Whitework embroidered blouse

Whitework embroidered blouse

A ridiculous amount of work went into this blouse which I made when I was at the peak of my loving satin stitch phase. It comforts me to muse on the fact that painters fall into these ruts of obsession all the time. Mark Rothko found his emotional needs satisfied in those blocks of deep colour, whose bleeding boundaries swallow vision to infinity. David Hockney has gone through a series of obsessions – Californian sunshine and swimming pools, canyons and double portraits giving way to multifarious images of the woods around Woldgate in East Yorkshire. I don’t compare myself to these painters’ eminence or achievements, I just take strength from the fact that they became fixated with playing about with one simple idea.

Whitework embroidered blouse partly unbuttoned to form soft revers

Whitework embroidered blouse unbuttoned to give draped revers

I started with wanting to decorate the double breasted front of a confederate style blouse I had designed. Doodlings on paper produced the rough idea of what you see in the photographs. I could have achieved this in any number of quicker stitches, like chain or stem stitches,  but I longed for the sheen of the smooth embroidery thread on the slightly knobbly silk crepe de chine and the way it caught the light.  This contrast of textures always seems one of the most luscious aspects of whitework to me and in its execution there was something liberating about letting the width of the line vary as you sew. Initially I drew a single line, with pencil never leaving the fabric, until it wound into the middle of the rectangle of fabric like a wonky, curvy Greek key design. Using this as the bottom line of satin stitch, I varied its width as seemed pleasing as I went along. This was very satisfying and, by the time I’d embroidered the front and two sleeves,  pretty good for my satin stitch technique.

Whitework embroidered blouse: front detail

I refer to this design as ‘bird’s eye and feather’ but this idea of  single, convoluted, continuous line  has a splendid Greek pedigree in the meandros or meander motif. Not only does this refer to the curving course of the famous river of the same name in Asia Minor (and hence it has become the  correct geomorphological term for any river of mature years)  but it also is a reference back to linear representations of the labyrinth said to be sited beneath King Minos’s Palace at Knossos on Crete, and  at the centre of which was the Minotaur. Daedalus, it is said, constructed this complex with such a degree of sophistication that he himself almost failed to find his way out.

Whitework embroidered blouse: detail of design

Curiously literary allusions suggest this was a maze rather than a labyrinth. A maze has multiple pathways with multiple choices to be made along a complicated route, whereas a labyrinth, like the meander motif has only one path which leads inevitably to the centre. This puzzle of finding and killing the Minotaur, was only solved by Theseus with the help of Ariadne and her practical wisdom. The skein of thread she gave him enabled him to track his way through the maze and see where he had already been. It is wonderful to be able to link this story back to domestic roots through the use of such a ubiquitous household item as the the skein of thread/hank of wool/ball of string.  It is even more pleasing to discover that a ball of thread was also known as a ‘clew’,  from which the word ‘clue’ is derived. Perhaps this is why women are such prolific and successful crime writers

Whitework embroidered blouse: sleeve detail

Whitework embroidered blouse: sleeve detail

The blouse was made in in silk;  crepe de chine  fabric, fine silk thread for the seams, etc and buttonhole silk for the embroidery. Buttons are mother-of-pearl.


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