LACE LESSON #19 - Stumpwork

Discussion in 'Textiles, Needle Arts, Clothing' started by Northern Lights Lodge, May 8, 2021.

  1. Northern Lights Lodge

    Northern Lights Lodge Well-Known Member

    Hi Everyone -

    Getting back to you about Stumpwork. I, unfortunately, only have access to one "GOOD" photo of this wonderful piece at the moment. I've asked the lady who had taken photos of it; if she could forward some to me... she said she would...and if she does; I'll add them and in the meantime proceed with this while I have 2 minutes to rub together!

    The back story with this remarkable piece. A gal that I worked with went golfing regularly with a gal (Caroline), whom I knew as a customer when I was working retail. Anna mentioned to me one day, that Caroline had shown her some "interesting" embroidery and would I be interested in seeing it. OF COURSE I would!

    So we got together and Carolyn pulled this little, obviously very old, battered wood (approximately 5" x 7") frame out of a drawer. The poor little piece of needlework piece was utterly smashed between the glass and the very old, solid wood back which was nailed in place. The edges of the fabric, all the way around, were sticking out the back, between the wood panel and the frame. Inside the frame there were dead bugs and dirt. The back of the frame - wood and fabric were both water stained; although for a wonder, the inside of the frame seemed to have not suffered much water damage as I recall!

    The piece immediately took my breath away! I knew immediately what it was and approximately the age!

    The piece was worked on silk satin (at this point it was cream color), in a combination of flat needlework and complex raised stitches. Although some of the paler colors had faded a little; the darker colors were still surprisingly vivid... utilizing lots of green to brown tones, blues, pinks and yellows.

    An elegantly dressed lady was standing in the center on a dias. (You can see the side of her skirt and her raised arm on the far left of the photo.) Her hair was dimensional along with some other parts of her garment. She was holding a small yellow "Tudor Rose". The entire background was filled with fanciful figures and flora - much proportionately different from the figure and from each other. As you can see by the size of the leaf and flower that are grossly oversize to the petite woman, who is the central focus of the piece. There were caterpillers and butterflies, leaves and huge flowers!

    Now the most remarkable thing, I think, is the SIZE of the stitches! They are miniscule in comparison to the penny! The variety of stitches was incredible! For example each "stitch' in that woman's skirt is about the size of one of the letters (or smaller) that is on the penny.


    The following photo is NOT the same piece; but it serves as an example of the proportionately different sizes of figures, flora and fauna in these pieces. stumpwork lion a.jpg
    If you examine the above piece... the figures are the focal point; but surrounded by all sorts of fanciful flora and fauna; in no particular proportion to each other. For instance, the butterfly and caterpiller between the man and woman. The rabbit is larger than the lion and flowers and critters are just "hanging out" in mid air. I think it is charming; and whimsical and so very typical of this age of stumpwork.

    stumpwork 5 senses.jpg
    This second example is a bit more controlled - but again the figure is the central focus on a dias and she is surrounded by fanciful flora and fauna. The flowers for the most part, way outsize her! The snail is 1/2 the size of the deer and the caterpiller is nearly larger than the snail! They have proportion a bit better on the buildings in the distance.

    The last example is one that had some nice close up images of the incredible 3 dimensional detail and a great Tudor rose.

    Ok... so, what EXACTLY IS Stumpwork?

    Traditionally and simply stated: Stumpwork is a raised form of embroidery in which the figures are raised from the surface of the work to create a 3-dimensional effect.

    Earliest examples of this type of needlework stem from between 1650 and 1700 in England. All of the above photos date from that time frame. The term Stumpwork (as we know it) was coined toward the end of the 19th century. Any "raised work" prior to 1650, was relagated to ecclesiastical garments and referred to simply, as "raised work" embroidery. I'm thinking that it wasn't as fanciful.

    Sewing skills were essential for women throughout the centuries and the 1700's was no exception. Most women needed these skills to make clothing and household linens for their families. In wealthy households, where time and money was available and more luxurious materials could be purchased, the skills were also used for embroidery.

    Stumpwork pieces of this time frame were very fanciful; utilizing flora, fauna, figures and buildings. Using small wires as support to create individual forms such as leaves, insect wings, flower petals, and clothing that would then be affixed to the fabric. Other shapes were created by using padding under the stitches, sometimes utilizing felt, sewn layer upon layer in increasingly smaller sizes. The felt would then be covered with embroidery stitches.

    Young girls were trained in sewing and embroidery skills early on and between 1650 and 1700 the final and most difficult project for the young student may have been the making of an elaborate "casket" or box depicting these fanciful scenes.

    Traditionally, stumpwork depicted a scene which might contain a castle, stag, lion, birds, butterflies, fruit, flowers, and several figures sometimes positioned beneath a canopy or on a dias. The kings and queens of the Stuart period were often depicted as were biblical or mythical stories. The Tudor Rose is often found in these pieces, as was in the piece I encountered personally, in Carolyn's piece.

    A wide variety of materials was used in these works including silver and gold thread, fine gimp cord, silk thread, chenille thread, wool, ribbon, wire, seed pearls, semi-precious stones, glass beads, coral, sea shells, mother-of-pearl, leather, feathers, vellum, boxwood, ivory and wax.

    Upon completion of the embroidery for a seventeenth century casket project, the fabric panels were sent to a carpenter to be mounted and assembled. A fine example of a casket from the period is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Coincidentally, I happened to see this piece as a youngster and it really "stuck" in my mind. Apparently, I thought it was pretty incredible needlework at the time! Below is an example of a 1650-1700's casket.


    Now back to the original piece as pictured in the first example. Carolyn said that it had been "in the family" as long as she could remember and their ancestors did have roots in England. It was my opinion that it was a "family" piece. There really just _aren't_ that many pieces of 1650-1700 pieces of stumpwork just "floating" about out there in the U.S. Her grandmother wasn't particularly interested in antiques or needlework and had not been to England, leading me to believe that it hadn't been purchased.

    It was also my opinion that this small piece - roughly 6" x 8" piece of fabric - was once part of a "casket" or would have been part of one that was never completed. Although it had been in that frame for at least 100 years... my guess is that. if perhaps, the casket had been damaged and disassembled at some point; that perhaps the panels were divided among heirs.

    As you might guess, I _strongly_ recommended that she take it to have it professionally cleaned and properly framed in museum quality materials...and insured. Bless her - she did.

    I've been a threadbender since I was a grade schooler and I'm now approaching 70 and I've only EVER seen these two ancient pieces "in person".... Carolyn's and the one at the V and A Museum.

    Fast forward: Stumpwork does still much the same manner as it did in the 1650-1700's. Materials are varied and interesting. It is still constructed in a similar manner. Modern pieces tend to look a bit more "organized" and the stitches "cleaner" for a lack of a better term. The one below has a 1750 feel to it in terms of composition; but there are other modern ones that truly have a more modern design.


    So, I'll end this lesson here. If I gain access more photos of Carolyn's wonderful piece I'll attach them and make a note of it. It isn't as simple as taking more photos... at this point it is framed correctly and at the time the photos were taken, it was not under glass. And because the stitches were SO small; we had a professional take photos of it. So I hope I'll be able to attach more.... if not, perhaps you have enjoyed this post regardless!

    Of course, feel free to ask additional questions. I'm sure I didn't cover everything!
    Cheerio for now,
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