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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Fabulous Embroidery History in a Great Mini Class!


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Do you get really nerdy-interested in the history of embroidery? I do. I can’t help it! I like to read about, hear about, learn about those interesting characters in history who have brought something to our world of needlework.

One most interesting character in needlework history is Martha Edlin. As a child, Martha produced beautiful, well designed, planned, and executed embroidery projects. Her embroidery skills as a youth reflect her intelligence and her talents that, as research shows, continued to develop and display themselves throughout her life.

Martha Edlin mini course

Tricia Wilson-Nguyen over at Thistle Threads has developed an absolutely fascinating mini course that delves into the woman who is Martha Edlin. You’ll learn all about her from primary sources – the best approach to learning history.

Martha’s life story shows that middle class women like Martha were educated to take control of their lives and that working embroideries and other detail-oriented arts were part of that training. They learned soft skills and problem solving that contemporary commentators on the history of embroidery ignore today to instead propagate mistaken beliefs that needlework was more of a way to keep girls docile and virtuous.

Martha came from a long line of educated women, some like her, widowed early and needed to not only raise children but deal with business and significant legal affairs. The stories of Martha’s daughters show that she was strong willed and expert at positioning extra legal documents to keep her prodigy’s inheritances from being controlled by their husbands.

The grit that it took to work two samplers, a casket and a jewelry box in just five years is on full display in her determination later in life to not capitulate to threats by the Mayor of London who threatened prison. We have been awed for decades about the full suite of embroideries she left behind, but this is now dwarfed by the storyline of her life; a rare example of knowing a 17th century middle-class woman.

The mini-course is quite affordable, too! At only $15, it includes not only the detailed history of Martha Edlin, but also a close scrutiny of her embroidery works – among them a gorgeous embroidered casket (box) and all the intricate little “toys” that belong to it, a beautiful whitework sample overflowing with intricate techniques, and more – all with Tricia’s knowledgeable guidance through the interesting details and the techniques used on them.

Funding a Good Cause

With each course purchase, $5 of the fee will be donated to the Victoria & Albert to help fund the photographing of embroidery work in their collections. Museums like the V&A have vast holdings of needlework, but it’s not all visible for the public even through their online collections, because it hasn’t all been photographed. This is the type of work that allows everyone to access these great works and learn from them.

For those of us who don’t have the opportunity to explore these historical embroidery pieces in person, this type of photography work is so important. It allows us – and other researchers and historians – to see and to study pieces that we would never perhaps otherwise see in detail!

So far, the course has raised $2,200 to donate for this cause. That’s a good start!

Martha Edlin mini course

If you’re more into the practical sides of embroidery, there’s an extra treat for you, too. There’s a fabulous bonus video on how to work with the filament silks that dominated the 17th century embroidery scene.

If you’ve ever struggled to stitch with silks like Soie de Paris or Soie Ovale (two of the most beautiful silks when stitched, but often considered difficult to work with), this video will be so helpful!

I love the fact that Tricia films the embroidery as it takes place on the front of the fabric, and also films what’s happening on the back of the fabric, so you can really get a thorough sense of how to work with these silks. The screenshot above is actually the back of the embroidery that she’s stitching on.

There’s a Kit

You’ll also find a small taster project inspired by Martha available in kit form, if you’re interested in trying out some of the materials and techniques similar to those used in the 17th century.

The kit is separate from the course, though. They go together in spirit, but they are not dependent on each other.

Where to Find It

If you would like to delve into the enjoyable distraction of needlework history for a mere $15 – $5 of which goes to the V&A for photographing other embroidery holdings – you can find the mini course on Martha Edlin available here. Use the dropdown menu to make your choice, whether you want the mini-course only, the course and kit, or just the kit.

I hope you have a chance to enjoy the course as much as I have!


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