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Art Needlework
by Rachel Greco, Grandma's Attic Quilting


Decorative household linens became the vogue in America during the last quarter of the 19th Century.  It was at that time that decorative surface embroidery first appeared.  Women were influenced by exhibitions such as the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia where the term "art needlework" was first used to describe this decorative trend.  "Art Needlework" was distinctly different from "plain sewing".

It wasn't long before women ere embellishing everything with embroidery.  As Deborah Harding states in her book "Red and White,"....women took to their task seriously.  Some of the objects that "needed" to be embellished included table linens -- not just napkins, cloths, centerpieces, and doilies but "between meals" .... bed linens, including monogrammed towels, and guest towels; splashers .... lambrequins, picture frames, children's clothes and accessories, umbrella cases, pen wipers, lampshades, "tidies" .... table and dresser scarves, sofa pillows and chair cushions, pincushions and a great variety of cloth holders..."

With this much embroidery to be done, it is no wonder that you can find many vintage pieces of embroidery at antique shops and flea markets to this day.

Embroidery can be quite relaxing. At the end of the day I usually find myself putting in a few stitches of redwork myself.  One of my favorite books is "Linen Heirlooms Vintage Linens" by Brenna Hopkins and Nori Koenig.  This book is fabulous because the authors have traced several popular motifs back to their earliest days.  For instance they show you what baskets, sunbonnets and other items looked like at the turn of the 20th Century, in the 1920s, 1930s, and the 1940s -- and the best part is that they include patterns so you can add your own work to the stack!

This book is a wonderful historical resource and a delightful source of patterns for stitching.  If you don't have a copy --- perhaps you should!


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