipment. Here, you’ll find information on the threads, wires, hoops and frames, needles, etc. needed for stumpwork. The majority of threads used throughout the book are DMC, though the author does list several other useful types of threads, which you will also find required in some of the projects.
The second chapter is devoted to general instructions about stumpwork – methods for stitching over wire and attaching separate elements to a motif, how to stitch a leaf without a central vein, how to use felt with small pieces of different elements (using fusible interfacing), using organza, and so forth. You’ll also find a nice section in this chapter on finishing techniques, from mounting work on a box lid to making a paperweight & brooch, to lacing embroidery to a board before framing. All in all, a nice, thorough chapter of general, useful information.
Chapter 3 is discussed above. Chapter 4 contains all the projects in the book: four types of brooches; a rose, pomegranate and strawberry piece; a rose and bee; acorn thistle and bee; acorn, thistle, and butterfly; butterfly and berries; Christmas rose and dragonfly; pomegranate and go
oseberries; Christmas acorn and berries and Christmas acorn and pomegranate; dragonfly and berries; hellebore, berries, and dragronfly; Christmas rose, berries, and dragonfly in white; and two Medieval mirror frame patterns.
Chapter 5 – the stitch glossary – is mentioned above. The book closes with a bibliography and suggested further reading, a thorough index of the book, and, finally, information on ordering stumpwork supplies, kits, etc., from Jane Nicholas.
Pros & Cons
Pros: Wow, the pros are almost too many to mention:
The book is clear, clean, bright, and crisp – a nice, quality book with excellent content. The pictures are gorgeous, though there aren’t a lot of them. The layout of the book is functional and pleasing: the cross-referencing in the projects page to the individual elements and stitch glossary is effective. The fact that the reader is instructed on many different individual elements is conducive to further creative endeavors with stumpwork – you certainly aren’t limited to just the patterns in the book.
I would like to have seen more elaborate stitch instructions. Two or three diagrams don’t always do it. Still, by reading and referencing the diagram, anyone should be able to accomplish the stitches explained in the glossary.
I was also initially surprised by the lack of color throughout the book. Don’t get me wrong – there are many beautiful color plates of the projects in the last half of the book. As previously mentioned, each project has a color plate that corresponds with it. My initial surprise gave way to admiration, though, for a nice, clean, clear book. There’s nothing “cluttered” here – the book seems enticingly simple in all regards, though dealing with a much more complex form of embroidery.
This is one of those books that I’d put on the “highly recommended” list. It is fascinating to read, a pleasure to browse through. I like it a lot!
If you have the book, what are your thoughts on it? Do you like it? Have you found it a helpful and instructive reference?
Where to Find It
You can find Stumpwork Embroidery: A Collection of Fruits, Flowers & Insects for Contemporary Raised Embroidery available through the following book affiliates:
Used, Stumpwork Embroidery, etc. is available here through Amazon at very good prices right now (updated Oct, 2016)