Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pictorial Embroidery and Stumpwork in England

      Following the death of James I and the accession of Charles I, elaborately embroidered clothing faded from popularity under the dual influences of rising Puritanism and the new court's taste for French fashion with its lighter silks in solid colors accessorized with masses of linen and lace. In this new climate, needlework was praised by moralists as an appropriate occupation for girls and women in the home, and domestic embroidery for household use flourished. Embroidered pictures, mirror frames, workboxes, and other domestic objects of this era often depicted Biblical stories featuring characters dressed in the fashion of Charles and his queen Henrietta Maria, or after the Restoration, Charles II and Catherine of Braganza. 
      These stories were executed in canvas work or in colored silks in a uniquely English style called raised work, usually known by its modern name stumpwork. Raised work arose from the detached buttonhole stitch fillings and braided scrolls of late Elizabethan embroidery. Areas of the embroidery were worked on white or ivory silk grounds in a variety of stitches and prominent features were padded with horsehair or lambswool, or worked around wooden shapes or wire frames. Ribbons, spangles, beads, small pieces of lace, canvas work slips, and other objects were added to increase the dimensionality of the finished work. Stitches could also be worked around pieces of wire to create individual forms such as leaves, insect wings or flower petals. This form was and still is applied to the main body of work in modern stumpwork by piercing the background fabric with the wires and securing tightly. Other shapes can be created using padding under the stitches, usually in the form of felt layers sewn one upon the other in increasingly smaller sizes. The felt is then covered with a layer of embroidery stitches.
      A modern day subcategory of this art form used primarily in production embroidery on automated embroidery machines is referred to as puff embroidery. The process involves putting down, typically, a layer of foam rubber larger than the intended shape on top of the target material to be decorated. The shape is then embroidered on top of the foam rubber in such a way that the needle penetrations cut the foam rubber around the periphery of the shape. When the embroidery is finished the excess foam rubber is weeded (pulled away or cleaned off) from the design area, leaving the underlying foam rubber shape trapped under the embroidery stitches resulting in a stumpwork effect. Puff embroidery generally lacks the intricate design characteristics obtainable with true stumpwork techniques and is primarily seen on leisure wear such as baseball caps, sweatshirts and jackets. Many times the designs are used to portray company logos or team mascots.

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