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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.