[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: LXVII | By Viveka Hansen]
The tradition of transferring designs for free embroideries was well known in the 18th century. Professional workshops as well as domestic embroiderers had the possibility to draw the pattern freehand with chalk, charcoal or ink on the fabric, but more commonly designs were transferred onto linens, fine muslin, woollens etc with various methods from printed or hand drawn paper patterns. Inspirations for such motifs could be patterns from books or magazines, sharing decorative ideas between friends, copying ready-made embroideries in ones circle of acquaintances or via earlier gathered designs of individuals or workshops alike. This study will give some illustrative examples of such methods used in the domestic sphere together with a few notations from contemporary letters. An image taken from an Italian pattern book printed already in 1527 gives a historical view – from an 18th century perspective – of these skilfully made sketches for embroidery.
Evidence for the traditions of transferring embroidery patterns may be studied from art, correspondence and literature that originate from the well-to-do and bourgeoisie in for example Italy, France, Great Britain and Sweden. This could either be for the purpose of decorating a young lady’s future dowry including clothing and textile furnishing or as educational needlecraft or a leisure activity. Embroidery and sewing at home were also considered a suitable source of income for women from the higher classes, if the family happened to be short of money temporarily or for longer periods.The Swedish textile historian Ernst Fischer made interesting observations in his research on free embroidery from 1971 of the above depicted woman. Among other facts he noticed: ‘The four images show how a woman transfers a pattern for an embroidery to the preferred foundation. On the first a woman is sitting by a frame, which rests on two trestles. The pattern is placed under the fabric. A candle below the frame makes the pattern visible on the fabric. On the second image the woman uses a frame placed in front of a window, whose light gives the same effect as the burning candle on the first image. On the third image the woman has dotted the pattern onto the fabric with a dusting of charcoal, in that manner she has transferred the pattern on to the fabric. On the last image the design of the pattern is sketched without any tools directly on the fabric.’ Additionally Fischer made several comparisons from poems and correspondence in upper-class homes touching on the subject, which have given evidence for that the same transferring techniques for embroidery designs were in use in 18th century Sweden – and had probably been for quite a long time. One letter in particular also proved that it was not necessarily the embroiderer her/himself who sketched the pattern, revealed when the count Claes Julius Ekeblad (1742-1808) wrote to his wife Brita Margareta Horn af Ekebyholm (1745-1791) about a fire screen. ‘Your screen is becoming exquisitely beautiful after the drawing. At Hedda’s [sister to countess Piper] I have arranged to stretch the satin in the frame; so Mr Sparrgren [the young pattern draughtsman] not will stain it’ (February 11th, 1782).
Visual or written proofs of these transferring techniques for embroidery can almost entirely be traced from sources linked to individuals of the wealthy or bourgeoisie, but possibly these various methods were also known in the farmers’ communities in southern Sweden for example, where the tradition for various free designs with woollen yarn on woollen cloth were wide-spread. Like on the travel cushion illustrated below. Besides the charcoal or chalk, potato flour was also commonly used to line out the patterning on the cloth in these communities.
- Digitalt Museum (‘Woollen embroidery’ online collection).
- Fischer, Ernst, Skånska yllebroderier i fria sömsätt, Malmö Museum 1971, pp 25-27 (Quotes in translation from the Swedish).
- Nylén, Anna-Maja, Hemslöjd, Lund 1969, pp 218-221. (Also published in an English edition, Swedish Handcraft in 1976).
- Textile Research Centre, Leiden (Online source) Alessandro Paganino & Pdf of the pattern book Il Burato, Libro de Recami (1527).
- PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:
Hansen, Viveka, ‘Transferring Embroidery Designs in the 18th Century’, TEXTILIS (August 18, 2016); https://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)