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Pincushion (with motifs from the Carew-Pole Collection)

by Christian de Holacombe



While an entire Elizabethan sweet bag may be a rather daunting longterm project, a three-inch pincushion is a more manageable size for a trial project in this style of embroidery.

As was mentioned earlier, these embroideries in period were done on a sturdy, but somewhat loosely woven linen. Although it helps if the linen is approximately square, with something close to the same number of threads horizontally and vertically, it doesn’t have to be exactly even, because you are going to trace the design onto the linen and outline it by making tent stitches in dark colored thread following the design lines. Once your design is outlined, the parts can simply be filled in.

Eowyn’s notes on the period pincushions say that they are laid out with the sides of the pincushion parallel to the grain of the fabric. This is easy to see in a close view, because the background stitches are vertical when the pincushion is held to appear as a square (as in the photo at right from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection).

As with any project, it’s helpful to trace the design onto the fabric with wide margins of plain linen on all sides. The linen can be stretched and tacked to stretcher bars to keep it flat and square.

The design motifs shown here are from two pieces in the Carew-Pole Collection, which is one of the largest private collections of textiles in England.

Several pieces in the collection are unfinished, with the designs drawn on the linen but with the stitching not completed, or in some cases not even begun. These pieces are seldom published, in part because they’re somewhat difficult to photograph and reproduce. Occasionally you can find an older book, like Cyril F. Bunt’s Tudor and Stuart Fabrics, that has photos of these items. I was able to scan these photos, enlarge and trace them, and then re-draw them to produce the line drawings you see here.

The line drawings are rather small here; they can of course be enlarged or reduced to whatever size you wish. The smaller color versions are intended to give an idea of some suitable colors. The four patterns on this page are from a large cushion cover with a diagonal lattice framework, so they are already nicely diamond-shaped.

Borage
Bouncing Betty
Columbine
Honeysuckle

Materials

Any sturdy but loosely woven linen can be used for this project; Eowyn used linen with about 28 to 32 threads per inch. It may be helpful to starch the linen before tracing the design onto it.

The period pincushions were worked in silk thread with a metallic thread background. A bit of experimentation will tell you how many strands of the thread to use for the tent stitch motifs. The metallic thread can be rather expensive; if you’d like to use something else for the background, Eowyn suggests playing with perle cotton size 12 or silk buttonhole twist.

The three corners of the pincushion that are not attached to the cord can be finished with tiny silk tassels. Eowyn’s tassels are made with a small loop of wrapped cord at the top, which links to another, similar loop on the corner of the pincushion itself.

More pincushion pictures

The drawings on this page are rather more freely adapted than those above. They are based on motifs from another piece from the Carew-Pole Collection, this time a set of closely spaced motifs on linen, some of which are partly worked. They were probably intended to be cut out and appliqued onto a cushion like the detail here (another piece from the Victoria & Albert Museum).


Daffodil

Hazel

Peapods


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This particular web page last updated on February 9, 2008.