The history of art is marked with specific eras of design styles. One short-lived era that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in the hand embroidery world these days (though it is gaining popularity again) is the Art Nouveau era, which lasted – at its height – only about 20 some odd years, from the end of the 1800’s through the early 1900’s.
The style had its origins in the Arts and Crafts movement, but the features of Art Nouveau design can be isolated and made distinct from the design of the Arts and Crafts movement. Much more “modern” in execution, what we call Art Nouveau in general today was known by many different names at the time, including Style Moderne in France, “Tiffany style” in the States (think: the stained glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany), and, in the UK, “Modern Style” or “Glasgow Style” (after the Glasgow School of Arts). Throughout Europe, each country had its own name for the distinct style of the Art Nouveau age. Considering its relatively short-lived (but a bit frenzied) popularity, the style spread and was adopted very quickly around the globe.
The Art Nouveau style extended into not only the fine arts, but also the applied arts, so you’ll find not only paintings and sculptures in Art Nouveau style, but you’ll also find extant examples of stained glass, jewelry, metal, textiles, furniture, architecture, mosaics, and all kinds of applied, decorative artwork made during the era.
I like the Art Nouveau style. It’s so clean. It strikes me as a perfect fit, too, for the “minimalist” approach to a lot of decor these days.
But enough about the history part of things! Let’s talk about this book: Motifs Floraux Art Nouveau, or Art Nouveau Floral Motifs. I know there are a lot of embroiderers out there who are also Art Nouveau enthusiasts, so I thought this book would be of interest!
You’ve probably already figured out that the book in question is in French. This can cause a few little set-backs if you don’t speak or read French – we’ll talk about those below and how to overcome them.
The book is full of single motifs in the Art Nouveau style, ready to be embroidered. The embroidery is primarily done in Bayeux stitch. The combination of what was essentially a medieval embroidery technique with a very modern design style is interesting! The somewhat linear nature of the Bayeux stitch coupled with the neat lines of Art Nouveau produce a very modern effect overall.
That said, the designs can be interpreted in any type of embroidery technique. They’d look great in silk shading. They’d look great in goldwork. They’d look great in whitework. Blackwork, crewel work… they’re good designs that would interpret across a variety of embroidery approaches.
Each design is presented as a line drawing in the book, with an indication of how much it should be enlarged when copying it.
To enlarge a design that you’re photocopying, the easiest method is to place the page face down on a copy machine and enlarge by the percentage indicated. Depending on the percentage the image is enlarged, you might have to run a couple test copies, moving the page to different parts of the screen, to get the whole image. Once you have the design printed at the recommended size, it’s just a matter of transferring it according to your favorite method of design transfer.
If you want to work the designs in wool (as presented in the book), most of the designs need to be enlarged, but if you were to do them in silk or cotton, depending on the stitching techniques you wanted to use, most of the designs can be used at the size in the book.
Along with the design, you get a clear image of the finished embroidery, plus a color list of the wools used in the design (this is one of the little hitches that we’ll talk about below), along with a description of the process of the embroidery (the other hitch – the book is in French, remember – but we’ll talk about how to get around that below).
If you want to interpret the designs Bayeux stitch and other similar techniques used on the samples in the book, you’ll find clear diagrams for these techniques at the beginning of the book. They don’t require knowledge of the language to see how to work out the various embroidery techniques.
Pros, Cons, and Overcoming the Language Barrier
A very interesting collection of Art Nouveau designs to embroider – along with color schemes for each embroidery, and, if you want them, stitch techniques for the particular approach.
There are a whopping 48 projects in the book!
The designs are clean line drawings and take very little effort to enlarge for embroidery.
For English-speaking folks, the book is in French. Still, the parts that you need for embroidering the designs are easily discernible, despite the language barrier. If you need to read anything in the book, a simple tool like Google translate can give you the gist of the message.
The fibers suggested in the book are hard to come by in the States. In fact, there are four different types of wool that they use on the models in the book, and they come from three different sources even in France (you have to shop through three different shops in order to find the four types of wool). I think this is problematic, obviously. On the bright side, you can color match with the photos in the book if you like their color scheme and substitute whatever wool you want to use.
In a Nutshell
For embroiderers who love the Art Nouveau style, this is a great collection of small, individually, manageable motifs. The approach of stitching them with the Bayeux stitch is interesting, but it isn’t essential. I love the color schemes on many of the pieces, but I’d probably approach the stitching on most of the designs that I like with different techniques. There’s a lot of scope for interpretation!
Where to Find It
In the States, you’ll find Motifs Floraux Art Nouveau available here through French Needle.
There are also a few copies available on Amazon, which you’ll find listed on my Amazon Recommendations page here, under “Browse my Amazon Recommendations.”
This article contains an affiliate link to my Amazon recommendation page, which means that Needle ‘n Thread receives a small commission for any purchases made through that link, without any extra expense to you. Thanks!