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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History Made New Again: Are you Up to a Needlework Challenge?


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If you’re up to a needlework-related challenge – or if you just want to browse a fantastic historical embroidery pattern collection – this is for you!

The Dakota County (Minnesota) Arts Challenge sounds fantastic! It’s an art challenge based on a collection of historical needlework patterns.

Dakota County Arts Challenge - Hastings Needlework Company Patterns

From the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s, the Hastings Needle Work company in Minnesota produced bespoke embroidered pieces for clients, based on an extensive collection of embroidery patterns drawn mostly by Alice Le Duc, and embroidered by a cottage industry workforce of about 15 other women.

The Minnesota Historical Society offers a small collection of these patterns on their website, where you can view them and even purchase the images.

Dakota County Arts Challenge - Hastings Needlework Company Patterns

The contest requires participants to create their art with the media of their choice, be it painting, embroidery, other forms of needlework, wood carving – whatever medium the artist prefers. The goal of the contest is a modern interpretation of historical design.

There are 16 designs that the participant can choose from, and they’re all included on the Arts Challenge Application (PDF).

The patterns are wonderful! I can see them interpreted so many ways, needlework-wise, from simple surface embroidery to highly textured stumpwork to needlepoint canvases featuring a variety of stitches.

Here’s a convenient list of links to help you learn more about the Arts Challenge:

Arts Challenge article in the Star Tribune
Dakota County Historical Society Website (check under events & exhibits)
Arts Challenge Application with patterns (PDF)

If you just want to browse the patterns collection, you can find about 100 of the old patterns from Hastings Needle Work on the Minnesota Historical Society website. Keep in mind that the challenge involves the 16 patterns found on the application.

The deadline for the challenge is March 31, so if you’re up to it and want to participate, you’ll definitely have to get started soon!


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(13) Comments

  1. Interesting idea – I was getting all interested…. and then when I read the application form, I saw that entrants have to post a ‘check'(cheque)to enter – in US dollars, presumably? That rules out any non-US people from entering, unless the organisers are up for people paying by Paypal….Pity!

    1. Janet –

      I would email them and see if there is a way around this – I am sure there is. The simplest being paypal as you already point out.

      Or, if they won’t take paypal directly, paypal the entry fee to a US embroiderer and then have that embroiderer write the check to the historical society for you.

      Would just hate for you to miss out if you have an idea. Let me know if I can help as I am thinking of entering too. Anastasia

  2. Dear Mary

    I’m having difficulty with my Adobe flash player for pdf formats so I can’t view the challenge but it sounds very interesting and a great idea. I wonder how many will take challenge it would be interesting to see their completed embroidery pieces. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  3. Oh My Goodness! Even though I’m not in a position to participate in the contest I feel like a winner; simply because you have given me access to this treasure trove of period designs. Thank you so much, Mary – you’re the tops!

    1. I think the embroiderer might have used the Ghiordes stitch (? I think that’s its name) where you make back stitches but leave long loops which you then cut off and trim. Mostly we trim them off very short and fluff them up for things like butterfly/moth bodies, but I guess if you made them long and left them long like this, this is the effect you would get. Mary, what do you think?

  4. Thanks for this Mary. I am thinking of entering. I followed the link that you provided and looked at all 97 extant drawings. I learned a lot.

    I think these may be the working drawings of one or two artists based on stylistic tics that I noticed….for example the bunnies standing on their hind legs were all identical. I could imagine the artist as a little girl filling the margins of her homework with little bunnies ala Beatrix Potter. Then there were the peacocks – shape of the tail, the same in every drawing. I loved this – made me feel as if I were reaching across time.

    I do like that motifs can be mixed and altered as long as the entrant doesn’t go too far, but I noticed that their choices weren’t the best of the lot in a few cases.

    I am interested to see what people come up with..I am interested to see if I manage to come up with anything – I do have a few ideas. I just wish I had a bit more time.

  5. Sorry to comment more than once, but did anybody else notice that these were a perfect time capsule in terms of decorative style?

    You can see very faint echoes of the Victorian, but even better, there were both Nouveau and Deco design elements in all of the drawings. These are two of my favorite periods, so I was all excited.


  6. Thanks again, Mary. You never fail to amaze me with these fabulous finds. I am not sure I would enter either but there is one image that just shrieks Cezanne to me and I am trying to imagine it embroidered in a style similar to his painting. Could be interesting, but not for this competition I’m thinking.

  7. This sounds really awesome, I love the designs! I wonder if it’s allowed for non-US people to enter? It doesn’t say anything about it, but very often these kind of contests are US only…I guess I’ll send them an email, I’d love to enter if international applications are allowed!

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