inspiration: embroidery

embroidery patterns from Kate & Rose: Cabbage Rose and Floral Geometry

Embroidery has had some really bad press, to put it mildly. Time and again I’ve encountered it mentioned in literature as the quintessential boring pastime — what girls and women who lack courage and imagination settle on in place of adventures.

The precision and patience that embroidery demands must have been the source of many a writer’s frustration but the rest is a case of echoing a cliché. I don’t think embroidery was that province of well-behaved girls that dismissive novelists imagine. Peasant blouses show defiance: a scrap of plain fabric became a garden conjured by thread. Where often severe constraints limited what was available to the maker, ingenuity still came out on top.

There are many kinds of embroidery, historically tied to different social strata as well as to different places and traditions. Peasant blouses are just one example, and one kind of story that embroidery can tell.

And one I find really intriguing. In the past months I’ve seen quite a few interesting peasant blouses pop up online. Seamwork had a feature on 1930’s peasant blouses in the May 2015 issue and By Hand London released a peasant blouse hack for their Zeena dress pattern later that summer. There’s also a new pattern from Kate & Rose in the most recent Sew News magazine.

Image sources, clockwise: [1] Kate & Rose in Sew News, [2] By Hand London, [3] Seamwork

If, like me, you’re interested in ways you could bring embroidery into a modern wardrobe, Kate & Rose patterns is an excellent source of inspiration. Kati’s designs offer a unique combination of modern silhouettes and embroidery inspired by Hungarian folklore. The photos at the top of the post are two of her embroidery designs.

Those of you on Kollabora or BurdaStyle may be familiar with the talented sewist Kelerabeus. The wedding dress she made for a friend is a work of art. Her shirt with a fox peeking out of the pocket, on the other hand, brings a bit of magic into the everyday.

And how about botanical embroidery? You can start very small, with a single flower, and then create a whole garden. I was blown away by these designs from The Craft Sessions workshops.

Images from The Craft Sessions

More images, because how could you not.

Do you embroider? What do you think is a good place to start for a complete novice?


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I write about sewing, knitting, and may sometimes be tempted to talk about books.

6 thoughts on “inspiration: embroidery”

  1. Embroidery is absolutely fascinating in terms of socio-cultural importance. For one, pretty direct parallels exist between free-hand embroidery and drawing/painting, yet the former is considered a craft while the latter are considered fine arts.

    Embroidery is also closely connected to many Native American cultures. Your post sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole, where I found this journal article: The entire article is an interesting read, but I was particularly struck by the author’s assertion that embroidery has historically functioned (and continues to function) as an ethnic marker for many Native cultures. The article opens with a quote from a Huichol woman, who says “These decorations are what the gods sent us so that they can recognize us. Through the designs they know where we belong…” Isn’t that incredible to think about? I know absolutely nothing about Huichol culture and don’t suppose to know anything about their traditional gender roles, but it is fascinating to consider the difference between the perception of embroidery in mainstream US culture (fussy pastime for grandmas and Victorian-era finishing school girls) vs. the Huichol (something that marks individuals as part of a group and serves as a self-identifier), though embroidery is traditionally created by women in both cultures.

    Somewhat related – I’m also thinking about Indian Schools created by the US government in the mid- to late-1800’s that were intended to “anglicize” Native American children and further decimate Native cultures. I wonder how Native embroidery was viewed within those schools, even as girls in American schools at that time were forced to learn “domestic” skills like embroidery? A quick Googling didn’t return any satisfactory results, but I will keep looking!

    Okay, I have more thoughts, but don’t want to completely overwhelm your comment section. This is what happens when history+crafting nerdery meet. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One more (quick!) thing: I really enjoyed the book Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery. If it’s at your local library, it’s worth checking out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melina, thanks so much for adding all these wonderful points here! Please don’t worry about the length of the comments — I’m thrilled to learn more and you’ve gone beyond the modest scope of my post, expanding on really important, thought-provoking questions. Did I already say I’m thrilled? 🙂

      I am definitely going to check out Hoopla and definitely going to do some research about Native American embroidery. And that actually brings me to something I’ve been thinking about a lot — and maybe you can help me find some answers.

      Now and again, patterns that are labeled as Southwestern appear among seasonal trends and in big chain stores. It doesn’t seem like the big clothing companies are in any way compensating the nations from whom the patterns originate (probably taking advantage of whatever the copyright law allows in this respect). And by calling them simply Southwestern, that question of origin and significance gets obfuscated — the patterns appear to simply belong to the region, and yet that region’s history is very complicated. I would love to learn more about the possible fair use of these patterns. That is, to learn whether there is any such thing — and if yes, how, on what terms it is possible. It’s great to be inspired and to learn from your inspiration, and it’s important to do it without stealing.

      Now I’m off to read the article you linked to. Thank you!


  3. I don’t know the answer, but it’s a great question! In terms of ready-made clothing, I know that there have been many issues with companies using without license prints that are important or sacred to different nations, and for assigning clothing to specific nations without any basis for doing so. Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo flask” and “Navajo panties” spring to mind as the most cringe-inducing of the bunch.

    What about purchasing fabric directly from a supplier who is committed using Native designs in responsible ways? I found, but they’re in Canada, and I know that shipping can get pricey.

    In my internet digging, I also found, which looks like a wonderful resource to potentially find a better answer than I can give, and has absolutely beautiful pictures of clothes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for these links.

      I started this blog hoping it would allow me to have more sustained conversations with fellow makers than I was able to have through occasional comments on Instagram and other places. And I have to say I’m very happy how things are going so far and very, very grateful to everyone I’ve been able to meet through this blog and through theirs. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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