Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Estense Embroidery Book Review


Amazon Books

Estense Embroidery or Ricamo Estense by Elisabeth Holzer Spinelli, translated by Jeanine Robertson (who writes the blog Italian Needlework), is a beautiful little embroidery book that introduces a style of embroidery inspired by Italian ceramics. The book is fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the beautiful embroidery projects you’ll find inside.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

When I first came across the book, Estense Embroidery, I had no idea what this style of needlework actually was, but the cover attracted me.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework book

The book was not available in any of my normal needlework book haunts, so it slipped my mind. Then I discovered Italian Needlecrafts, a website out of Italy (in English) that sells Italian needlework publications, Italian linen, and embroidery threads. And voilá – there was the book. I almost put off ordering it… but then I didn’t!

And I’m glad I didn’t! Estense Embroidery has opened up a whole new world of beautiful needlework combinations that are enchanting!

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

The embroidery style is inspired by the artistic designs found on antique and modern Graffito Ceramics from Ferrara, Italy, and the book details this connection for the curious reader. In a nutshell, the style is a unique combination of surface (free-style) embroidery, counted work, and drawn thread embroidery.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

Inside the book, you’ll find the original text in Italian side-by-side with an English translation. For the majority of the instruction in the book, the language is not an issue, though, so even if you do not read Italian or English fluently, you can still learn the techniques. After presenting the origin of this needlework style along with information on style and color, the author gives a run-down on the necessary supplies. Typically, 38-count ivory colored linen is used for Estense embroidery. The ivory color of the linen mimics the background color of the pottery. The threads used are pearl cottons in #8 and #12, and coton a broder #25, along with regular floss. The style employs a nice color range of threads: shades of green, yellow, brown, brick red, pink, violet, and blue. The supplies are all detailed in the book.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

Besides discussing the origin of this style of needlework and providing information on supplies, the books is divided into two main parts: the stitches used and projects. In the stitch section, clear stitch diagrams are presented for each stitch and stitch combination

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

But what’s interesting about this style of embroidery is the way the stitches are combined. Decorative bands made up of common stitches take on an uncommon look!

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

Fillings are worked in counted techniques, but surrounded by surface stitches. In the above motif, for example, you’ll find what is called in the book “coil stitch” – a counted technique – surrounded by stem stitch, with a buttonhole wheel for the yellow part of the flower.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

Above, honeycomb stitch fills the flower, which is outlined again in stem stitch.

This combination of surface and counted work reminds me of Colbert embroidery, only voided areas are not used in Estense embroidery.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

Decorative bands are widely used in this style of needlework. In the book, a photo of the decorative band is given, accompanied by a list of the stitches used to create the band. Other decorative bands common in Estense embroidery are made up of complex and interesting combinations of stitches. For example, you’ll see backstitch and satin stitch, stem stitch and buttonhole stitch and so forth worked together to create a decorative composite line of stitches. It’s very attractive – there’s texture, boldness, and at the same time, delicacy! It’s beautiful!

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

Here, you can see how drawn thread work is combined with composite stitches to make a colorful decorative band. This combination of drawn thread stitches and composite surface stitches seems common in Estense embroidery.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

Perusing the various composite bands of stitches, it occurred to me that these combinations are not necessarily relegated to Estense embroidery alone. The book would make a great resource for those who like cutwork and drawn thread embroidery (there are some terrific edge treatments and drawn thread combinations!), but also to folks who like crazy quilting, band samplers, and so forth. The crazy quilter will find unique stitch combinations that would make great seam treatments, and the sampler stitcher will find a plethora of ideas for filling up a sampler.

The composite stitches are diagramed clearly in the book – in the example above, each level of the composite stitch is shown with different colors to keep the order of work straight.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

For the beautiful shaded filling areas on Estense embroidery, different techniques are used. Some of these techniques are typical of canvas work, while some are complete surface embroidery, like the stem stitch filling being used in the photo above to shade the petals of the flower.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

And what about the projects in the book? There are quite a few beautiful projects in the back of the book. Some are large, some are not, and all can be taken apart and recombined for smaller or even larger projects! Line drawings are given, along with the recommended enlargement percentages to make the designs full sized.

Estense Embroidery: Italian Needlework inspired by Italian Ceramics

And wow. Some of the projects are just stunners!

I’m happy I got this book! I’d love to try this style of embroidery out. For me, I’d start small, with just one motif on a bookmark or something. But wouldn’t it be grand to have such a pillow adorning your room? Or to see your table bedecked with a tablecloth in this style? Wow! Methinks it would!

If you’re looking for the book, check out Italian Needlecrafts. I haven’t found it anywhere else online yet. But if I do, I’ll let you know!


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(29) Comments

  1. How beautiful! I had to laugh though, at first glance I thought the title was INTENSE Embroidery. I too love the pillow, but just know that my 20something son would have it in the floor using it as a head rest while watching TV. I would have to kill him then, so it might be a dangerous project for me.

  2. precioso todo, lastima que entiendo muy poco el idioma ingles, pero recreo mi vista viendo tan bellos bordados, mil gracias, lucia.

  3. G’day Mary,

    What a beaut book. I’ve always liked still lifes and ceramics used to play a big part in mine. (used to-I haven’t painted for a while now). I especially liked to paint broken ceramics. Either chips or chunks out of a bowl etc or the chips and chunks themselves. Bits of mirrors too. Either way I think they are more interesting. The stories they tell, if you can believe them, are intriguing!!

    One of the pages you show in this book has an illustration of a partly patterned bowl or the pieces as they would have been in the whole. I love that type of thing as a design piece in itself.

    Also very taken with the embroidery itself too. Anything different catches my eye and heart and imagination.

    Mmmm…this birthday money is gonna hafta stretch a long way.
    I am so taken with this book though that I think it will have to come first.

    Thanks Mary for opening up the wider world of embroidery and all that goes with it.

    So happy to see you in by emails again.
    Cheers, Kath.

  4. What a lovely book! I may just have to get it. It looks to be a combination of techniques that I already know, which is certainly a plus – I won’t have to learn anything new.

  5. It looks nearly like Crewel embroidery, you don’t think so?
    kiss from Paris.

  6. Mary, That is a beautiful book. I wonder if I would ever be able to make anything that gorgeous, but I would love to see the book in person.(hint) I love your review. Makes me want to buy it! and maybe I will.

  7. This book is amazing. The work is gorgeous. I’m a newbie to embroidery and I’m still learning. This site has helped me a lot. Thank you for the time and effort you put into it.

  8. Dear Mary
    I love your new site and the colours are even more stunning than the old site. Once I’d read the new site, it inspired me to start a new quilt top and then I saw this fabulous book and have ordered it from Elena who has been very helpful. At this rate, I shan’t get any ironing done – but will be at peace with my stitching…
    Your friend in the UK

  9. Hello, I found a book called: Ricamo etense dal graffiato ferraree by Elisabeth Holzer Spinilli at abebooks for $43.00 +S&H from Italy. Website is deastore.com. Shipment will be in 3 to 4 weeks. Will be sitting on my porch with a cup of coffee waiting for this great book. ISBN is 978889248825, Wish you best of luck, have a great embroidery day, Pat Jay, Texas USA

  10. Dear Mary,
    It was with great surprise that I read the long, beautiful and moving review of my book “Ricamo Estense”. I am honoured to be part of your much appreciated, interesting, rich and …. often “clicked on” blog. I discovered it awhile ago thanks to Jeanine and I visit it often (as I don’t speak English!) scutinizing and studying the great many projects you propose. It is an excellent thing for me to do and it is a continual source of inspiration!
    Thank you so much Mary, it would be great if we could get to know each other better!
    Elisabetta Holzer
    p.s. Thanks also to Jeanine who kindly translated this message!

    1. Hi, Elisabetta! Thank you so much for leaving a comment! I was Very Happy to review your book! I love it, and I hope to use it this summer to make something beautiful for my home! Thanks as well to Jeanine for the translation! 🙂 I suspect that my understanding of Italian is more limited than your understanding of English! I appreciate your comment, and hope to be writing a little bit more about your book this summer, when I start up a project from it!

      Thank you for writing the book in the first place – it is an inspiration!


  11. No importa el tiempo que uno dedica a los bordados,su libro es una gran inspiración para nuevos proyectos,gracias. Marisol

  12. Hi Mary

    Thanks for providing the link to this in your post of yesterday. I was really quite taken by the colours used in the cushion. As I’m not ‘naturally’ very creative, I need to see other peoples combinations to realise what looks good together.
    Thanks for the opportunity to see so many different combinations with all your references, as well as your own work. In fact, I’m specifically referring to your link to ‘Fabric for Surface Tips on Linen’ where I clicked on the ‘shawl’ link. The colour combinations on that magnificent stole are certainly colours I’d never have thought to put together … You’ve even inspired me to try using colours that I don’t even usually like. So, thanks for broadening my horizons in oh so many ways!

  13. mary gracias por lo que compartes, dios te bendiga hoy mañana y siempre. mil gracias me sirve mucho todos los informes.saludos sorany

  14. Hi Mary, thank you for the interesting review. I bought ist and used your link to Italian Needlecrafts. The book received very soon and without any problems.
    It’s an amazing book.I love it.
    Have a wonderful day

  15. Do you know where I can get a copy of this book? I cannot find it on line and I’d really like to have it.

  16. One book I have been looking for and cannot find is the Ricamo Estense by Elisabth Holzer Spinelli. I have been to the websites cited by The Italian Needlework blog and emailed what I thought might be Ms.Spinellis address, but no luck. Does anyone have any ideas?
    Jo Darby
    Durham NC USA

    1. Hi, Joanna – You might try looking at The Mad Samplar website. They have rare books or hard to find needlework books. I believe the book is out of print… but it wouldn’t hurt looking there or maybe even through ABE books? Just a thought! ~MC

    2. Joanna, this is Elena Rossi, the former owner of Italian Needlecraft site. I still have one copy left of this book (only one!), if you are still looking for it please let me know (my address is rossiele@yahoo.com . I don’t know whether Elisabetta still has any copies left, when I closed my activity a couple of years ago she asked me if she could buy her remaining books back as she had very few copies of it, but as I had only one left it wasn’t worth doing it..So it’s possible she still has a few, but maybe she sold them out in the meanwhile.

  17. Hello Mary,

    I would love to buy the Ricamo Estense book you reviewed. I tried to find it on the website you suggested with no luck. Can you help me out?

    I hate to bother you as I know you have far more important things to do.

    Thank you

    Annette Haggerty

    1. Hi, Annette – well, I just spent a good hour looking everywhere I could think of online, with no luck, either. You could inquire at lacis.com to see if it’s something they could special order for you. They do have one of the estense books on there, but it isn’t this one, and it’s in Italian. But they might be able to special order for you if the book is still in print.

  18. Mary, I’ve been trying to find this book, somehow I missed this post of yours, perhaps it was before I “met” you. Gosh, this is just beautiful embroidery. Would love to learn more but I’m finding nothing and the link doesn’t lead me anywhere (perhaps they are out of business). Any thoughts? Thanks, Carol

  19. What a bother…not to have been reading all your writings as they were posted… leaving me to comment on something written nearly 10 years ago. But thankfully the articles are still here and so is Mary! I’d give a pretty price to have Elizabetta’s words in English. I found the her complete manual, and I am infatuated with the designs…like all things Italian. Oh well, always a day late and due Mille lire short. Maybe a little pin cushion might be a place to start.

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