Making embroidery Modern!

This is one of my mantras - I confess.  I know I have said it before, but I am always on a mission to 'Make Embroidery Modern'.  It is such a beautiful and creative medium to express yourself and what's more, its useful too.  This week an impromptu project came along that whipped itself up into a day of non-stop stitching.   The result .... well, I was pretty excited about it.

A few days before hand, I had been to visit Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighly.  This is a charming small museum set in a house that was once owned by the family Butterfield.  In the 19th Century, vast fortunes were made in the north of England with the Industrial Revolution making it the heart of textile production in the World.  The Butterfields were an example of a family that were at the centre of this.  As with all great family fortunes... the first generation is the exceptional one, taking the risk and developing the business.  The second generation exploit and enjoy it and the third generation usually squander it and the fortune having been spread around so many descendants is thin on the ground and finally fizzles out.  So it was here, but in the gilded age, Cliffe Castle was a magnificent residence that supported an opulent and dazzling lifestyle. 

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Henry Issac Butterfield was second generation son, who made Cliffe Castle a magnificent place.  Splitting his year between America (there were Roosevelt connections in the family through marriage) and Paris and Yorkshire, he bought expensive furniture and furnishings on his travels and shipped them home to create a mansion in true high victorian style.  

Overloaded with gilt and heavily carved and embossed items, the rooms are chokingly opulent.  Magnificent chandeliers and fireplaces are the centre pieces of rooms in which every surface is covered with pattern.

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There is a small but lovely collection of costumes on display and as I always find, I am drawn to those beautiful embroideries on silk that embellished the bodices and waistcoats of the late 18th and early 19th century.

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Things were so much prettier in those days (if you were rich of course) and I love how the women were so feminine.  I looked at my jeans in despair!!!  That evening, I came home and browsed through my small collection of historical costume books, which frankly make much better reading than the fashion magazines of today.  Then something else happened. 

 We booked a last minute trip to Venice for a few days to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  Like all of us girls are prone to do....I flew into a not having anything nice to wear.  It is quite a while since we took a trip like this to a warm and sunny and exotic place and my wardrobe was sadly rather more geared up to windy and chilly Yorkshire days.  I dashed into our local town where we have a delightfully old fashioned department store called Harveys.  They have a fabulous selection of lovely and unusual clothes that aren't geared up for 20 year old stick insects and you even get wonderful customer service.  I picked up a few items and amongst them was this white linen tunic made by Phase Eight - which is actually easily available everywhere and not expensive.   I love White fabrics and although I sometimes get a bit cross with all the creasing that goes on with linen, I found the style of this top so appealing and comfortable that I bought it and knew the second I put it on, what it needed.   EMBROIDERY!

I began a little cautiously.  A few lazy daisy flowers in 12 weight cotton thread.  A couple of leaves followed and dispelled all inhibitions - I sewed and sewed all afternoon and into the dusk.  All the stitches used are basic embroidery stitches, most of them self taught from a book or Youtube.

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 Colonial knots (much better than french knots bye the way), Button hole stitch, Split Stitch and a simple Back Stitch were the basis for the design.   Drawing a rough outline with a fabric maker pencil helps to position your flowers, but otherwise just let your imagination run away with you. The great thing about doing something like this is that you can be as whimsical or as real as you like.  I mean 'a turquoise dandelion' - how lovely is that to wear around your neck?


I chose fresh and cheerful colours and I think the result is a sort of modern version of the all those 18th century costumes I love so much.  In fact, we are the lucky ones really... we don't have to wear all those 'take your breath away' corsets and strangling collars and frills and flounces.  We can simply take the best of it and translate it onto our own more modern, washable, breathable items of clothing.  

This little project has brought me so much joy and I can't wait to wear it, hopefully languishing on a gondola!!!!!


Next time, Alice in Wonderland....I promise. Love Ruby x