There is a natural convention which appears to be part of the process of adapting flower forms to embroidery. The worker should aim at simplicity in representing plant form. There is no necessity to sacrifice any of the beauty of the natural object. If she will be content with a hint from nature rather than a photographic fact, she will possibly be able to invest her work with a little of the spontaneous simplicity and freedom of the earlier work.
Let us commence with the intention of beautifying what is already useful. To decorate or ornament an object is to enrich the surface with forms and colour, and thus to give the thing decorated a new beauty while adhering strictly to its original shape and character. The ornament, if it is the right kind, and properly applied, will not in any way deprive the object of its expression of use and comfort.
We may divide ornament as applied to embroidery into three classes: (1) That expressed simply in outline, as in stem stitch, chain stitch, rope stitch, coral stitch, cable stitch, and in cords. (2) That expressed in flat tones, as in laid work, satin stitch, cushion stitch, cross stitch; darning, as in "lacis work"; also patchwork or applique. (3) That expressed by shading, breaking up the surface and suggesting relief, as in ordinary embroidery stitch, or long-and-short stitch. The last-named method of work is the most popular; while giving every facility for good work, it offers equal facility for bad.
It has been said we look for colour in mass rather than for line work in embroidery. Colour and texture undoubtedly are charming qualities in needlework, but too few people really appreciate the use of line work pure and simple. Spirited and beautiful results have been obtained by the employment of delicate line work, or with bold, confident lining in conjunction with line fillings, as shown in the example on Plates
No. 27 and 29. The four screen panels and the portion of a frieze from designs by Walter Crane (Plates No. 24 and 26) are also worked entirely in outline; a slight tone is produced in the arcading in the frieze by open darning.
In the sixteenth-century Spanish border, reproduced on Plate No. 9, the combination of classes (1) and (2), tone and line, is shown; the masses of colour are effected by coloured satins, applied, and these are nicely connected with cord. In this example the cord plays a very important part, and it could have been more effective if it had been made to run in double lines in joining up the main pieces of ornament; however, the result of the whole is extremely good. This character of work would be perfectly in its place on mantelpiece borders, curtain borders, bedspreads, and for church work, etc.
The panel (Plate No. 41), "Pomona," by the late Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and background ornament by the late William Morris, is an example of the third class of work. The drapery of the figure and the small flowers are in embroidery or long-and-short stitch, and the big leaves in laid work with gradual blends of colour.
For other illustrations of solid shaded embroidery the reader is referred to Plates No. 40, 42, 43, 44 and 45, back of a chasuble, corner of a chalice veil, and the specimens of crewel work. These will serve to show that the range of choice in treatment is very extensive in this class of needlework. The worker is warned in shading not to suggest so much relief as to lose the sense of flatness on a characteristically flat surface; it should be quite clear that such methods, to any one who stops to think, are wrong. It is a poor sort of deception at best, and very bad art, to try by means of laborious shading in silk or wools to produce an appearance of relief in needlework.
The reader cannot do better than look at the Chinese and Japanese needlework for good flat treatment of plant forms. They are supreme in the way which they produce their effects in embroidery, often with one or two shades, purely through their skill in placing the stitches. Constantly changing the direction, they work for a pleasant play of light and shade, acquired by the different placing of the silk. If they shade, it is with the definite intention of showing where one shade ends and the other begins. They are very fond of voiding - that is, leaving the ground to show between the petals of the flowers and leaves in a manner which is rather similar to the use of ties in stencilling. It is probably because of their love for the stencil, and their skill in its manipulation, that this method has crept into their embroidery (see Plate No. 67).
To flowers, plants, and fruits we are more indebted for material and suggestions in design than any other source in the whole of nature's category. The best conventional and aesthetic ornament, the Persian aster, the Egyptian sunflower (the lotus), the Greek honeysuckle or anthemion, are full of vitality, fulfilling as ornament their various places and uses, while combining the main and best qualities of plant-growth, embodied with vigorous life and beauty. The old designers pillaged the gardens and vineyards, and, with the plunder of pomegranates, apples, vines, lemons, and olives, the forms of which they simplified with right perception of what detail must be kept and what can be left out, they introduced them into their designs.
Every embroideress should be able to draw, and though the process of acquiring the power of drawing is slow and tedious to many, the student is well repaid for the time and trouble bestowed in the practice of this branch of her work, as no embroidery can be perfectly satisfactory without good drawing. In order to become a proficient designer it will be necessary to make careful studies from nature of flowers, buds, leaves, etc. Learn the characteristics of the plant first: the joints of leaves and flowers are of vital importance - note the way they spring from the stem; and draw carefully the calyx of the flower, and the buds in their various stages of opening. There are instances where the embroideress - who confesses that she is quite ignorant of design and the construction of pattern, and that she has never studied plant form-has been afraid to add a stem and connect the leaves which had been omitted by the transferer,* and the most stupid mistakes
* The transferer is very often one employed to put the designs on the material, not the designer; the embroideress merely embroiders what is marked on the stuff, when she has had nothing to do with the transferring; and just as a school-child forgets its copy, and every line becomes a caricature of its predecessor, so the poor design gets knocked out of shape by the number of hands it goes through, the number of times it is used, that the spirit has quite left it by the time the work is finished.
occur, which could, with a few hours' study, be prevented. At the same time the em-broideress would take infinitely more pleasure in her work if she would take a common-sense view of the subject.
After learning the plant and its possibilities as a motif of design, commence the planning of the work by selecting the positions for the chief features in the designs, where the masses shall be placed, and see that they are nicely distributed over the surface you have to cover. In a panel that is not to be used in association with other panels - in other words, if it is complete in itself - the design should be complete in the space it has to fill, and not look like a piece of ornament that might go on for yards indefinitely. The masses should be connected by harmonious lines; insist on simple, straightforward growth, always bearing in mind the principle of exhaustion - the vigour with which your plant grows from the root, each branch throwing off smaller ones the further it goes. Never have large stems and branches coming from smaller ones.
The detail is the next to consider. If an altar-frontal or any work to be placed at a distance, the treatment will be broad and simple; if a table cover, book cover, hem of a garment, or anything to be viewed closely, the details must be treated with greater delicacy. The rendering of the plant must always be truthful to nature's principle. The flowers may be turned about to get as much variety and interest out of them as possible, although the masses may be repeated. In designing for embroidery when repetition is demanded, change of colour and detail should be made, provided it does not destroy the sense of repose. Recurrence in art expresses repose, and is frequently required, as in a border framing a panel or a curtain. Very few workers appear to realise the added sense of completeness given by a border, even though it may be only a few nicely spaced lines. Usually the simpler the border the more effective. Always remember it is the framing of your work, so let it be subordinate.
Simplicity in ornament is perhaps the very last thing even the educated appreciate; as a rule the most florid and complicated patterns please best. It is a good plan for the designer to put a piece of tracing-paper over the drawing, if it is becoming at all crowded or overloaded with detail, trace the best parts only, and see how much of the pattern can be dispensed with. The highest art is that which is simplest; the power of restraint, to know the value of a space, are most desirable qualities. Always remember that it is better to put too little ornament than too much.
These hints and suggestions on design as applied to embroidery are merely intended to assist those who have had no practice in this branch of the subject; and more especially to stimulate those who take up embroidery as a useful accomplishment, in the hope that they may try to make designs for their own needlework.