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Berlin wool work


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Berlin wool work changed the concept of embroidery in society, in the 16th, 17th and 18th most embroidery were done by the rich who could afford the fabrics and silks needed for embroidery and also had the time to spend many hours on designing. But the industrial revolution changed everything, a new middle class started to grow and it became a status symbol for a man if he could support his wife and daughters and they didn't have to earn part of the family's income. Of course this meant long hours for the women to fill with activities, women who didn't grow up with a tradition of needlework skills being passed down through the generations and needed a bit of help.

And here enters Berlin wool work, little is known as to who made the first charts, what we do know is that it started in Berlin, Germany in the early 1800's, the first charts were printed black and white graph paper and women were employed to paint each square of the design by hand, later the charts were lithographed. By the 1830's these charts were imported to Britain and the USA and the Berlin wool work craze lasted until the 1880's when people like William Morris started the Arts & Crafts movements and once again drew inspiration from Medieval embroideries and techniques used at that time.

Over the last few years I have stitched quite a few pieces from original charts of the time that were published in books and modern digitized charts recharted from the originals by a few collectors that decided to share them that way with the world. Of course many designs are too big to use for miniatures, but many are suitable when stitched on fine enough counts.


This lion was one of my very first pieces stitched on 58 count silk gauze.


All framed up and hanging in the study of my Victorian dollhouse.


A sweet little picture that reminds me of the Kate Greenaway illustrations she did for children's books in late Victorian times.


I particularly like the charts with children and animals, and have quite a few more that I would like to stitch.


This delightful picture of a little girl with her dogs is actually set in to the top of a small table, my very first piece of furniture made with proper joinery.


This is one of my favorite pieces, I just love the serenity of the little girl leading her deer against the background of a lake and mountains. It is framed in an original antique Victorian photo frame that I bought at Lucy's dollhouse shop in Camden, Maine the very first year I went to Guild School as a scholarship student.


And talking of Guild School, I made this 18th century fire screen and donated it for the live auction when I found out that scholarship students were allowed to donate to the auction.


A close up of the beautiful bouquet of flowers, another subject loved by Victorian stitchers.


Famous paintings were also charted, this one was painted by F.P.Stephanoff (1789 -1860), it is quite large and destined to become a wall hanging.

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Stunning work Elga, and it has a slightly different feel to it then embroidery? I know nothing of tapestry, threads and silk counts :/ but is it cos you use a bit more thi cker thread perhaps? And/or a smaller count? It feels more 'bold'. Can you explain why that is? Or what makes it so different to regular embroidery? Not just the charts and subject matters, no? 

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Debora, color use was more bold in Victorian times as they explored new ways to dye treads, charts were a new concept too. The treads I used for most of these are actually very fine silk. I am not quite sure what you mean when you say different to embroidery, other miniature embroidery? Or do you mean full size embroidery? Most miniature embroidery is done on gauze with tent or a similar stitch, most other techniques used for full size embroidery are too difficult to copy fine enough in miniature, although I know of a few people who do amazing crewel work in miniature.

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  • 3 weeks later...

What a wonderful post Elga!  I especially appreciate the historical background you provided.  The raising of the middle class as a result of the Industrial Revolution creating that change in what women should do with their now free time.  



That is an excellent starting point to understand decorative needlework.  Women used to do needlework almost every day.  As a stitcher, I can say that- "That is the life for me"- though I have no maids to do the housework.


Wonderful needlework Elga.

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