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Elizabethan Stitches

September 7, 2010

Detail from an embroidered "casket" at the Victoria and Albert Museum. A casket was a box with drawers and a hinged lid, sometimes used to store needlework tools and supplies. Photo ©Gail Harker.

People in North America never know what to expect when they attend a class named Elizabethan Stitches.  Queen Elizabeth I, born in 1533, was the most stylish woman in Great Britain at that time.  The class starts with a slide presentation and talk about how royalty and the people in country houses lived their lives.  The people who had gotten rich from trade formed a unique middle class and had money to spend on home and themselves – the same people who may possibly entertain the queen in their homes.  How did they eat, drink, dress, sleep, fix their hair and make up?  What types of houses and gardens did they have?  And what did they embroider? There was lots and lots of embroidery done.  It is fun to describe a five-course banquet and to imagine the table decorations that were lavish and extravagant.  Some of the ladies’ gowns had so many jewels stitched to them, the gowns became so heavy that it became difficult to make it into the banquet unaided.  Of course, the stories go on and on.  Since there was so much embroidery done in this period of time, it is difficult to make choices about what techniques or stitches that can be demonstrated.  This time it was Needle Lace, Blackwork, Elizabethan Plaited Braid Stitch and a few other interesting stitches – with discussion about many more techniques and stitches. Two days seems like barely enough time.  Students went home with exciting ideas about how they could use some of these stitches in their contemporary needlework.

The students are watching a demonstration of an Elizabethan stitch and trying to stitch a small sample of their own.

Embroidered casket housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Photo ©Gail Harker.

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