William Morris and Cross Stitch…

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the Art Nouveau, Art Needlework, and Arts and Crafts movements recently. All of them are related, and William Morris and his daughter May feature predominantly in the fiber arts movements of the times. So what have I been thinking, other than I LOVE this group of related styles?

I’ve been thinking about thoughts. William and May Morris believed that Berlin Woolwork was a scourge on embroidery. Berlin woolwork, for those of you who don’t know the details was worked in very fine wool (often equivalent to 2-3 strands of our cotton floss in thickness), and was counted from a chart onto lightweight canvas in cross stitch. It often reproduced a piece of famous artwork, or just pretty pictures. Uh oh. This sounds familiar.  Could it be that this was just Counted Cross Stitch in wool? (Yup, it could. It is. It was.)

William and May Morris wanted to bring back what they considered the higher craft of “real” needlework. Crewel stitches. Design decisions on the part of the embroiderer. Silk threads. Embroidery that looked like stitch work and didn’t “just” reproduce a picture in pixel mosaic.

Now I’m not going to speak or type against counted cross stitch – I design the stuff, after all!  However, I was thinking about the book I gave away a couple years ago… “Art of William Morris In Counted Cross Stitch”. And then I got thinking about the cross stitch woolwork “reproductions” of Morris designs that are found as kits in the needlepoint shop (Beth Russell?)… and my thought?

I think William Morris is rolling around in his grave in despair.

And I’m laughing. Because embroidery techniques rise and fall in popularity. And while counted cross stitch has been very popular over the years since the 80s (partially because it really IS easy as these things go…) the freestyle embroidery stitches are coming back. Look on Craftster at some of the finished projects. Look at the popularity of Sublime Stitching. Look at the wonderful embroidery on the Ning groups: Hand Embroidery Network and Stitchin Fingers. These are good things. And we’re richer for the variety.

Try new things. Be a stitching dilettante!

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2 Responses to William Morris and Cross Stitch…

  1. Really interesing post.
    I wonder what he thinks of the applique book? Surely knowledge of that would produce an extra big grave roll. I think the concept is kinda cool in making up his designs, but it’s just not….in the spirit somehow. Ad its not possibly to applique the complexity and depth and colouration that he used in his designs.

    • Actually, he and May DID do a lot of applique work. Just not the designs that they’ve published in that book as such! 🙂 There’s a concept in that time frame of “suit the technique to the design.” But what technique goes with what kind of design is really very arbitrary… For example, most of the broiderers who wrote at the time repeatedly said that “realism should never be attempted in stitchery, leave that to the painters” or some variation on that theme… Where does that leave Trish Burr’s needlepainting? (or the period stuff, for that matter!)

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