"The actual systems of building pattern, of pattern forms, methods of drawing and modelling figures, and various handicrafts have been discovered long ago, but it is in their re-combination and adaptation - our interpretation and use of them - and in the power of variation and expression, that modern invention and predilection tell." * The embroideress is continually being called upon to adapt or modify the designs she embroiders. And when the study of design has not been neglected, for it must form part of the education of the earnest worker - she will find plenty of scope for her individuality and taste, in planning and adapting design; and she may also find that the faculty of invention is there, that it was only dormant, and needed some such stimulus to awaken and develop it.
* Walter Crane, "Bases of Design," p. 211.
Natural forms must be conventionalised in order to make them suitable for the purpose of embroidery. If we take plants, flowers, and fruits, and throw life-like representations of them on a surface, and then call it decoration, we make this decoration exactly like the natural object, or as much like it as we can ; we are obviously working in the wrong direction, practising the art of deception and sacrificing our ability as needleworkers on work that can at its best be but tasteless and vulgar. Natural forms must be adapted to the materials used. For example, a briar rose is beautiful in form and colour in the garden, and if handled by a skilful designer is quite beautiful when simplified and adapted to a flat surface for embroidery. Moreover, this modification of the plant is, in a measure, demanded by the nature of the materials and method of production. In every way needlework should be adapted to the materials. Photographic imitations in form and colour of flowers by the needle must be abandoned, and only those aspects of the plant that are capable of being easily and intelligently represented be attempted.
The observant student will see that plants illustrate most of the guiding principles which are laid down in ornamental design. If we go to the standard examples of art, we can satisfy ourselves that the principles observed in nature are usually followed in the examples we are studying; when there is any departure from those principles, we must do our best to find the reason for it.
Principles are the consideration of things which underlie the laws or rules. Some of the rules in ornamental design might be compared to the buoys round shoaly coasts, which may be overlooked when the mariner has learned to sound for himself.
The circumstances under which works of art are created must be considered, the practical needs and natural surroundings of their existence. In the East they crave for magnificent colour, while we appreciate colour in a more sober sense, not demanding that brilliancy which the Orientals distinguish and insist on, intensified and glorified with the rainbow hues of life.
We observe by studying works of art how differently we are endowed with the sense of colour, how variously the gifts are distributed, or, we may say, how we differ in the handling of the gifts. Even the members of our own family are frequently at variance in their likes and dislikes; the difference of temper and perception has a great deal to do with one's sense of form and colour.
Colour in embroidery is a matter of very great importance. It may spoil a good, well-formed design. A mere copy of the colour in the natural object is not required. The colour in nature must be taken as a suggestive guide, and modified or intensified, as the case may be, according to, and in harmony with, the general surroundings.
Beautiful work can be done in one key of colour - as several shades of blue, or shades of golden brown. Great care is needed in arranging contrasting colours to ensure harmony. Colour, like taste, is instinctive with some, while others must be educated to appreciate that which is accepted as beautiful and harmonious. We all know that certain forms and colours give us more pleasure than others.