A few weeks ago, while having tea at Martin's mom's place, she started bringing out several of her hand embroidered table cloths to show me. Most of them were made by her or her mother in years now best measured as decades, and I loved pouring over the little details of them. I've never been much of one for the fine needle crafts, focusing more on the big picture sewing end of things, but over the past few months I've found myself noticing cross stitch and embroidery more and more and thinking that it would be a nice meditative hobby to pick up.
My problem with it has always been -- and I know I'm not alone in this -- how lame most of the commercially available patterns are for cross stitch, embroidery and the like (Jenny's Sublime Stitching of course being the exception). Much of the work that Martin's mom has -- whether on pillows, napkins or table cloths -- has a much more modern feel to it, in the Danish Modern sense of the word. Simple patterns, lots of use of space and often monochromatic. After an evening of google searching and much bookmarking, I became a bit overwhelmed looking for a project that would suit my needs. It had to be simple enough that I could start and complete something without getting totally overwhelmed. I wanted something with a modern feel, and I wanted to start picking up some basic skills to that I could potentially start designing my own basic patterns to stitch.
While on a trip to Victoria recently, I decided to stop in on their very well stocked stitching craft store (on View Street/Trounce Alley) and see if they could set me up with something along the lines of what I was looking for. After evaluating many Scandanavian sampler packs -- the most compelling and beautiful of which were I think a bit over my head -- one of the women there asked if I would be willing to try out Crewel. "Crewel?" You ask, as I did. What the heck is that? From best I can tell Crewel is basically embroidery with wool instead of cotton or silk embroidery threads. It is the basic form of stitching from which many tapestries were made in days of yore, and generally it's much like embroidery with a finished product that has a slightly different texture due to the wool floss (a bit fuzzier). What sold me on it was the patterns available in the little kits from a company called Wool & Hoop (the photo up there is of the kit I chose). Many of them are monochromatic, they're all quite modern (though a bit more off-kilter than the designs I originally had in my head) and best of all, each pattern inspired me to think I could easily start drafting my own/answering to my own embroidery desires without too much trouble.
I was so sold with my wee kit and the idea of crewel that I actually went back and bought the Wool & Hoop book which has several patterns in it as well as ideas for ways to use crewel embroidery to embellish household stuff, clothing etc.
I'm about half way through my little project kit (it's about 3x3 inches) and so far am really enjoying it. As I suspected, it is very meditative, I can bring it along with me on the bus, etc. and my stitching is definitely improving quickly. My only complaint so far is threading the needle with the wool, as it isn't nearly as cooperative as embroidery thread. That said, I suspect most of these projects could be made with cotton embroidery thread to fine results, so I may try that next as an experiment.