Kimberly Servello's Embroidery Blog

Kimberly Servello - Pattern Drawer and Embroideress

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Enchanted Castle of Marvels Shawl.

'You must get me a garland from the twig of a certain tree', Orgeluse said. 'If you will give it me I shall praise your exploit, and then you may ask for my love.'

'Madam, wherever that twig may be,' Gawan replied, 'which can win me such a high renown and bliss that I may acquaint you with my passion in the hope that you will favour me, I shall cull it unless death prevents me!'
from Wolfram von Eschenbach's  Parzival

Last Autumn I read A. S Byatt's The Children's Book, a wonderful book for adults (don't let the title mislead you).   The book spans from the Victorian era through WWI.  It's about several families of artists - whose goals and lives are influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement.   I was enchanted by the descriptions of the women in the potter's household - they were meant, I believe to remind you of the women in the Castle of Marvels in the Arthurian legends who were under a spell and kept isolated.  Byatt's women are seemingly under a spell -they're very isolated, "curiously inert" and forever embroidering.  (Sounds like the perfect life, to me!).   Byatt describes their gorgeous embroidered gowns - very pre-Raphaelite or Medieval.  Long linen or muslin gowns, homespun,  embroidered with lilies, crocus, daffodils, bluebells and irises.

As I read the book I imagined a dark chocolate brown linen embroidered with flowers on flowing vines in a Morris-y kind of look.  I'm not fond of the sewing machine, so I didn't want to tackle a dress.  I decided to embroider a shawl.   Included here are 2 photos of the design I came up with - later you'll see the entire design.  The October Eves Scarf I posted about earlier this month was the test piece for this shawl.

Does anyone know when long and short stitch first came into use?  When I imagined this shawl, that's how I pictured it worked - long & short stitch.  The earliest I've seen so far is mid-17th century.  Was it used earlier than that?

 I plan to use this color palette with the addition of a light and medium cornflower blue.

10/14/2011 Update:
 Back to the drawing board (or kitchen table, in this instance).  Moving on to my next project, I pulled the shawl drawing out again.  I already have a clear idea of what colors I want for the shawl, as I mentioned before.

Here, I'm deciding what threads to use to get the colors I want.  This depends on what stitch I'll use for each motif.  At this stage, I think there will be a mix of textured Elizabethan stitches (trellis, detached button-hole, etc) and the smooth long and short stitch.  I like textured stitches worked in tightly twisted threads as it gives them extra dimension.  L&S stitch would look best in a lightly twisted thread, or a flat thread.  I don't want to use flat silks for this shawl because I believe they'll have a great tendency to fray and catch on things.  I'll use Soie de Paris for the L&S stitch and a mix of Au Ver a Soie's Gobelin, Perlee, and 100/3, along with Mulberry Silks in varying thicknesses for the textured stitches.

The fabric is a very dark chocolate - you can see it peeping from under the drawing.

The carnations will be done in shades of cornflower blue.  The petals stitched in long&short stitch.  The calyx will be worked in detached button-hole in olive toned greens and will probably be padded a bit.
Honeysuckle flowers will be worked in shades of gold to creme.   I haven't decided if they'll be worked in L/S or trellis.  If worked in trellis,  they may be padded a bit as well.

The main vines will be worked in Heavy Broad stitch in pale, pistachio green.  I plan to try padding it for a raised effect.  The tendrils will be done in stem stitch in a slightly lighter shade.

The pod shown here will be worked in shades of rust, gold, and pale, pistachio green which looks especially good on the deep brown linen.

This rose will be worked in shades of red, gold and green.  The calyx will be padded detached buttonhole.  The petals will probably be L/S stitch. The stamen will be a textured stitch, but I'm not sure which yet.

This rose motif, and the pod shown above are more typical of Deerfield Society embroidery motifs.  I'm adding them to my shawl because of the William Morris influence this shawl had when I first imagined it.  

The two American women who founded the Deerfield society in 1896 were no doubt influenced by William Morris.  They started a cottage industry to revive the Early American embroidery techniques they found on pieces in local museums and homes. Their motifs were copied or adapted from extant 18th century pieces in the New England area.  Anyone interested in Elizabethan embroidery motifs will immediately recognize that many of the colonial American motifs were transplanted from 16th / 17th century England.  Early American embroiderers chose to fill the motifs with new embroidery stitches that used less threads, making them less costly, and faster, to create.  If you're interested in the history of the Deerfield Society, the book titled Deerfield Embroidery by M.B. Howe is a good place to start.

Well, I'm off to Frazer, Pa today for a follow-up vet appt for Byron to have his staples removed.  Fireside Stitchery shop just down the road.  I plan to pick up the Au Ver a Soie threads I don't have while I'm there.

01/21/2012 update:
With Christmas over, it's time to get back to work on the Enchanted Castle of Marvels Shawl...

I decided to work the buds in Trellis on the diagonal, which allowed me to gradate the colors the way I wanted to.  I have chosen to use Soie Perlee for the main motifs.  Colors used for the bud are:
325 dk green
199 lt green
499 red

Unfortunately, the brown linen doesn't photograph very well.  It's actually a beautiful dark-chocolate brown, darker than it appears here.  There's a bit of rayon in the linen and in addition to that causing me problems with stretching on the frame, I think it adds a sheen to the photo so the true color doesn't come through.

Tendrils are worked in stem stitch, color 199 soie perlee.

The main stems are Heavy Broad stitch in color 325 perlee.

I am not pleased with the honeysuckle I've worked in Long & Short stitch.  One of the main reasons I hesitated to use L&S is that I don't like Soie d'alger threads.  They're too fuzzy and it detracts from the sharpness of the motif.

On the surface, it looks ok.  I'm no Trish Burr, but after a few attempts I did an adequate job of shading the petals.  I've done very little L/S stitch and will need more practice to get it to a level I'll be satisfied with.  I love the way the stamen came out - their willowy-ness.  They are worked in Stem and Satin Stitch.
 I tried to get a good side view of the honeysuckle to show how fuzzy this thread is - this is the best I could do.  Through a magnifying lens the fuzziness is much more apparent.

This is why I never use soie d'alger for counted blackwork  - you'll never achieve a clean line with a fuzzy thread, which is imperative for counted blackwork.  I have decided not to use L/S on any other motifs except the honeysuckle.

Colors used on honeysuckle:
Soie D'alger:
Stamens:  Mulberry Silks 412 K

1/29/12 Update:

"She spake, and loosed from her bosom the broidered zone, curiously-wrought, wherein are fashioned all manner of allurements; therein is love, therein desire, therein dalliance - beguilement that steals the wits even of the wise. "  
The Iliad, Book 14
trans. by A.T. Murray

I was reminded of this excerpt from the Iliad  as I typed the title for this post.  In the story, Hera borrows Aphrodite's enchanted 'zone' (a sash or girdle) which is beautifully embroidered, in order to distract Zeus from what is happening in the Trojan war.  We embroiderers can imagine how an article of embroidered clothing could serve to distract, even if it wasn't enchanted.

Enchantments being worked into clothing through the embroidery has always interested me.  As I embroider, my hands are busy, freeing my mind to think over current events in my life.  The soothing act of passing a thread through cloth in a repetitive motion serves to calm me as I possibly come to terms with issues, plan how to approach a difficulty,or delight in some pleasant happening.  Ever after, when I look upon the item I've embroidered, I recall the things I thought about as I worked it.  That's a sort of enchantment.

I'm either finished, or almost finished, with the dragonfly on my shawl.  I may decide to add further detail to his head, as it looks bare to me as is.

I love the trellis stitch on his body for both the raised effect and texture it gives.  I used Soie Perlee thread, which helped with both the texture & the depth.

 I had some difficulty choosing colors for him.

First, the colors had to be bright enough to show against the dark brown linen.

Furthermore, the rest of the shawl will be done in an autumnal palette.  A dragonfly seems to call for iridescent colors, but when I tried them they didn't look right with the rest of the shawl.   - Why is it that all these non-coordinating colors can exist side-by-side in nature and look fine?

In the end, I chose to use the pistachio-green - a good dragonfly color - that I'd already used elsewhere.  Next, I found a bright teal and a medium blue that coordinate with the rest of the colors, yet make for nice dragonfly colors.  The teal looks more blue in the photo, but it's really a vibrant teal.  Lastly, I pulled a yellow from my existing palette. 

I outlined the wings in pistachio so they would show up against the linen.  The stitch used is Reverse Chain.

The same pistachio is also used as the cord thread for the detached buttonhole stitches on the wings.  You can catch glimpses of it here, peeking out  between the buttonhole stitches.

The yellow "stripes" on the wings are worked in detached b-hole which run in a different direction from the rest of the wings,  I outlined the stripe areas and worked them before embroidering the main wing area.  I found butterflies on an Elizabethan piece worked in the same manner ( I'll reference it here as soon as I locate it again).

The spots on the wings are simply satin stitch, which was outlined in back stitch before adding the satin stitches.  The larger spots were padded as well.

The threads used are Au Ver a Soie Perle in colors 241 yellow, 054 teal, 528 blue, 199 pistachio green.  

 2/08/12 Update:

“...and with her neeld (needle) composes
Nature’s own shape, of bud, bird,     branch, or berry,
That even her art sisters the natural roses;
Her inkle, silk, twin with the rubied cherry...”

Shakespeare -  Pericles

The inspiration for the techniques used on my rose motif came from a pillow cover (Acc no. 43.254)  at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston .   The museum's online photo doesn't do justice to the embroidery.  The pillow case has many, what I am terming, 'semi-raised' motifs...meaning that they're technically raised embroidery, but not as 3-dimensional as you find on the period caskets.   Various techniques were used to achieve this effect, which I plan to incorporate in my shawl.  These work wonderfully where you want a somewhat 3-dimensional representation, but need to take into consideration that this is a piece that will ultimately be worn.  The semi-raised motifs greatly reduce the peril of snags!

The stem is worked in Reverse Chain with Single Buttonhole Edge.  I chose this because I felt the Buttonhole Edge gives the fibrous appearance of an actual rose stem.

The dark green leaf on the stem and the sepals (modified leaves at the base of the flower) are Detached Buttonhole.

The yellow, 'under petals' are worked in Detached Buttonhole.

The red petals are worked in both Detached Buttonhole and Needlelace.  They were executed in place, on the shawl, necessitating that they be worked before the under petals.

I added the green, stem stitched accents because I felt the red petals needed one, and they are meant to imitate a striated rose petal.

The last photo gives you a peek into the inside of the rose.  I feel there should be a pleasant curiosity here, so I will be adding stamens - probably worked in Bullions.

I used Au Ver a Soie Perlee in the following colors:
499 red
241 yellow
199 pistachio green
491 dark green (leaf on flower stem)


  1. ooooo..this is going to be lovely!
    And I love A. S. Byatt....

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