Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Mantua

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The Mantua

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When you think of 18th century fashion immediately luxurious fabrics, elaborate embroidery and sumptuous trimmings come to mind. An abundance of skills and expensive hand made materials were needed. Before the days of the sewing machine the whole process was labour intensive and time consuming with every element hand made from a tiny embroidered button to the endless yards of braiding.
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The mantua or manteau (from the French manteuil or “mantle”) was a new fashion that arose in the 1680s. Instead of a bodice and skirt cut separately, the mantua hung from the shoulders to the floor (in the manner of dresses of earlier periods) started off as the female version of the men’s Banyan, worn for ‘undress’ wear. Gradually it developed into a draped and pleated dress and eventually evolved into a dress worn looped and draped up over a contrasting petticoat and a stomacher. The mantua-and-stomacher resulted in a high, square neckline in contrast to the broad, off-the-shoulder neckline previously in fashion. The new look was both more modest and covered-up than previous fashions and decidedly fussy, with bows, frills, ribbons, and other trim, but the short string of pearls and pearl earrings or eardrops worn since the 1630s remained popular.
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The draped skirts of this magnificent 1730s mantua cleverly conceal its complex construction. One of the mantua’s characteristics was a long train, which was sewn as a flat piece of silk and arranged with each wearing. The train was folded up, then folded in and draped over a loop of thread on either side of the waist. In order that the finished side of the silk always show when the mantua was worn, the train was constructed with panels of the right and wrong sides of the fabric sewn together. Pinning up and draping a train successfully was an art and required the help of maids to achieve the perfect effect.
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The mantua was worn over a matching petticoat and the resulting ensemble constituted formal day wear in the 1730s. Also typical for this period is the silk, intricately brocaded in a flowing pattern of large, realistically rendered flowers and leaves.
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The tangled garden of chenille decoration on this court mantua enhances the white silk satin fabric. It is tamboured (chain stitched with a hook instead of a needle) with coloured silk and chenille threads, in a meandering pattern of flowers and leaves. A fly fringe (braid) of chenille threads, wound into the shapes of more flowers and leaves, trims the mantua. Bobbin lace of blonde silk and chenille edges the fringe and neckline.
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The quality of the needlework suggests French production. In style, the design reflects the woven silk patterns of the 1750s, designs that remained fashionable in embroidery until the 1790s. The mantua was probably made in the late 1770s and the bodice modified slightly in the 1780s. Its petticoat of matching fabric suffered extensive alterations for fancy dress in the late 19th century.
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This richly brocaded ensemble illustrates the style of dress worn by women at court in England.
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This example is made from an ivory silk brocaded in a pattern of stylised flowers and leaves. The abstract form of the motifs is accentuated by the non-naturalistic colours of the precious metal threads. Such a design is typical of French silk weavers and the fabric was probably imported. However it could also have been woven in London, as English weavers copied French designs very closely.
Although considered stylish day wear in the early 18th century, the mantua had become very old-fashioned by the 1750s and was worn only for court dress. Wide hoops were beginning to go out of style, but kept their extreme width at court. To make up for its conservative cut, court dress was always made from the most fashionable as well as expensive fabrics and trimmings.
Images © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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Monday, May 2, 2016

The Soldier's Hussif

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The Soldier’s Hussif

The pocket sewing kit originated in the middle of the 18th century. Most soldiers and sailors included a hussif in their gear, especially when on campaign, often a gift from their mother, sister, sweetheart or wife.
The term “housewife” was used in print for the first time, in 1749, to refer to a sewing kit but housewife was not the only term used. They were also known as huswife, hussive, or, most commonly, hussif, which appears to be the contraction of the word “housewife”. By the beginning of the Regency, hussif was the term most often used to refer to these small pocket sewing kits by nearly everyone, though pronunciation of the word would vary from region to region across Britain.
Hussifs made for men tended to be constructed of very sturdy fabrics, usually linen throughout, as linen would stand up better to heavy usage than cottons or silks.
Few men would care to be seen using a hussif covered with flowers or other feminine motifs and colours but if their hussif was a gift from a needlewoman in their life, they might find their initials or a monogram embroidered on the inside of the rounded flap.
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Amercian Civil War sewing kit belonged to Capt John Babcock
Hussifs for soldiers tended to be smaller than a woman might make for herself. Inside would be found a selection of replacement buttons, for both the soldier’s uniforms and his civilian clothes, a packet of needles, a paper of pins, usually a thimble, and a notched length of wood or cardboard with a selection of threads wrapped around it in the notched sections. A small pair of scissors might also be included, though this was less common, as many soldiers carried a pocket knife which would serve the purpose of cutting threads. All of these items would be placed in the pockets of the hussif, then it would be rolled up, tied shut and slipped into the soldier’s pocket or his haversack.
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A kit was used by Private Marcus Daniels during the American Civil War. The kit rolls closed around a cylindrical pin cushion containing a tinned iron thimble with a brass rim. The interior of the kit has three wool flaps of sewing needles and two fabric patches of safety pins
Soldiers did not only sew to mend their clothes and equipment. Needlecraft was promoted by the Army as a worthwhile pastime to keep soldiers away from trouble during their hours of free time when confined to camp or barracks. It was also encouraged as an activity to help with the recovery of injured soldiers. The many wonderful examples of needlecraft made by soldiers are a testament to their skill and creativity.
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A housewife that belonged to Captain Charles Augustus Murray Littler, probably the last Australian to leave Anzac Cove, from the Jack Mason Memorial Museum collection
Very few senior officers would carry their own hussif, unless it had been made by someone very dear to them. They would expect their batman to use his own to keep them properly turned out.
Armies and navies from Britain to Australia to North America issued hussifs as part of the standard kit to their serving troops, at least up to the Korean War era. The British Army continued to do so well into the 1960s.

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This housewife belonged to Captain Newton Chambers who was killed at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. Captain Chambers served with the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards and was aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton, commander of 5th Infantry Division, who was also killed in the battle.
While most early housewives were handmade from scraps of material that soldiers would have at hand, this one is made of silk. It contains pastel-coloured silk threads, five buttons and a small pincushion in a card tied with a pink ribbon. From its contents and his beautifully embroidered name, it can be assumed that it was given to Chambers by someone very close to him.
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This housewife was made by Drummer Yeates of the 88th (Connaught Rangers) Regiment of Foot. He was awarded a prize for it at a military workshop exhibition in 1867. Many soldiers who took on needlecraft as a hobby became very accomplished. They took great pride in their work, which was often shown in military or industrial exhibitions and displays.
This is a beautiful example of embroidery and beadwork that incorporates what was dear to Drummer Yeates: the motifs of Queen and country in the crown and Union flag at the top; the regimental insignia of the Irish harp and battle honours, and a message of nostalgia for home.
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This housewife belonged to Arthur Edward Cumming who was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour while in command of the 12th Frontier Force Regiment in Malaya in 1942.
Cumming received the award for effecting the safe withdrawal of a battalion and the Brigade’s Headquarters which had come under attack from a strong Japanese force. He led a small counter-attacking party which took heavy losses and was himself bayonetted twice in the stomach. In spite of his wounds, he continued to collect isolated detachments of soldiers in his carrier for over an hour. Receiving two further wounds he lost consciousness, but refused to be evacuated until he and his driver were the only survivors left in the area
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This sewing kit belonged to Aircraftsman Myer Goldstein who served in a balloon company in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Myer was one of 2,500 Jews who served in the RFC during World War I.
41,500 Jews served in the British armed forces during the war and 2,000 died serving their country. The middle-class settled Jewish community supported the war effort and this patriotism was also shared by many of the children of immigrants. Jewish businesses supplied army uniforms and women took on vital war work.
During the First World War the typical sewing kit carried by Canadian soldiers in the First World War included needles, thimble, buttons for Battle Dress and shirts, thread (both thin for badges and thick for darning socks, gloves, and other woolen items), and beeswax (to help waterproof the thread).
The kit was made of khaki cloth with sewn in pockets and was closed by rolling it up and securing it with two cloth ties.
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The C-broad-arrow acceptance mark is a reminder that much personal kit was not replaced by later patterns; instead older patterns were issued until old stocks were exhausted. It is not unlikely to expect that First World War era housewive were issued in the Second World War, and beyond. In cases where outdated kit was not a danger to the soldier’s life, the older patterns remained on issue until worn out.
The Canadian solider’s housewife changed little during the first half of the 20th Century. Some sewing kits during the Second World War were actually produced by German prisoners living in Canada.
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Canadian Issued Sewing Kit
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A khaki handkerchief, along with another example of the sewing kit (this view shows the cloth tapes). The needles are inserted into a white rag, and the thread is kept on cardboard formers. The shaving kit is marked “Gilette” and has a stainless steel razor rather than a brass one as in the example above.
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A smaller, single pocket version, also existed. Khaki housewives continued to be produced and issued long after the Second World War.
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The standard Canadian Forces “sewing kit” by the 1990s (no longer called a “housewife”) was in green material (cotton, above, and afterwards in nylon, with pockets inside and a piece of felt to which needles could be attacked.
The kit above is secured by tie tapes and dates from the 1970s (this particular item was issued in 1978).
The kit below, from the 1990s, was secured by velcro to the body of the kit. Inside the pockets were two plastic bags, one with buttons, and the other with thread, a thimble and a needle threader. Needles and safety pins were attached to the black felt. The sample below is dated 1991.
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Thread was provided in white, black, and two shades of olive green. The needle threader is stamped GERMANY while the thimble is marked TAIWAN.
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Buttons include the large (30mm) type found on combat clothing, kit bags, etc., in green, black and white, as well as small (20mm) buttons.
Do you have a military sewing kit or housewife that has been passed down the generations?
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Sunday, May 1, 2016

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May Day sneak peaks

A new month is with us. May is the month of the flowers and in my little part of Cornwall the countryside has come alive and the air is beginning to fill with the scents of summer and bird song. Everywhere you look there is new life.
At Hands Across the Sea Samplers our sampler “garden” is growing too and we are busy working on several models which we are bringing out this year.
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In Australia Suzanne is busy working on Ann our BIG girl who comes in at 519 x 570 stitches and Sandra on the prettiest of Quaker samplers from the early 1700’s that is still bursting with the fresh colours of spring.
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 In America Bhooma is working on a sampler that we just had to have the moment we saw it. We are only showing the tiniest of sneak peaks as we want you to experience its full impact as we did,  our hearts did somersaults.
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The little girl who stitched her had a wonderful imagination and eye for design and used her linen to the full – we cannot wait to publish her.
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The month of May is named after Maia, Goddess of fertility who Zeus named the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters, she was also the mother of Hermes and daughter of Atlas.
The old Celtic celebration of May Day was called Beltane, and was a festival where fires were set to mark the beginning of summer. The people of ancient Rome honoured Flora, the goddess of flowers and springtime, with a festival called Florialia. The goddess was represented by a small statue wreathed in garlands. A procession of singers and dancers carried the statue past a sacred blossom-decked tree. Later, festivals of this kind spread to other lands conquered by the Romans, and of course this included Britain.
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As Europe became Christianized, the pagan holidays were given new Christian interpretations while retaining many traditional pagan features. During the Middle Ages on the first day of May, English villagers awoke at daybreak to roam the countryside gathering blossoming flowers and branches. A towering maypole was set up on the village green. This pole, usually made of the trunk of a tall birch tree, was decorated with bright field flowers. The villagers then danced and sang around the maypole, accompanied by a piper. Usually the Morris dance was performed by dancers wearing bells on their colorful costumes. Often the fairest maiden of the village was chosen queen of the May. Sometimes a May king was also chosen. These two led the village dancers and ruled over the festivities. In Elizabethan times, the king and queen were called Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
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May Day festivities became so much fun that in 1644 the Puritans attempted to make the celebrations illegal, banning even the making of Maypoles. They especially attempted to suppress the ‘greenwood marriages’ of young men and women who spent the entire night in the forest, staying out to greet the sunrise, and bringing back boughs of flowers and garlands to decorate the village the next morning.
Rudyard Kipling wrote about this custom:-
Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
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Traditionally the dancing around the maypole was done by women but become a popular children’s activity. Each child holds one of the coloured ribbons and circles the maypole with a hopping, skipping step. Some of the children dance in one direction while others dance the opposite way around the pole, changing their direction at carefully chosen moments.
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As they dance, the children pass each other until the ribbons are plaited together and wrapped tightly around the Maypole. When the circle is as small as it can be, the dance is reversed and the ribbons unwind until the dancers come back to their starting places.
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Morris dancing is a traditional English form of folk dance which is also performed in other English-speaking countries such as the USA and Australia. The roots of Morris dancing seem to be very old, probably dating back to the Middle Ages. From around April and through the green summer months beribboned troupes of Morris Dancers will be seen in market towns and on village greens up and down the land. You are especially likely to see them performing their medieval dances to the click clack of their sticks and the sound of bells, pipes, and drums, around the month of May.
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In the dance men dress up in costumes with hats and ribbons and bells around their ankles. They dance through the streets and one man often carries an inflated pigs bladder on the end of a stick. He will run up to young women in the street and hit them over the head with the pigs bladder, this is supposed to be lucky!
Across rural England the key symbol of May Day is fresh spring growth, and the general hope is for a fertile harvest. Traditionally villagers would disguise one of their number as Jack-in-the-Green by enshrouding him with a portable bower of fresh greenery. Jack and his followers danced around the town collecting money from passersby for later feasting. Today he can often be seen accompanying traditional Morris dancing groups.
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Jack in the Green is believed to be a woodland spirit who guarded the greenwood's of England. He appears in many kinds of folk art, as a multi-foliate head peering through the leaves. He can still be seen portrayed in church decoration today, usually as a roof-boss, where he is a constant reminder of earlier beliefs.
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A widespread superstition is held that washing your face in the May Day morning dew would beautify your skin.
By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration began on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. Sundown was also the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Bel-fires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, Co. Meath, in Ireland). These ‘need-fires’ had supposed healing properties, and people would jump through the flames to ensure protection.
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Saturday, April 30, 2016

A 17th century night cap

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A 17th century night cap

All antique needlework is to be admired but sometimes you see an item and you can’t help a little gasp of delight escaping.
29.315 COSTUME cap; nightcap circa 1640-1660 overall: 180 mm Man’s night cap made from red silk velvet cut in six conical sections embroidered in metal threads with pomegranates and embellished with spangles. Said to have belonged to Major Buntine.
29.315 Glasgow Museum
In 2006 Glasgow Museum acquired a 17th century nightcap made of six panels of  red silk velvet  and richly embroidered with pomegranates in silver threads.  The raised and padded work is exquisite.
The main areas of the design are in couched and laid work with each four rows of thread stitched down and staggered with the next four rows to form a basket weave.
Pomegranates were popular motifs from the 1520’s through to the late seventeenth century and is a sign of fertility and of Jesus’ resurrection (see POST for more information).
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When King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile re-conquered Granada from the Muslims in 1492 they added the pomegranate to their Royal Coat of Arms.
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It was popular in England when their daughter Catherine of Aragon married Prince Arthur and later Henry V111. Her daughter, Mary I used the pomegranate as her personal device.
Queen Mary I
Queen Mary I
The nightcap’s design is heavily influenced by Turkish Bullion Embroidery. England’s trade with Turkey was well established during Elizabeth I’s reign as a treaty between the Queen and Sultan Murad III in 1580 ensured unrestricted trade.
Murad III
Murad III
The Levant company was formed and from which the East India Company evolved in 1600.
The nightcap belonged to Magor Hugh Buntine who distinguished himself during the Civil Wars. Cromwell made him Master of the Horse in Scotland yet he also was involved in the Restoration of Charles II.
His early life has not been recorded but after the Restoration he prospered and the night cap reflects his position in society amongst the gentility.
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In the 1600’s night caps sat on top of the head but by the mid 17th century nightcaps had become shorter and sat snugly around the crown.
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This change was due to the fashion for periwigs driven by Charles II. Men started to shave their heads so that their wigs would sit comfortably. When they removed their wigs at home the night caps ensured their heads were kept warm.
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Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for November 3rd 1663 notes:-
By and by comes Chapman, the periwigg-maker, and upon my liking it, without more ado I went up, and there he cut off my haire, which went a little to my heart at present to part with it; but, it being over, and my periwigg on, I paid him 3l. for it; and away went he with my owne haire to make up another of, and I by and by, after I had caused all my mayds to look upon it; and they conclude it do become me; though Jane was mightily troubled for my parting of my own haire, and so was Besse, I went abroad to the Coffeehouse, and coming back went to Sir W. Pen and there sat with him and Captain Cocke till late at night, Cocke talking of some of the Roman history very well, he having a good memory. Sir W. Pen observed mightily, and discoursed much upon my cutting off my haire, as he do of every thing that concerns me, but it is over, and so I perceive after a day or two it will be no great matter.
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With the assistance from the Art Fund, Glasgow Museums purchased the night cap in 2006 for £2640 at auction with Christies. It was previously in the collection of Christopher Gibbs and Harris Lindsay.
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Friday, April 29, 2016

Two books divided by four centuries

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Two books divided by four centuries


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“The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608” is one of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s greatest treasures. Aside from “Shakespeare’s First Folio”, it is the only book in the collection to have had an entire exhibition devoted to it, in 2004.
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Its five hundred and ninety-four oversized pages depict life in Shakespeare’s England in all of its brilliant complexities – from the mythical to the mundane, the poetical to the practical, the religious to the secular.
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Thomas Trevelyon, the compiler, was a skilled scribe and pattern-maker who had access to a stunning variety of English and European woodcuts, engravings, broadsides, almanacs and emblem books which he transformed from small monochrome images into large and colourful feasts for the eyes.
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Ostensibly created for the entertainment, education and edification of his friends and family, Trevelyon’s miscellany is a lifetime achievement that continues to delight and mystify modern audiences, with its familiar scenes of domesticity and husbandry intertwined with epic Protestant and political epitomes: accounts of the rulers of England and the Gunpowder Plot, descriptions of local fairs, the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge and astronomy according to Ptolemy, illustrations of the nine muses and the seven deadly sins, of Old Testament history and household proverbs and whimsical flowers, alphabets and embroidery patterns.
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This massive volume provides an exciting and unparallelled snapshot of the passions, concerns and everyday interests of a highly talented London commoner.
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It is a monumental work that was intended to be both studied and enjoyed, its pages turned and savoured.
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If you would like to study  Thomas Trevelyon’s 1608 Miscellany, Folger Shakespeare museum has made it AVAILABLE online. Embroidery patterns seem to start on page 9 although many of the images throughout the book would lend themselves to motifs.

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Most needleworkers will have heard of Yvette Stanton who is a highly respected needlework teacher and author of needlework books. Many will have her books in their library and will be delighted to hear that Yvette’s eighth book, and her second on Hardanger embroidery will be released in June 2016.
Early-style or traditional Hardanger embroidery is different from much of the Hardanger that is being worked today and the book will:-
  • Distinguish what makes early-style Hardanger different from contemporary Hardanger.
  • Help you to understand how to correctly and accurately work the stitches and techniques of this traditional-style embroidery.
  • Provides both left- and right-handed instructions are included.
  • Learn to avoid problems, and have the self-assurance to fix any mistakes you make.
  • Will give you the confidence to use your new skills to create ten attractive early-style Hardanger embroidery projects.
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For more information and to pre-order your copy click HERE. As soon as we have our copy we will be back with a detailed review and a project from the book.

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