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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