ON THE STUMP

Here’s a curious piece that came to me from the same grandparents as my fly bowl (I’ve been told that it’s actually a bee dish, not a fly bowl).

This
is an original pen and ink line drawing that appears to depict a piece
of stumpwork embroidery. It bears a sigil of the letters HCs (possibly
CCS) but has no other signature on it. It hung in my grandmother’s
library for years, and always held a certain fascination for me when I
was a kid. At that time I didn’t realize the embroidery connection. At
seven I liked the whimsical little animals in the corners, and the fact
the central figure was a queen. Anecdotal family tales say the title of
this piece is "Queen Esther."

Years later when I began
embroidering in earnest (started on that path by the same grandmother),
I stumbled across the stumpwork style and recognized the drawing for
what it was. I’m torn. I’m not exactly sure if this is a copy of a
piece displayed in a museum, or if it’s a freehand drawing inspired by
that style. I rather suspect the former. There is supposed to be a
stumpwork piece depicting Queen Esther n the
collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, but I haven’t seen
a picture of it, so I can’t say if my pen and ink drawing shows that
particular artifact.

Stumpwork
(raised or embossed embroidery) was popular in the 1600s, tailing off
into the early 1700s. It has enjoyed a couple of minor revivals since.
It’s characterized by three dimensional effects, and is gaining
interest right now, in part fueled by the popularity of ribbon
embroidery and Brazilian embroidery, two other more modern styles that
also employ three dimensional effects. There are also traditional
forms of padded stitching practiced in Thailand and Cambodia that also
use heavy stitching on separately embroidered motifs that are affixed
to a ground over stuffing.

In stumpwork, much of the
stitching is done over raised grounds, separately stitched and sewn
onto a backing fabric. These motifs and slips are stuffed
underneath with batting or even little wooden forms. Additional raised
effect is provided by the inclusion of detached stitching, much of it
based on detached buttonhole, hollie point, or other "free" lace
stitches. On some pieces, further embellishment is provided by the
liberal use of gold and silver threads, sequins, spangles and even
beads. Some say that the little wooden forms used for stuffing
are the "stumps" that gave the work its ungraceful name, others say
that the name is a corruption of the word stamp, as many of the faces
of the figures were printed by stamping rather than being stitched.
It’s heavy and encrusted looking except in its very lightest
manifestations, not well suited for wearing. Instead it was employed
mostly for decor – panels, mirror surrounds, book covers, cushions, and
most especially small chests (cabinets) that were covered inside and out with the stitching.
Creating
a cabinet was a crowning glory for the amateur needleworker of the late
1600s. They were expensive to do, required better than average skill,
and represented a sort of needlework "graduation" for teens just about
done with the course of informal study that passed for most girls’
educations at that time.

There are several articles on stumpwork available elsewhere on the web, but precious few pictures of historical examples: This one has a useful bibliography, Janet Davies has some photos of artifacts that show the dimensionality of the stitching on her stumpwork and raised Elizabethan embroidery pages, CameoRoze also offers up an article on the modern revival of the style. In a Minute Ago also offers up a nice round-up of stumpwork and related styles as they are practiced today.

In the mean time my Not Embroidery hangs in my bedroom, where it complements a larger blackwork panel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s