Trevelyon’s Garden – fabric and first stitches

It’s been an unsettling few weeks. Not long ago I was taking care of one of my darling granddaughters and planning to go see the other darling granddaughter at the end of March. Now I’m not going to see either one of them for some time until we all feel it’s safe for all of us. I am thankful every single day that we live in the age of technology that allows me to see and speak to my family all over the world. It makes such a difference to be able to connect so easily to one another. I hope all of you are safe and staying isolated as much as is possible given your circumstances.

Last time I wrote about this project there weren’t many details to share! Since then – thanks to having LOTS of time inside to stitch- I’ve finished the project and am getting ready to assemble it. However, I want to share the process with you so, one step at a time…

Most of my needlework is historically inspired. In this instance, I’m using motifs from Thomas Trevelyon and have been inspired by a stunning piece of needlework in the Burrell Museum, Glasgow. When I was in Glasgow a few years ago I was lucky enough to see the piece. Its an embroidered red silk petticoat or skirt. You can see it on the museum’s website here.

England, London (place of manufacture)
circa 1610-1620
silk, silk, metal, hand-stitched
overall: 910 mm x 3130 mm
Woman’s skirt in red silk satin embroidered with silk and metal threads in a border pattern of scrolling stems with flowers and insects. Historically said to have been made by Mary, Queen of Scots for Elizabeth I of England, but the style of embroidery is of a later date.

Apparently, the piece was later made into a panel – possibly an altar front – so it survived for us to see today.

Imagine, I thought, if it had not survived in such fantastic shape and had been cut up and made into smaller items, such as a pin cushion. We know that embroidered fabrics were reused over and over due to their value. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that something this fine could have been made into smaller items if it had been damaged.

Following this imaginary path, I decided to use red silk for the ground fabric and the silk and metal threads I showed you last time.

Transferring the design to the red silk wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be, due to the dark color of the fabric. I’m fortunate enough to have a fabulous LED lightbox and it makes transferring so much easier!

I backed the silk with calico to support the stitching and then mounted it on my slate frame. Then it was time to stitch!

Beginning with the strawberries, I, again, referenced the petticoat for stitch inspiration. The strawberries on part of the petticoat have tiny hair like stitches all around the edges. I decided to use that same idea, but use a DMC Diamant gold thread rather than silk.

Here’s the first strawberry with the little gold straight stitches along the outside edge. You can see the pencil guidelines for where I’ll change the shade of pink/red when I stitch the French knots. I’ve never had such trouble getting accurate color shots before but this red is proving tricky. Still, it’s so lush and beautiful in real life I don’t mind!

The first strawberry turned out just as I hoped it would! Sadly, the color of the red silk makes it very difficult to get good photos; the red of the fabric (on my monitor) is closer to the photo above, not below.

Next time, leaves and more!

New Trevelyon Project

As you know, I love the drawings/designs of Thomas Trevelyon. They take me back to the Elizabethan era where I feel right at home. If I could time travel (and choose to be wealthy and healthy!) I’d go back and live in the past for a week.

One way for me to stay connected with the past is through historically inspired embroidery. My next project is a large pin cushion using four small motifs of Thomas Trevelyon.

The idea for a pin cushion comes from this portrait of the Duchess of Southhampton, which shows a large pin cushion on her dressing table. (She had an interesting life! More about that another time…)

While researching this project, I came across a wonderful web site entitled “Extreme Costuming”. The author, L. Mellin, wrote a wonderful article about the use of pins in dressing an Elizabethan woman. Here is an excerpt from that article.

“I was not aware of how common these simple items were to the wardrobes of the Elizabethans.  Pins were made in many sizes, from the “great verthingale pynnes” used to hold heavy skirts, to the smallest pins used to hold veils and delicate fabrics.  Janet Arnold documents the pin purchases for Queen Elizabeth in a six-month period:

“Item to Roberts Careles our Pynner for xviij [18] thousand great verthingale Pynnes xx [20] thowsand great Velvet Pynnes and nyne thowsande smale hed Pynnes and xix [19] thowsand Small hed Pynnes all of our great warderobe” (Warrant dated 20 Oct, 1565)

While the number of pins for the Royal household seems extraordinary, considering the elaborate clothing effects required by the Queen and her attendants, one wonders that she didn’t need more.

Pins were used to hold skirt flounces, farthingale boning, ruffs, cuffs, partlets, veils, jewels, and generally everything that needed to stay in place.  They were carefully kept, and straightened and sharpened periodically.  Pins were not left in clothing (oxidation of the metal will stain the fabric, and if moved carelessly, the pins could also rip the fabric), but stored in pincushions.

The well-known portrait of the Countess of Southampton shows her at her dressing table, upon which sits a large pin cushion stuffed with round-headed pins.  The bag and pincushion sets in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London suggest that pins were also carried on the person to effect emergency alterations, and given as gifts.

The four small motifs I chose from Trevelyon’s Commonplace Book are below.

From these four images, with editing, I created a pattern. Now I’m choosing threads, fabric and stitches.

The corners of the pin cushion will have ribbon tassels just like this one from the V&A Museum in London.

Click here to go to the V&A website

I’m planning to use Au ver a Soie d’Alger threads on linen. At first I thought I’d use silk, but then it occurred to me that perhaps a pin cushion wouldn’t have been made of silk, but of linen. Then it occurred to me that it could have been made of silk – a left over piece of silk, for example. After doing more online research I decided to try stitching on both kinds of fabric to see which worked better. 

Here are the colors I’m considering. Pinks and blues for peas and blueberries and golds, browns and rusty reds for strawberries and acorns.

It’s so good to be back in my studio again!

City and Guilds Completed!

Last week I received in the mail my City and Guilds Level 2 Certificate in Design and Stitched Textiles. It was a long journey from the beginning in 2016. It was an amazing, enriching, challenging course that I throughly enjoyed! I learned so much about stitching and textile design. I learned to push the boundaries of my creative work and express myself through my work.

There are two pieces that I produced for my final project that I haven’t shared with you, my readers. These are not my usual embroideries of pretty flowers worked in silk and gold or Bayeux Tapestry scenes or Crewelwork pieces with many different stitches. These are pieces about my experience with breast cancer.

These are pieces from my heart, from my soul. If you choose not to look at them because you may find them upsetting, unsettling or difficult to see, I understand. However, if you want to see how deeply this course changed what I’m able to do with thread and fabric, then you may want to take a few minutes to look. If you had asked me even 16 months ago if I thought I would ever produce something like these pieces I would have said absolutely not. Never.

For the first time, stitching became more than a peaceful place to reflect or withdraw from the world for a while: it became a place where I could confront fear and uncertainty, where I could rage and recover.

I want to thank my tutors Tracy A. Franklin and Julia Triston, for guiding me through the process that helped me find another way to make textile art.

The felt book, below, contains pieces I embroidered by hand during the time I was diagnosed, making decisions about treatment and undergoing surgery and recovery. Each piece was embroidered in hand (not in a hoop) and the soft, felted wool and wool threads felt comforting in my hands.


The videos, below, are the front and the back of the second part of the project, an accordion book. During the entire time of diagnosis and treatment my daughters were texting (and calling and visiting) every day. Their love, support and ability to listen to their mother talk about things that were frightening was amazing. I printed some the the texts and fused them to the back of each page.


Here is part of what I wrote in my evaluation;

“When I step back and look at the two pieces I made for this project, I am proud of both. The hand embroidered pages that make the first book are reminders of a very difficult (but mercifully brief) time. The machine embroidered accordion book is far more powerful and I feel speaks to a larger audience. It isn’t as personal. It expressed uncertainty, fear, rage, sadness, healing and recovery.

I wouldn’t change the act of hand stitching as therapy. It is, and always has been, a place of quiet for me. However, the machine embroidery on a larger scale is a first for me and allowed me to approach my experience and put it into art. This process was painful. It was the most “honest” piece I’ve ever done and the most personal.

There isn’t anything I would go back and do over – except never get cancer.

Most of my work is inspired by history and I’m very comfortable there. This work was inspired (or propelled) by my experience and the process and outcome are very different from what I’ve always done. I liked it, even though it was difficult. And I am proud of, and like, the work I’ve done.”