As you will know from reading my recent post about having itchy feet, I’m wanting to learn a new-to-me style of historical embroidery for the purposes of writing a new book. So how do I decide which one to pursue?
For me, the process often starts with going to my local embroiderers’ guild and trawling the library. I did that last time and that’s where I first saw Guimarães embroidery. I haven’t done that this time.
This time I headed straight to the internet, mostly because I started my researching in the period between Christmas and New Year, when the guild wasn’t open! I worked my way through likely countries, and searched using both the word search (country name, combined with “needlework” or “embroidery” or “folk costume”) and image search sections of Google. Of course, the image search is always so much more exciting! If possible, I translated the terms “embroidery” and “needlework” into the language of the chosen country and searched for them as well. That often gave me different results.
I then headed to Pinterest and searched again, using my chosen search terms. Pinterest, being purely visual is a great way to do this sort of research!
All the images I found that were of interest were pinned onto a “secret” Pinterest board. I use a secret one for this so that anyone on Pinterest can’t see what it is that I am researching. I usually only tell people what I am working on when I am much, much further down the track. Using a Pinterest board automatically links the image back to its source so that I can easily find the source again if I need to – it is so useful!
Usually in amongst my research I come across one style that really stands out to me as being unique. I assess the style to see whether there is enough unique technique or style within the embroidery to write a whole book on it. If there is, then I really get stuck into that style. If I have any contacts within the country of interest, I email them with my questions. If there are any blogs or websites, I read everything I can, using Google Translate where necessary. It doesn’t provide wonderful translation, but it is usually enough for me to get the gist of what it says.
If I come across any existing books that are likely to have information on the style (even if they are in another language), I try to see if I can get them via interlibrary loan, or purchase them second hand.
At some point in the process, I tell my husband the country of interest, and he goes off and starts researching all the places that he would like to visit in that country! In the past few weeks I have presented him with several possibilities, and you can be sure he has looked up every single UNESCO world heritage site in those countries! He really loves organising what we’re going to see on our holidays, so I leave that to him.
Then I see if there are museums in the country that hold items showing the style. I contact them and make appointments with the appropriate people, to visit them when we visit the country. If there are artisans still working the style, I try to make appointments with them too. They are the ones I can ask technical questions of, about how to stitch, the order of work, the fabrics and threads etc.
I always try to learn what I can before I visit the country. If possible, I like to have already tried the style. It means that I have more idea of the questions I want to ask about the technicalities of stitching. I also like to ask about traditional motifs and the history of the style.
While visiting the place where the embroidery originates, visiting museums to see historical examples, talking with the curators there and other experts, seeing artisans actually working the style (if it is still done), and exploring and photographing the township/city environs to get a feel for the culture, are my main aims.
If I am allowed, I photograph as much of the embroidery as I can. While these photographs usually can’t be used for publication, they form a very valuable image reference for me.
And then I come home and get stuck into creating the book!