The Ancient Art of Embroidery in Russia-its Popularity With the Peasant-the Staff of "Embroiderers" in a Large Household-adapting Russian Embroidery to English Requirements -Its Suitability for Household Linen, Washing Frocks, Aprons-working Through Canvas on to the Material
It is regrettable that the national embroidery of Russia is so seldom seen in this country, for it is strikingly handsome, and its uses are manifold.
Most certainly, Russian needlecraft should take a high place from a decorative point of view. In the old days of serfdom, the great landowners employed a staff of skilled embroiderers, and these women embellished every conceivable article which could be embroidered. Year in, year out, they were at work in the establishment of the great lord to whom they owed allegiance. Oddly enough, freedom is not sweet to everybody, and although serfdom is abolished, there are still dependents on the old families who would not take their freedom literally. They prefer to remain as they were, and their children are still trained in this art of enriching textile fabrics.
In the mediaeval ages embroidery was the chief pleasure of the great ladies, and again its fascinations are weaving their spell, although the mondaine is not such an adept with her needle as her more humble sister, possibly owing to the gaiety and brilliance of the life of a Russian woman of fashion. Also, no doubt, hereditary instincts count for something, for, as already intimated, many big households still have their staff of "embroiderers." The casual tourist to St. Petersburg immediately notices that the unbleached shirts which the moujiks wear on Sunday are embroidered gaily round the collar and down the front in multi-coloured cross-stitch, and wonderfully effective and beautiful work it is !
Russian embroidery could serve many useful purposes in our own country, for, it is charmingly simple, and the results are positively unique. Almost every article in the way of linen in a Russian household is embroidered. Bed-hangings, cloths, towels, toilet accessories, and the lingerie. The Tsarina wears a wide panel of embroidery down the front of her State robes, enriched with precious stones, and the humblest
To work the cross-stitch tack the canvas firmly to the material and work the design through both. The threads of the canvas are drawn away when the pattern is completed peasant girl adorns her picturesque national costume with this quaint cross-stitch.
Russian embroidery is worked in three colours-red, dark blue, and white-with sometimes touches of black and yellow. Many ladies don the national costume when living at their country residences and in the privacy of their own grounds and woods. These dresses are very elaborately embroidered, the bodice being composed entirely of strips of silk or satin ribbon embroidered in cross-stitch, or the national colours are worked on a white ground. The skirt is always plain, but the apron is a work of art, made of embroidered silken strips, or of fine white linen and twill, and much attention is given to its scheme of decoration. First, there is a fairly large piece of silk or white linen, heavily embroidered in red, dark blue, and white, and to this is added a strip of the beautiful Russian lace, which is woven in red, blue, and white. Then follows a strip of dark blue silk or twill, richly embroidered in white and red, and after this another strip of insertion and a strip of red silk or twill, embroidered in blue and white, and finished off with a wide Russian lace.
This idea of working on strips of ribbon or linen, and joining them together by torchon lace insertion, can be utilised for toilet and table cloths, bed-spreads, and an endless variety of useful and ornamental articles. In the more ordinary Russian embroidery these strips of linen and twill are simply joined together, but more elaborate embroidery, when worked on coloured strips, should be joined together by lace insertion, which gives a beautifully delicate appearance, and greatly adds to the effect of the embroidery.
This embroidered cloth may be used for a splasher, for a toilet-table cloth, a shaving towel, or a cover for a towel-stand. Ideas for working the cross-stitch design on ribbon may be taken from the strips between the insertion
Russian cross-stitch embroidery would make an exquisite trimming for a white linen gown, worked in dark blue, red, and white flourishing thread, and washes perfectly. A pretty holland frock for a child can be embroidered in the same manner, or, if preferred, simply one colour may be used; but the three colours on holland are quite charming.
A novel toilet-table cover can be made by forming the centre of fine white linen, worked in the national colours; then follows at each side a strip of torchon insertion, then a strip of red twill, on which the cross-stitch is worked in blue and white, and finished off with a wide lace border. Towels can be embroidered most effectively in these three colours, and very charming additions they make to the washstand. There is absolutely no limit to the beauty and width of the design which can be worked on these necessary articles.
A striking afternoon tea-cloth can be made much after the same manner, embroidered in red, dark blue, and white on a good fine linen. The cloth should be embroidered all the way round in a handsome design, which forms a wide border. This is edged by a deep torchon lace, and the worker's monogram may be embroidered in the centre.
The method of working this cross-stitch on to the tea-cloth is to cut a piece of ordinary white canvas to the width required for the border. Tack this firmly top and bottom all the way round the cloth. Choose a good, bold cross-stitch pattern, and work on the canvas, taking the stitches right through the linen. When the embroidery is completed, pull the canvas from underneath the embroidery, thread by thread, with the first finger and thumb; thus the embroidery is left intact upon the linen. Hem the cloth all around, and if a border of wide torchon lace be added, it will be a fine piece of work when finished.
For the child's frock, the canvas is tacked upon the material in exactly the same manner, and the canvas removed thread by thread on completion of the embroidery.
This method of tacking canvas on to the material may be employed in the marking of linen, so that pretty cross-stitch letters can be easily worked on to anything which requires marking, removing the canvas in the usual way when the work is finished. Strips of satin or silk ribbon suitable for trimming dresses or blouses may be worked in the same way. Always embroider silken fabrics in silk thread.
Any cross-stitch design book may be used, but if it is possible to procure a sheet of genuine Russian designs, so much the better. In Russia enormous sheets of such patterns may be bought, printed in gay colours. Perhaps in one a peasant's costume is given, showing the elaborate apron in separate strips, and these are very useful, as the patterns can be copied, and adapted to any other articles of embroidery.
Russian embroidery in blue and red as applied to an apron of scarlet linen
Another sheet may show quaint figures of peasants, the entire design to be worked out in the usual cross-stitch. One of the attractions of Russian embroidery, apart from its claims of decorative beauty, is its extreme simplicity, there being no laborious tracing of patterns. The canvas is tacked over the chosen fabric and forms a network, which is a most valuable guide to the needlewoman as she works her cross-stitch design.
The cottons wash admirably, and as a means of embellishing children's clothes this form of decoration is unrivalled, besides having the merit of being inexpensive.