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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Victorian Perforated Paper Embroidery


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While enjoying life in the Canadian Maritimes on my recent break, I ran into a few needlework-related items. The first one was a piece of Victorian perforated paper embroidery, hung on the wall of the “rectory” in the idyllic (and fictitious) town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. Since I took a few photos of the piece, I thought I’d share them with you and tell you a bit about this embroidery fad that lasted from the 1820’s through 1910, reaching its zenith of popularity in the 1880’s and 90’s.

(You can click on the image below for a larger version.)

Victorian Perforated Paper Embroidery in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island

During the Victorian era, perforated paper was used as a ground for embroidering all kinds of paraphernalia, from little tokens of friendship, to covers of needlebooks, to inspirational mottoes for the wall. Some sources remark that the affordability of the paper made the craft accessible to all classes; hence, its popularity. Besides being affordable, paper embroidery was undoubtedly rather easy compared to the fine hand embroidery and the “fancy work” of the day. In a relatively short time, with little effort, a colorful motto could be stitched for the wall, using easy stitches marked out by pre-drawn lines.

Victorian Perforated Paper Embroidery in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island

Straight stitches were placed parallel to each other to fill wider sections of lettering. Vines and scrolls were stitched with back stitch, straight stitch, and sometimes stem stitch. And flower petals could be worked with straight stitches that radiated out from a central hole, or simply satin stitched like the letters. Variegated wools were available and well-suited to the lower counts (with fewer holes per inch and larger holes) of perforated paper. Silk would often be used on perforated paper as well, especially for higher counts of holes per inch. The paper was available with anywhere from 10 holes per inch to 28 holes per inch.

Victorian Perforated Paper Embroidery in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island

When a motto was finished, it was often backed by wrinkled tin foil and hung in a rustic frame. The tin foil sparkled through the holes and added a bit of pizazz to the finished piece.

Idyllic and Fictitious Avonlea

Although the little town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island is a fictitious setting, I suspect that the perforated paper motto is genuine. Well, it looks old, anyway, and it’s not in the best shape – there are stains on it, and a lot of darkening around in the inside edges near the frame. The threads look aged and are a bit dull and fuzzy in some spots. And the stitching – well, it’s admittedly a bit “rustic.” If the piece were stitched today, even as a reproduction piece, I suspect it would look a bit more polished.

Once upon a time (as far back as 2006, when I wrote about this type of Victorian perforated paper), there was a company called Sage Stitchworks devoted to recreating these Victorian mottoes. They had heaps of them available at the time, which you can still see on their blog which was started when the company closed down. Although that resource isn’t available anymore, there are other resources out there that can supply you with perforated paper. Nordic Needle, for example, carries quite a good stock of perforated paper, with a fairly color range available.

And although stitching on perforated paper is nowhere near as popular today as it was in the 1800’s, there is a slight resurgence of interest in the craft. So I was happy to see this serene motto hanging on the wall of the house in Avonlea. I don’t know how many people actually see it. But if you ever make it to Avonlea, check it out. It’s hanging all alone on a wall in the rectory parlor, just waiting to be noticed.


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(15) Comments

  1. Hi Mary, I didnt realise embroidery on paper was such an old craft.

    Despite make the photo bigger, I cannot read the message because of the silver foil behind the letters. Does it say “I heed Thee every hour”??

    I certainly cant think any respectable Victorian lady would embroider “I need Thee every hour” :/

    1. Hi, Everyone! Thanks for your comments!

      Oh, yes, Bobbi – I forgot about including a link to Tokens and Trifles. They make very pretty little perforated paper thingies – different shapes of cards with scalloped edges and so forth that are very pretty when stitched up. They’re a bit pricey, but for special projects, they’re really nice.

      Another source of perforated paper is La Lambroquine, a French website (http://la-lambroquine.oxatis.com/) that offers a beautiful range of perforated card in a higher count than you can find in the US. I believe there are at least 18 holes per inch, though it might be as much as 22. They also have 22 carat gold leaf perforated card – very pretty for special projects, though quite pricey. In fact, ordering this from France is pricey, anyway. A sheet of perforated card is 3.50 euros. But still, if you’re looking for a higher count perforated paper, so far this is the only source I’ve found online for it. I’d love to find a source in the US…???

      Marian – LOL! It does say “I need Thee every hour.” It is a religious motto. The “Thee” refers to God or Christ. Many of the mottoes from this era are religious – either Bible quotes or simple phrases to remind the household of God’s providence, etc. “Faith, Hope, Charity” is a common one, and in fact, my grandmother had that on the wall in her house.

      Charla – Thanks so much for the resource! I will look that up! I’m glad there’s still a source for these in kit form!

      Alessandra – yes, the paper is perfect for making little ornaments and adding bead strings, etc. I received an angel ornament made out of perforated paper in a Christmas swap a couple years ago, and it was quite cleverly made!

      Thanks again for all the comments! Yes, it’s nice to be back!


  2. Welcome back, Mary. What a surprise to see the subject of your blog today. A couple of months ago, I found a perforated paper victorian motto on ebay. I had never worked on paper before, so I immediately ordered one. It was a fast project, and is quite beautiful. I purchased it as a kit, but you can also purchase her overdyed floss and/or perforated paper separately. From what I understand, she will also custom design a motto of your choosing. You can find her shop on ebay by searching “victorian motto.” She has numerous kits available. Just to let you know, I have no connection with Nancy or her shop other than being a very satisfied customer. I will be purchasing more for gifts.

  3. I made three Christmas ornaments on perforated paper many years ago. They were counted cross-stitch and back stitch with beads. There was a front and back to each ornament. The paper was ideal for this sort of work because it didn’t lean in odd ways when hung on the tree the way that a stuffed ornament can and the ornaments were so light you could put them almost anywhere. The beads laid perfectly because of the support of the paper and there was none of the adjusting necessary when working on fabric. The finishing was a breeze – running stitch two squares in from the edge with long tails tied into a loop to use as a hanger.

  4. FYI, “Tokens and Trifles” has a line of perforated paper shapes, designs, and ideas you might want to take a look at.

  5. For several years, before the children came along, I made my greeting cards using perforated paper and cross stitch. It was really fun and people really enjoyed them. Recently, I visited my mom and she sent me home with a box of stuff she wanted me to look thru. Included was an envelope full of my cross stitched greeting cards that I had sent to her! It was great seeing them all again.

  6. live in France and I do not speak your language but thanks be given to google translation here is pretty embroidered card and I can give you at very attractive price! Even with transportation when I see the price it cost to you! If you are interested please let me know Mary would centralize the control and I would make him a package that you would lower the price + kisses up to you

  7. I recently purchase a victorian motto. The acidic paper has darkened so much it is difficult to read the motto. Can the paper be lightened or could i paint the paper a lighter color for contrast? Maybe this a stupid question from a guy, but i would like to be able to enjoy the piece. Paul

    1. Hi, Elizabeth – you might check eBay for perforated paper embroidery or something like that. Search using the word “mottoes,” as that might bring up results. The last time I saw any perforated paper motto kits available, it was through a store on eBay. I don’t know if they are still in business or not.

  8. Can you recommend a site for purchasing blank punch paper like you used in your “I Need You Every Hour” embroidering shown in this article?

    1. Mill Hill offers perforated paper like this. You can google them. They do have an 18 count in white or ecru, but the rest are all 14 holes per inch, I believe.

  9. I am searching for a kit for a Victorian embroidered saying on perforated paper that says “That Husband of Mine” any guesses as to finding this? Thank you in advance. Kim Ignaszewski Hughes

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