Monday, August 17, 2015

When Needle, Thread, and Fabric Meet

by Erin Doane, curator

Embroidery is described as the handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn but it is so much more than that. It is a creative expression and a labor of love for many. The art of embroidery has been around for thousands of years as have the most common stitches - chain stitch, buttonhole or blanket stitch, running stitch, satin stitch, and cross stitch. What most likely began as a way to repair or reinforce clothing has truly become an art form. The complexity and beauty of some embroidered pieces is astonishing yet the craft is still accessible to people of all ages and skill levels.

If you want to see a wonderful collection of works of embroidery, visit the museum for When Needle, Thread, and Fabric Meet: Embroidery by the Chemung Valley Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America. Over 60 pieces of embroidery by ten members of the chapter are on display now through September 30. There will also be a special reception this Thursday, August 20 from 5:00 to 8:00pm where you can meet and speak with some of the embroiderers. This event is free and open to the public.

When Needle, Thread, and Fabric Meet, on display at the 
Chemung Valley History Museum through September 30, 2015
The museum has a fairly large collection of embroidered pieces ranging from samplers and other decorative wall hangings to embroidered clothing and accessories. From as early as the mid-18th century, creating samplers with the alphabet, flowers and other decorative motifs was part of a girl’s education. By the late 19th century, samplers began changing into decorative, pictorial wall hangings like cross-stitch samplers of today.

Sampler on linen from 1833
Needlepoint sampler on canvas, mid-19th century
Cross-stitch sampler made by Talitha Botsford
Doing needlework on perforated paper was very popular in the 1870s. Bookmarks and wall hangings with mottoes and biblical sayings were commonly made out of the paper. It was a relatively inexpensive material and sometimes was made with pre-printed patterns.

Embroidered perforated paper bookmark, late 19th century
Embroidered perforated paper wall hanging, late 19th century
Embroidery on perforated paper, perhaps made for a box lid, mid-late 19th century
Embroidery is not limited to just purely decorative pieces. Throughout history, and even today, many practical items have been embellished with needle and thread. Household items like bedding and doilies are often embroidered by hand and by machine. Embroidery is also widely seen on clothing and accessories.
Crazy quilt with embroidered decorations, 1900
Embroidered doily, early 20th century
Keepsake pillowcase with embroidered signatures of 
members of Elmira Free Academy class of 1910
Silk fan with painted and embroidered design, 1870
Machine-knit stockings with hand-embroidered design, 1890s
Child’s apron with embroidered flowers, c.1880
Blue chiffon dress with beaded embroidery, 1925
Do you like to embroider? Have you never done it before but want to give it a try? You might want to check out the Chemung Valley Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America (EGA). The group meets every third Wednesday of the month from September through June at 6:30pm at the Steel Memorial Library in Elmira. The mission of the EGA is to stimulate appreciation for and celebrate the heritage of embroidery by advancing the highest standards of excellence in its practice through education, exhibition, preservation, collection, and research.

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