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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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Retro Crewel Embroidery – There’s Something to be Said for It

 

If you’ve ever been to a thrift store (sometimes referred to as an “op shop”), you’re probably familiar with the fate of many a piece of retro needlework.

What do I mean by retro?

Retro Crewel Embroidery - Old Country Mill crewel kit

Well, let’s look at some terminology.

When describing things from the past, we use the words “antique” and “vintage” pretty often, but not always correctly.

Antique is clear enough – anything antique is generally accepted to be anything 100 years or older.

Vintage, however, is not so clear. The term vintage was hijacked from the wine industry. With wine, the year it’s produced is the vintage. The vintage doesn’t necessarily imply that there’s any quality involved or anything like that. It’s just a statement of the season the particular wine was produced. So you can have a vintage 2015 wine right now, and it obviously wouldn’t be old, but it could be a very good quality wine. Or it could be rather… meh. It’s goodness has nothing to do with the term “vintage.”

But the way we commonly use vintage hints at a somewhat distant past. A vintage car, vintage jewelry, a vintage stove for the kitchen. And it also carries a whiff of quality with it – although something vintage doesn’t really have to be high quality. It just has some sort of quality to it that makes it appealing to those who like that particular style.

Generally, vintage is accepted to mean something around 50 years or older, but not quite old enough to be an antique. There are, though, many who use the term a little more loosely, and contend that 20 years is sufficient to make an item vintage.

Retro is a different time-related term. It simply means something that is imitative of the relatively recent past. Take, for example, styles from the ’80’s or ’90’s. If you made yourself a dress based on a pattern from the ’80’s that sports typical features of ’80’s dressy clothing – big collar, puffed sleeves, bow (I’m starting to shudder) and hefty shoulder pads – then the dress would be considered “retro ’80’s.”

Retro Crewel Embroidery - Old Country Mill crewel kit

The piece of crewel embroidery I’m showing you here belongs more to the category of “retro,” even though it’s not imitative, since it’s from the early ’80’s, not just imitating the early ’80’s.

But if you decorated your kitchen in an early ’80’s theme and hung this on the wall, you’d definitely have a “retro” kitchen.

Retro Crewel Embroidery - Old Country Mill crewel kit

In the 1980’s here in the US, the dominant form of popular needlework was counted cross stitch. It was All the Rage.

But crewel work, hanging over from the ’70’s when it was much more popular, still had a foot hold, especially at the beginning of the ’80’s. Crewel kits, like the Old Country Mill shown here, were fairly easily available at needlework shops and the larger fabric and craft stores that were springing up all over the country.

Retro Crewel Embroidery - Old Country Mill crewel kit

This particular kit, designed by Barbara and Randy Jennings and sold around 1982 as a Sunset Stitchery Kit, makes use of a variety of surface embroidery stitches – satin stitch, long and short stitch, bullion stitch, stem stitch, French knots, split stitch, chain stitch.

The design is printed on what feels like a very heavy cotton, probably to further enhance the suggestion of a grain sack.

Retro Crewel Embroidery - Old Country Mill crewel kit

Some areas of the design (for example, behind the lettering on the banner) are solidly colored and not meant to be stitched.

While the style of the piece is definitely early ’80’s, there’s still a timelessness about it, but that timelessness is not reflected in the design, and not necessarily in the color scheme, either. Those things can always be dated.

But the thing about embroidery – surface embroidery, crewel embroidery, and the like – is that it is timeless, despite design styles and color schemes, thanks to the common aspects that join subsequent eras of needlework. Every era of needlework history has built upon the era before, and they all have some things in common – like the threads (in this case, the wool), the stitches, the techniques.

Styles change. Color preferences change. And even techniques change somewhat. But they all build on what’s come before.

And that’s why I thought this piece was interesting. Sure, it’s not really my style. But I do recognize in it some good aspects of design, color placement, thread and stitch choice.

The history of this particular piece is vague, which is not surprising. As is often the case with this type of needlework, it ended up in a thrift store and someone bought it for the frame. My friend thought I might be interested in the contents of the frame.

What will I do with it? I’m going to wash it. I’ve wanted to test a few methods of washing wool embroidery, and this piece will provide me with a good way to do that.

Then I’m going to pass it on to someone I know who likes this particular “retro” style.

What about you? Have you ever come across a particularly outdated piece of needlework at a thrift store or op shop, and rescued it? What would you do with a piece like this, which is so obviously time-stamped? Is it something you’d keep? What if You had stitched this back in the ’80’s, and you were overhauling your home and scaling down? What would you do with it? Would you keep it, sell it, donate it?

I’m always interested in hearing what folks do with old embroidery like this, or what you’d do if you came across it somewhere. Chime in the conversation below, and let’s chat about it!

If you like this particular kit, search for “Old Country Mill Crewel Embroidery Kit” on eBay. There are a few on there.

 
 

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(71) Comments

  1. Dear Mary

    A very interesting article and I like how you have explained the meaning of old items, I never thought about the terminology used for old things an interesting concept for Antique, Vintage and Retro I just see these phrases and accept them as they are without questioning them. I have just been given a large quantity of different old style doilies and embroidered pieces to use on my fabric journal which is a traditional way of creating fabric journals, I don’t how old they are but some seem older then others so they could be classified as vintage or antique. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on old embroidery and for the explanation of the different meaning of vintage, antique and retro, very interesting.

    Regards Anita Simmance

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  2. I was taught that “vintage” could mean any time period, but it was something from that era. For example, a tape (music) sold in the 80’s was “vintage 1980’s” and not just a modern recreation of a 1980’s tape. Or a tablecloth that my granma did (printed cross-stitch) in the 60’s is “vintage 1960’s” because that is when the pattern was from and that is when she did it. Or like that Ingalls 1880’s pattern book that used to be on-line, the patterns are “vintage 1880’s” but the Christmas tree skirt I finished last year using celtic tree-ish patterns from it, is not “vintage” because I did it recently. So only the patterns are vintage, the fabric, floss and stitcher are not “vintage” to the 1880’s patterns, but are vintage 2014….. 🙂 Hm, something to ponder.

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  3. Mary,

    Ha! Ha! This article could not be more timely. My wife and I, back in the late 70s/early 80s and before having kids, completed a number of kits from Columbia-Minerva, Bucilla, etc. Now, 30 years later, we have begun to do some crewel and needlepoint projects. I have even ordered some of our old kits on Ebay because the original project is in bad shape. Perhaps your readers will remember Erica Wilson’s All Things Bright And Beautiful. That was a terrific project with a lot of different stitches and one that I will be completing again.

    You’ve got a wonderful and informative site, Mary. Thank you very much.

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  4. I made a small crewel piece in the 70’s that I framed. It is now one side of a pillow band. The other side is a color complement quilt block. I can remove the band and put on a new one as the seasons change.

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  5. What do you use to clean embroidery? I’ve heard about using a “Biz bucket” and about a product called Nature’s Sunshine Concentrate for cleaning heirloom garments and think they would work for embroidery, too. What do you use?

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  6. When I had water in my basement years ago, I took the pieces out of their frames and gently washed them in ORVIS. Then I pressed them on a thick towel and when completely dry, put them between acid free paper and have them stored in a trunk. Since I already had more piece to hang than room I thought it a good place to put them rather than a thrift store.

    Thinking about it now, I am glad I have done that.

    Tanis

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  7. Thanks for explaining the different terms. I always thought vintage meant a certain time period. I see it often used for clothing reminiscent of certain eras.

    I did some crewel back in the 80’s as well but no longer have the pieces. I can’t say I enjoy the fuzzy, chunky look of crewel. I still prefer the more delicate and detailed look of embroidery and cross stitch.

    I have seen older stitched pieces at the thrift shop. Shame on me but I tend to judge the quality of work and rarely find a piece I’d like to have in my own home. I sometimes wonder if anyone ever buys them.

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  8. The Old Country Mill piece would be adorable in a log cabin. Make it into a pillow by adding some complimentary fabrics front and back and some gorgeous trims. The pillow will be a conversation piece!

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  9. Wow, does this touch on a nerve! The thrift shops are full of handmade needlework or partially finished kits: afghans, samplers, table linens, etc. They usually come from “Grandma’s estate” because someone was in a hurry to clean out the house. These doomed pieces are usually overlooked at the thrift shop and after a time sent to the missions because of a stain, snag or small rip. There is a lot of fun and serious ways to put them back into use. The lowly afghan, with it’s hours of work, can quickly be upcycled into chair cushions or if you are really brave, shorts! I buy and either repair or repurpose these pieces.

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  10. This is a very timely subject – in preparing to move to a new house, I found one of these “retro” embroideries. It’s been tucked away and forgotten since I stitched it in the 70’s. I was going to toss it out but my husband said he liked it, so now I’m undecided. Since it needs to be cleaned, I’ll be watching for your post on washing wool embroideries.

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  11. I pick up unfinished “vintage” crewel kits from thrift stores for usually a $1 or so whenever I find them. I think of them as practice pieces (perfecting certain stitches), travel projects (if they get lost or damaged, it’s not a big deal), and rather then use them as wall hangings (which they were usually meant to be), I turn them into pillows. They find a new life, a new home, and I love their vintage look.

    Also, best product for cleaning antique linens – Retro Clean.

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  12. For some reason, I am sitting here with a lump in my throat because I have hanging in my sewing room a crewel piece I did in the late 70’s. I have never tossed it because frankly, I’m really proud of it. I have no idea what my daughters will do with it when I’m gone; I guess that doesn’t matter.

    I don’t remember the brand of the piece, but it is a scene of two quail with varied foliage, kind of a fall-ish motif. There were so many stitches in the instructions which I had never done before, so it was really a learning piece: turkey work, lattice work, long and short stitch.

    I remember enjoying working on it so much. It has, in recent years, inspired me to take up embroidery again.

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  13. I think your thrift stores are what we call “Charity shops” in England. That is, they sell mostly donated pre-owned items and the profits go to charity. I have occasionally found needlework items there, but not very often. I wonder if that is because the people working in the shops decide that no one will buy them, and so send them straight to the rag buyers.

    I bought a piece once though, which was partly finished, just because I loved the pattern. It had the instructions and even a (rather rusty) needle and a few bits of thread. I intend to buy some new fabric and thread and make the whole thing up myself using the instructions, and the part-completed piece will be my inspiration! It doesn’t seem right to complete something someone else has begun.

    As for old pieces I’ve made, there aren’t many of them and I wouldn’t want to get rid of them. When I’ve spent hours creating something, even if it’s a little dated I still won’t part with it. Though I have thrown out kits I bought years ago and never made up, because when I looked at them with fresh eyes I no longer liked them! Now there’s a good way to waste money!

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  14. I guess that when I see those pieces in the thrift store it makes me sad. I recognize how many hours and love are spent and wonder about the people that made them. I have rescued several pieces because they were just beautiful. Will my family appreciate all the things that I have made after I’m gone?? Who knows. I enjoy it and that’s what really matters. But I have gotten very particular who I make pieces for. Some people appreciate hand made items more than others.

    And I too did many Sunset and Bucilla kits. I have recently purchased some of them to do again. Funny how things tend to circle back around.

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  15. I have several large pieces of ’70s and ’80s crewel embroidery done by my aunt framed and hanging in my home and one piece I bought in a junque shop. They go well with all the other things I inherited and I enjoy the artistry of those stitchers as well as the emotional ties. I want to know how your washing turns out, because I have another piece that should be washed and re-framed, but I’m afraid to try it without expert advice. I buy and stitch Cathy Needlecraft embroidery kits from ebay, Amazon, and etsy. Sometimes I use the thread that comes in the kit and sometimes I change to new thread to get the colors I want. There are multitudes of Retro and Vintage kits available in thread and wool.

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  16. It makes me sad to think about all the lovely embroideries that end up in thrift stores because family members don’t want them. It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately for several reasons. I think it’s partly why we don’t see many embroidered pieces surviving through the centuries. It’s a pity all our work is so undervalued.

    Wouldn’t it be great to have a museum (or several) dedicated to preserving not just embroideries but knitted items and quilts – things that are done by women (mostly) and by hand.

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    1. You might want to check out the Lacis Museum in Berkley,CA. Their website always has wonderful, exquisite examples of all kinds of things textile and handmade. Especially lace, tatting, and vintage clothing. I wish I lived closer I would definitely be there and probably take some of their classes too.

    2. There is a museum dedicated to quilts: The International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Quilt House. It’s website is: http://www.quiltstudy.org/

      Many items in their collection are viewable on-line. They have shows, and there is lots of good downloadable information. For instance, “To Protect and Preserve” is a downloadable publication about caring for precious textiles. http://www.quiltstudy.org/discovery/resources/publications/downloads.html

      If you have a quilt that you think belongs in their collection, there’s a websection under “Collections” about “Aquisition & Management.”

      There’s a “Quilt of the Day” every day. And they have an active facebook page we well.

      Enjoy!

  17. I buy unused kits at my thrift store for $1.00. I throw away the pattern and keep the yarn. That’s a lot of yarn for $1.00.

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    1. I’ve done that, too – I have a gallon ziplock plastic bag full of pre-cut cotton floss from various kits – if it were the right colors, it’d be enough for the next three projects.

  18. I do love crewelwork, but I hardly ever do it because I can’t find designs which appeal to me. I’m not a huge fan of very traditional designs (though I have done some and they certainly have their place) and I can’t bear the sort of cutesy designs which seem to be the only alternative.

    I’d love to hear suggestions of interesting, beautiful, contemporary-ish crewelwork designs or kits!

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    1. You might want to look at the work of Jane Nicholas. It’s stumpwork but it’s closely related to crewel work. Jane’s work is grounded in tradition but I think has a timeless appeal.

  19. I haven’t purchased any completed vintage embroiderys, but have bought some unused crewel kits. I look for designs that are not particularly “vintage”, just ones that I like, finding them in thrift store and recently a really lovely one on ebay at a very low price. Both will wind up as pillows, as originally intended and if not in my own home in one of my children’s. I am fortunate that they value anything I make highly. This is just another option in my eclectic embroidery work, and I enjoy them as much as other projects. When buying a kit one must look carefully at the quality, I stick to ones with Appleton wool for example, and if buying on ebay or etsy from sellers with many previous sales and positive reviews.

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  20. I have a needlepoint picture my mother in law did in 1981. I love the flowers and pitcher that are on them and am reminded of her every time I look at it. I love your website and have been encouraged to take up my embroidery again. I even bought the left handed guide to help me. Thank you so much for reminding me that embroidery is so creative.

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  21. Hello Mary

    I really really love this piece…it does evoke the feeling of timelessness and grounding very calm …if it were mine, I would cover the piano stool seat with it – more than likely it would need a supplemental piece of fabric or crewel work of some kind to make it fit…my piano stool is solid wood…but, I would make a padded cover.

    Thank you for sharing…

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  22. Oh wow. This hits home. I love crewel and I am disappointed the designer companies no longer exist. I recently found an old kit I did from back in the 70’s or early 80’s and changed the color this time, not because the colors were no longer stylish, but because I was in a “pink” mood. 🙂

    I recently “rescued” some pieces I did that my mother still had but never framed. I discovered I still had the old yarn in my embroidery box and I had to do some repair work. The pieces were then framed and are no on her walls.

    I was lucky with having saved the old yarns. I kept them secured in a plastic box and away from the elements so they didn’t disintegrate as much as they may have. Finding replacement yarns for repair work was difficult. These kits I think, were made primarily with Paternayan yarns.

    Paternayan yarn manufacturing has almost died out. The big Herrschners company does not sell it. However, it seems to be making a comeback in the last few years since I first looked. More and more shops are carrying it now that the Sacco River Dyehouse is manufacturing it.

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  23. Dear Mary, I loved doing the crewel style embroidery! i remember when Avon use to sell kits in their catalogs! My Mom was an Avon lady for years and she would let me do the kits as sample showings for her customers . I was only about 13 at the time but she said I was a pretty good stitcher and she didnt pass out those compliments lightly. i wouldnt mind doiing them again!
    I love your site and love seeing your beautiful handiwork! Thanks Mary!

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  24. I love, love, love vintage/retro crewel embroidery kits. Crewel is my favorite type of embroidery to work and the style fits well with my 70s hippie chick vibe. I have spent many Saturdays trolling our local thrift stores for old kits and have found several kits and patterns for less than $1. As another poster mentioned, the kits are a great way to learn and try new stitches. I don’t usually buy finished pieces but do admire them. It’s a good visual reminder of the larger community of stitchers.

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  25. You caught my interest immediately with vintage finds, as I recently rescued several decades old needlecraft kits at a yard sale. Among these is a cross stitch printed tablecloth called “Spring Lilacs” designed by Mary Maxim. A previous owner and stitched a small portion, and I’d really like to finish it. Unfortunately I have only pages 5-8 of 8 of the instructions, and although I have all the thread (unlabeled since the floss is nicely arranged on a beautiful, wooden project organizer), I do not have the color codes! The Mary Maxim Company graciously offered to send a copy, but then contacted me again to say the item was so long out of production, they no longer had a sample. I’ll keep an eye out on eBay, as I know these kits pop up from time to time. In the meantime if any reader happens to have the instructions or the kit tucked away in accumulated stash, I would be pleased to hear from you.
    Nancilyn

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  26. I guess it may be my age, but 1980’s embroidery is not “old” to me. Also this is a bit short of vintage, which is normally 50 years. Heck, I did my first piece – a printed floss embroidery around 57 years ago as it was started before I was 5.

    Surface work kits and designs were so common back then that I bought a tablecloth to embroider in our local Gimbels (yes, part of the same store that was “in competition” with Macys in “Miracle on 34th Street)in their rather substantial embroidery department. In this case one bought the printed tablecloth which had a list of the flosses needed to complete it and one purchased the floss separately (in the same department) and could, therefore, change the colors for the tablecloth. In the same shopping mall there were also two needlework stores. What a loss that they are all gone now and our only local LNS has only counted work.

    There was still an assortment of surface embroidery kits at the start of the 1980’s, but by the end of same they were replaced, as you mention, by counted work.

    While I like the look of counted work, I find it tedious to do and greatly prefer surface work. I do both late 18th century reproduction pieces, as I am a 1770’s reenactor, as well as contemporary pieces, both from kits and my own designs. When I demonstrate at reenactment events people are always fascinated by the work.

    I really hope the trend reverses as knowledge of traditional surface work should not be lost.

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    1. Thought of this after posting – There is a misunderstanding of the term crewel in the retail needlework industry these days. I have seen a number of surface embroidery kits, especially by Dimensions, that are labeled as “crewel” when they have use no crewel yarn, only cotton floss. There is nothing wrong with a cotton floss kit, most of those I have done are same, but if a project does not use crewel yarn it is not “crewel”, it is surface embroidery.

      BTW – I understand from members of my EGA chapter that there is a fairly good size market on EBAY for old kits – started and not started.

  27. I did a lot of crewel pieces in the 70s… formal pieces for the living room, fun pieces for the kids’ rooms.

    I gave one to Goodwill and kick myself for it.

    The rest have been claimed by my children. They have cleaned them (a good soak in Woolite) and updated the frames and they now hang in their homes. It’s a delight to see them so loved.

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    1. I pick up finished crewel and embroideries at the thrift stores and recycle them in crazy quilts or make tote bags. I find it hard to leave them in the shop when I know someones hard work could end up at the dump.

  28. Speaking of old projects, I would like some suggestions. At an antiques and collectibles show I found a large farm scene printed fabric that some one had started stitching with yarns. But the details of the print would be covered up with that method. I stitched a few small sections with embroidery floss but face the same dilemma. Whatever you stitch will cover up the fine details and since I don’t have a picture of the intended design, or know what it was to be worked in and no materials that came with it other than what was already stitched on it. I’m at a standstill. The fine details are what make the picture… was this even supposed to be stitched? What should I do?

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    1. Perhaps it was meant to have *only* the details and perhaps outlines stitched over, leaving the main figures and background printed? If it’s printed in colors, I’d consider doing it this way.
      It’s possible that it was meant to be used as-is, unembroidered, like the scenic panels you can get now to put in quilts . . . what kind of fabric is it on? I mean, is the fabric something with enough weight and solidity to make a hanging/curtain on its own or lined, or is it quilt-cotton weight, or needlepoint-canvas coarse, or . . . ?

  29. I bought a large crewel kit in 1978, (think it was Dimensions) featuring an Oriental couple and it took me a long time to do it-10 years- but was eventually finished and framed and is now hanging in my bedroom. It was my first big piece. It still gets ooh’s and aha’s and in recent years it was in an embroidery exhibition. Because of the subject matter it is timeless and I hope to get many more years of enjoyment out of it before handing it down to one of my children.

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  30. Back in the early 1980’s, my mom made and gave me a crewel embroidery picture of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which showed the seagull soaring over some colorful flowers. I think Jonathan Seagull was popular in 1970. Mom was coming to visit me, and living 625 miles away, she hurried to finish it but did not have the time to clean it or frame it. I didn’t tell her that I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to clean it myself, so all these years I’ve just packed it away in my trunk that I have of my many keepsakes. Mom has passed away, so I look at it now and then, still not sure how to clean it. But I cherish it. Today, you again brought back the memory of Mom’s “vintage” needlework. Thank you, Adele

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  31. I have done several pieces over the years. They were all done because I enjoyed the scene. At times I move them to different areas of my home but none sre ever discarded. My home is a reflection of my life, not a fad filled building that changes with the times. Yes, I add to my collection but never discard. Perhaps I choose more discriminately than others or perhaps my tastes are not moved by rapidly changing fads and fashions. Whatever the reason, my pieces are with me until I leave this earth.

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  32. Dear Mary,
    This has rung so many bells with me! Firstly, I recall my annoyance (to put it mildly) when I found on Pinterest an image of a crewel transfer design from a Coats publication of the 60s – a beautiful Jacobean design for a cushion or fire screen to be done in stranded cotton. Mum, and her mother too, were keen and skilled needleworkers, and at that time Coats published many books, each for a different style or technique. This particular one I dreamed of making, but was too busy at uni and it was put on the to do list. You can imagine my reaction when it was described by the pinner as “vintage”! I’m not vintage!!!! So neither is this!

    I still have all those booklets we collected – some times 2 because both Mum and I bought one – and I have many of the items we created. Mum also collected the Dover books of the same era, and also the Ondori ones from Japan. I have many of the projects I completed and still receive interested comments. I have needlework from my mother and grandmother too – one lovely “supper cloth” of poppies is gorgeous. Recently I went through my mother-in-law’s linen pile to wash and sort, but, you guessed it, I too sentimental to get rid of anything yet.

    Isn’t it great to consider the colour selections of various eras? Even to consider what colours you would use today. I have a friend who has made beautiful quilts from op shop doily finds – just lovely.

    Sorry for the length of this epistle – you struck a chord this morning and I just had to answer.

    All my good wishes for your speedy return to good health; I will be thinking of you in the coming weeks.

    Best wishes
    Alison

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    1. Now I’ve read the comments from others, I’ve remembered the Chippendale-style cushion in Anchor wool in tent stitch, begun in the 40s by my mother, continued by her sister, and then given to me when she got sick of it! Not enough yarn of course, and when I got it in the 60s there had been 2 changes of numbering systems in the yarn, and in the “swinging sixties” pastel colours were OUT and only brights were available. Matching was a nightmare. So the centre of the design remained pastel, with things as close as I could get, and the outside of the design became bright colours on a dark background. It did work out well, and I was pleased that I finished it.

      I still have 20 or so needlepoint cushions and many pictures – Mum loved doing them and used the Stitchcraft magazine and then Anna from Germany – at first when it was in German, and then (a relief from translation) when it was published in English. I found one of her last pictures unframed – a German castle high on the hill – and many of the stitches were 2 and 3 colours blended. (She enjoyed her retirement, just as I am now!)

      I haven’t often bought kits, but love the variety of publications giving charts and designs. I wonder what will happen to my resources – books, magazines etc. My daughter is appreciative, but too busy, although she knits and crochets; she does not have a lot of space to keep her own things, let alone my collection. Ah well, not for me to worry about, I guess.

  33. I love and collect antiques. Embroidery is a favorite part of my collection. Sometimes I wonder why I collect other people’s embroidery when I’m an embroiderer myself, but I love the connection with other women from the past…how they brought beauty into their lives and homes through their work. Family connection, too. I have a couple of pieces of hardanger that my grandmother did. She died when I was quite young and I didn’t know her well, but I feel the connection with her work and a few dishes of hers that I have.

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  34. My parents worked at the Op (Opportunity) House in Bloomington IN. I don’t know if my mother rescued any needlework items, but she probably contributed some. She did rescue jigsaw puzzles and donated them back if all the pieces were there. That place is used to provide for the poor people of the city. The one in the county where I live has turned itself into a food pantry as well as a clothing source for the poor or whoever wants to shop there. Our church still has a mission for the people who live in the mountains of the eastern/southern United States, as well as those who don’t have enough to wear in local areas. A town with a large university often have students shop at those places. I can afford to buy new, but I just like to shop for and buy old.

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  35. Have it under glass if keeping it in the kitchen
    BUT—-
    Lets not forget the flying ducks. A must for any vintage kitchen. +
    MM

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  36. I’m afraid I’m the opposite to many of your readers. As the only stitcher in the family, I’ve ended up with all the old doilies and other bits and pieces – some possibly antique by your definition, certainly vintage (as am I). I did a serious cull, keeping only those items that I found intrinsically beautiful or that used less familiar stitches. The rest went to friends or thrift/charity/op (= opportunity, the Oz term) shops, where I hope they found more welcoming homes than mine. I’ve also tossed a lot of my own work that I see no reason to keep.

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  37. I bought an old framed needlepoint picture from a second-hand store just last week. I loved the colours – it’s a wide arrangement of flowers in orange tones in a deep teal vase, on a pale blue background. The brown and gold frame is pretty 1970s but tones well with the embroidery, so I left it as is – just gave the frame a much needed clean, and hung it on the wall at the top of my stairwell. Makes me happy every time I go upstairs and I only paid $2 for it 🙂

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  38. Dear Mary,
    Thank you for sharing your passion and wonderful talent. I found your website a month or two ago and have been inspired to return to embroidery and needlework.
    I made many crewel kits in the 80’s. One hangs in my dining area. My 22 year old niece recently told me she loves it and would I make one for her. That made me happy. I found the kit on ebay and plan to get started soon!

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  39. Hi Mary
    The day before a bushfire consumed nearly all my embroideries Mums and my grandmothers- did pick up a few as a packed the car to abandon all- I received an email from the daughter of Mums oldest friend saying she had inherited this embroidery from her mother that she had inherited from her elderly aunts. She felt that it was time that it came home to Mumma Cots grandaughter!! Mum would have been 90 now and was the youngest by Quite a few years and this was done well before she was born so I am sure we could say it is an antique. There were quite a lot of tears shed the day it arrived as it is the only piece of Narnies enormous and amazing output that I now have. Wonderful to think that it has been treasured over all these years A lovely post Mary thank you
    Chris from australia

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  40. I’ve been to more than a few art galleries where I live in San Francisco that have contemporary artists using repurposed old needleworks. In talking to one artist, she shyly confessed that she was afraid real needleworkers would be upset with what she’d done: added embroidered Lara Croft-like commando figures dropping out of helicopters onto your retro scenes (a placid lake & dock & cabin, or even 2 side by side stitcheries of huge sunflowers where she found identical already finished kits at Goodwill). Another artist took every stitch out of a linen piece and reapplied it in paintbox-like squares to indicate quantities of colors used.

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    1. Omigosh . . . Commando Crewel! There really should be some way to work up a comic-book super-heroine from that!
      I would love to see an embroidery re-worked like that; it sounds fantastically imaginative and I, for one, am not a bit upset!

  41. Recently I found a rack of “vintage clothing” in an antiques market – it was 1970s. That’s not “vintage”, that’s my childhood! I ‘m too young to be vintage *panic*

    By the way, it might interest you to know that in the old car world “vintage” has a very precise meaning – they are cars that are post-WWI but pre-1931. Anything from 1905 to 1918 is “Edwardian” (a bit of a misnomer, but there you go), and anything up to and including 1904 is “veteran” and can enter the famous London to Brighton rally. What if you’re pre-WW2 but after 1931? Well, if you are one of the recognised “quality” marks you are called a Post-Vintage Thoroughbred, which I think is a lovely title and one I wouldn’t mind having myself 🙂

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  42. My mom has a bunch of cross stitch pieces that she made in the ’90’s and early 2000’s, some finished and some not. I have one of them hanging on the wall in my bedroom.

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  43. When I was a teenager in the mid 70’s, I purchased an Elsa Williams crewel kit of morning glories. I never stitched it, because I didn’t want to spoil it with my lack of skill. A few years back, I had the opportunity to take a crewel class with Phillipa Turnbull. I still haven’t finished the class piece, but have managed to acquire several more Elsa Williams and Erica Wilson kits and books. Now I just need some more hours in my day!

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  44. I have trouble resisting the finds at thrift shops and vintage clothing and textile shows but try to limit myself to pieces where the design, materials or workmanship(on pieces that have been started)are good quality. It’s amazing what you can find in the thrift shops and I think really sad that there isn’t broader and greater appreciation for needlework.

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  45. The piece is from Dimensions 1986. It’s on a medium weight fabric, maybe linen? it features a large barn encompassing 70% of the picture. The barn is an Antique and farm produce store and has two horse buggies in front, with a plethora of farm goods and antiques scattered on the yard in front of the barn. I just discovered something, when looking at the parts already stitched in yarn by some one else, I noticed the what was behind the stitches is actually a blank spot. May be she did finish it, even though it is on;y a very few parts of the picture. What do you think? Leave it alone or continue to play?

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  46. I simply adore the retro/vintage kits that are out there on eBay and thrift shops. My favorites include Bucilla and Paragon–everything from calendars to Christmas. I have completed many, many Christmas ornament kits. I often update the materials and colors of felt, floss, crewel yarn, etc. to give them a more modern touch. I’ve added beads, metallic threads and tiny sequins to give them that extra flash. Some of the pillow kits and wall hangings are gorgeous too. Erica Wilson and Elsa Williams are two of the best “from-my-childhood” artists that I really enjoy. Mary, you have become my modern favorite!

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  47. In the 70’s I lived in NJ and IL. I stitched just about all the available Hummel figurines, even hunted the kits down in thrift shops. I loved being able to put them up on the wall and they moved around with me without worries of breakage. They were with me till just a few years ago, when I sold them. My style had moved on.

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  48. Not long ago, I opened a box that had been closed for many years and found a clock with a crewel floral face I stitched some time in the early 1970s (when Erica Wilson had a wonderful show on public television). I took my clock to a local Interstate Battery store to see if they could replace the long-dead battery and restore the clock to working order. The man in the store took my clock and exclaimed, “My mother stitched this when I was a child! It hung in our kitchen for years!” He replaced the battery, but unfortunately, that didn’t solve the non-working problem – but I kept the clock anyway (I still like the piece).

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    1. If it’s the actual clock mechanism that’s the problem (and it could be – plastic degrades and metal corrodes in storage), Tandy carries small clockworks for projects like that, and I think Hobby Lobby or Michael’s or similar places may also. They’re very easy to install; I just put one in a clock made of a china plate – it belonged to my paternal grandmother, then Mom had it in her kitchen for years, and was annoyed when it quit working.

  49. I have so enjoyed reading all the posts in this thread (even if I am a little late). Back in the mid 70s I found a cross stitch pattern in the then popular US Crafts Magazine, these were very novel to us in Australia at that time. It was one appropriate for the kitchen, because I hadn’t as yet gotten into cross stitch at that time I cross stitched it on a pale yellow fine squared gingham. It has lived in 3 kitchens now (or will when it is unpacked from our last move last year. It needs to be taken out of its frame and cleaned.

    I love browsing op shops and antique markets and have brought home many beautiful framed cross stitches and tapestries, as well as linens, especially table linens – embroidered, crochet, knitted etc. It is such a shame to see these lovely pieces discarded so. Having slightly down sized I no longer have the wall space for my collection, (to be quite honest I was very fast running out of space in my old house as well gggg)so my plan is now to have “showings” I might display some framed work for 6 or 12 months and then change some with work that is in “storage” ggg I don’t care if the items are dated in whatever way design, colour, fibre etc it the piece speaks to me, then home it comes.

    My great aunt was a nun and did exquisite embroidery mainly in the form of the Semco and Myart printed linens of which my grandmother and mother were often the lucky recipients of. It is this work that started me collecting vintage, antique and retro work.

    Thanks Mary for a wonderful site, all the very best for the coming surgery, will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.
    Cheers Judy
    S.E.Qld, Australia

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  50. Thanks for explaining the different terms. I always thought vintage meant a certain time period.i am very impressed by this site

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  51. I’ve always thought it to be a little bit sad when I find a piece such as this in a thrift shop. I always wonder the circumstances that led to it being there. Same goes for old photographs.

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  52. Boy do I feel vintage/retro.I have this completed piece hanging in my pantry. This was a piece I completed while waiting for the birth of my son. He’s 31 now. I agree with you about the time era. Crewel was easy to find in the 80’s. I don’t do kits any more but when I was looking I had to include the word Vintage to find most items. I was surprised at how many of the kits have become expensive collector items and sell for a pretty penny. Unfortunately the kits were, as a friend of mine said “Sew by numbers.” Thank goodness for the creators of needle painting projects.

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