Embroidery in progress: An Elizabethan Stumpwork Bride’s Bag – 1

Recently, I had rather an ‘aha!’ moment.  I realised that I had become so busy in the past few months, that I haven’t been making time for my embroidery. That sounds daft, as I design and sell embroidery kits for a living (see my website here) – but embroidering things for myself is completely different from embroidering things for my business. For one thing, the business sells embroidery kits in one twelfth scale (one inch to one foot) for adult collectors’ doll’s houses – so, everything is teeny, and everything is in needlepoint. Despite the fact that I love designing and making these small things, I do like other styles of embroidery too, and bigger scales, as well.  When I get the time to make things for me, I really like to do stumpwork. Occasionally I’ll do cross stitch, but it’s stumpwork that draws me, ever since I came across the work of Jane Nicholas.

So, I’ve decided that this year I will definitely make the time to do more embroidery, and not keep putting it off  ‘because I’m too busy’.  I want to be busy doing stitching, this year!

I’ve decided that my first project will be an Elizabethan stumpwork ‘bride’s bag’, which I’ve been intending to make ever since I saw it featured in the book ‘Festive Elizabethan Creations’ by Shirley Holdaway. It’s published by Georgeson Publishing Ltd, from New Zealand. I’ve had the book more than ten years, with a Post-It note sticking out of the page where the instructions start for this bag!

This shows all the threads collected together, around the book that I got the design from – it’s the bag on the left that I’m making. On the right is a Juliet cap.

Last weekend, I finally got going on making it. I spent a long morning collecting together all the threads that I’d need, which was very enjoyable. This project uses a surprising amount of different colours.  I chose to work the bag using the Anchor stranded cotton thread colours suggested in the book, although the book’s stitched model was done using DMC. I realised, once I started stitching, that the Anchor colours are sometimes very different from the DMC ones, but it’s still coming out pretty.

The list of all the Anchor stranded cottons I’ll need for this project

I made a ‘master list’ first, and was amazed how many colours I’d need – fortunately, because I use Anchor stranded cotton for the kits that I sell, I have a full set anyway, otherwise it would have been quite pricey to buy everything in – and for some shades, only a tiny length is needed, too. I thought that, with so many colours, I should collect up the skeins for each area of the bag’s design and store them together, so I’ve labelled them up depending on the flower name, such as ‘rose’, bluebell’, etc., which really helped once I got going on the stitching.

The design, partly traced onto the damask fabric

I chose a cream damask fabric, and traced the design with a sharp pencil, using a light box. Normally, I prefer to make a tracing and transfer the design by stitching through the tracing with sewing cotton and then ripping off the tracing paper, unpicking the cotton as I embroider, but I felt this design was too ‘busy’ for that method. The pencil marks don’t seem to be smudging much (yet!). I bought a purse handle  a few weeks back from Handbag Hardware (very efficient, cheap, with a large range and sensible shipping charges!). I still needed to adapt the embroidery design slightly to fit the slope of the sides of my bag handles, but nothing serious.

The bag design, traced and ready to start, in a seven inch Susan Bates hoop

The instructions in the book are very clear and detailed, but my only gripe is that each flower is described at the beginning of the book, with the projects listed at the end, so it means constantly flipping through the book to find the page you need.

In the bag’s description, Shirley Holdaway explains that once she got the idea for the bag, she sat and stitched all of it in three days flat. She’s either an insomniac, or a robot, or something! I stitched for Saturday evening and most of Sunday, and I got this much done:

This took most of the weekend to stitch!

Still, speed isn’t the most important thing, so it doesn’t matter if it takes ages 🙂

I really enjoyed making the rose in the top left hand corner of the bag. It’s stitched using Detached Buttonhole Stitch and Punto in Aria, and the instructions are given clearly at the beginning of the book. I wondered if the two petals that are made separately (the ‘punto in aria’ bit) and then attached last would actually be possible to make, but they came out really well. It’s like the wired technique for petals, leaves and insect wings that Jane Nicholas uses, only with thread for the outline rather than thin wire, so the finished shape is soft rather than with stiff edges. Tiny yellow beads are attached last around the centre area, to add interest.

Stumpwork rose, stitched with Detached Buttonhole Stitch and Punto in Aria

I have found that, already, I’m changing the design a little as I go – for instance, I don’t enjoy doing ladder stitch for the stems, so I’ve altered that part to be chain stitch.


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12 thoughts on “Embroidery in progress: An Elizabethan Stumpwork Bride’s Bag – 1”

  1. It’s beautiful! Just seeing this makes me want to try this kind of embroidery. I can’t wait to see it when it’s all finished!

    1. Thank you! This kind of embroidery is easier than it looks, honestly! The book was out of print for a while, but it’s available again now, and really worth getting 🙂

    1. Yes, you’re right. If I’m designing something, and just choosing from all the threads I have to hand, and making it up as I go along, a project ‘grows’ really quickly. It’s the checking and re-checking that slows me down when I’m stitching something that someone else has designed! Still, it’s a lovely thing to make.

    1. Well, it was getting silly, really – I was making time for just about everything except the thing I really love doing! So, this year it is going to be different…..The house might end up being dustier, but who cares!

  2. Janet -just to say that I have done some of your mini designs and this spurred me onto do some of my own and the same with your stumpwork. By the way dust is natures protector and should we remove it?

  3. I was reading the book last night and remembered that you had made this bag. In the book, I don’t understand the bit on putting contact on top of the tracing paper. Could you explain how you did this? Also, in place of the wire for the rose, how many strands of cotton did you use and how easy was it to couch it down?

    1. Hi Isobel, I think I used four strands of Anchor in place of the wire round the edge of the petals, and it was easy to couch in place. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘putting contact on top of the tracing paper’ though.

      1. In the book Festive Elizabethan Creations where the bag is, on p 16 Punto in Aria second paragraph it says: “To create the needlelace petals, trace the petals to be worked onto tracing paper, lay the tracing onto a piece of calico and then cover the tracing paper with contact.” I don’t really know what contact is, obviously some kind of stabilizer, but I can’t see how this is done with the tracing paper underneath it. Have a look at your copy of the book for more context. I wonder if you know what is meant. I think you did a fabulous job with the embroidery and the making of the bag. I would struggle with some of the stitches, not having been to a more advanced stumpwork class. I can do padding and raised embroidery but would struggle with the needlelace itself.

      2. In the book Festive Elizabethan Creations, where the bag is, p 16 Punto in Aria second paragraph it says: “To create the needlelace petals, trace the petals to be worked onto tracing paper, lay the tracing onto a piece of calico and then cover the tracing paper with contact.” I don’t know what contact is, but it must be some kind of stabilizer. However, I can’t understand how it can go on top of the tracing paper. If you have a look at your copy of the book, you might be able to understand it. I think you did a fabulous job with the embroidery and the making of the bag. I would have trouble with the needlelace, not having attended an advanced stumpwork course. I have done padding and some raised embroidery.

      3. I see what you mean now! I think ‘Contact’ is a kind of clear sticky-backed plastic, that Shirley Holdaway was suggesting you stick onto the calico to give a kind of shiny surface,trapping the tracing paper in between, so that when you work the needlelace on top of it, the needle glides more easily over the calico, and is less likely to pierce it inadvertantly. I didn’t use that (I don’t think you can get it in the UK). I just was very careful, after I’d couched down the outline, not to pierce the calico as I worked the needlelace itself. I tacked the tracing paper with the petal design on, onto the calico to prevent it from slipping, and then worked the needlelace on top of that, and I didn’t have any problems.

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