Embroidered Pincushions for a Craft Swap

Grouping of Four PincushionsIn January 2009 I volunteered for a Craft Swap amongst friends. I decided to do embroidered pincushions for the 5 little items I promised. I had initially promised them in two months, but didn't deliver the last one until the end of August 2009. I wanted to make each design suited to the anticipated owner, and thus combed the coif patterns I had on hand to draw up the outlines. I chose the lily and the honeysuckle motifs from Laura Mellin's Genevieve Coif Pattern, and pulled elements from the Arabella Coif Pattern for the Butterfly and Sweet Pea, as well as the Rose. Alas nothing on hand seemed quite right for the fifth, and since I could only fit four of the designs on a single piece of linen in the hoop I had, I put it off until later. Ultimately after asking friends for suggestions in June, I came up with the idea of a spider hanging from a leaf, and sketched that one out on my own, looking to some pictures of period motifs for inspiration.

I did keep track of some of the times that various elements took. Some evolved further after I thought I was done, and some I just guessed on. The two elements I took care to truly track were the Butterfly and Sweet Pea, and the Honeysuckle. Each took just under 12 hours of embroidery time. I hope to keep better track of time in future projects as it was fascinating to find out how long an element took vs. what I thought it might take.

Lily design
I almost gave up on the lily until one friend suggested outlining the petals in gold, and another friend suggested wrapping the ceylon stitched portions with a different color. Both suggestions together added definition to the petals that was lacking initially. The bulk of the work is either detached buttonhole or ceylon stitching.

While I liked the finished stalk treatment used on the lily, I thought the honeysuckle needed something different. This stalk is the ceylon stitch in the gold (#371 passing thread) which then has some of the ladder rungs wrapped. The leaves and petals are detached buttonhole stitch, the buds are trellis stitch, and the center of the flower is a 5 legged spider web stitch.

Butterfly and Sweet Pea
Butterfly and Sweet Pea
I knew from the start that I wanted to do another detached butterfly wing. It does seem to be the favorite element for most who see my embroidered samples. Honestly it is not very practical on a pincushion, but these aren't meant to be practical things. The body of the butterfly and the center of the flower are done in the trellis stitch. The head is worked in spiral trellis stitch. The Sweet Pea's calyx is worked in ceylon stitch, and the rest is detached buttonhole. I had fun mixing two colors of the silk perle to form three 2-ply mixed threads from two 3-ply solid green and yellow threads. That gave me enough to make the leaf in heathered silks, and test out the theory that the 2-ply of these silks might be closer to the threads on period examples. I'm really proud of the way this one turned out in particular.

The rose turned out a bit lopsided once sewn up, which irritates me a tad. Adding the wrapped worm at the bottom was fun, but also really pulled at the symmetry to my eye. Regardless, the red and gold was a fun combination to do in the similar pattern that the roses on the jacket are done, with GST in detached buttonhole on the petals and silk perle towards the center. The center is a five legged spider web.

Spider on Bay Leaf
Spider on leaf Opps Bug!
The Spider is all my own design. I liked the idea of a Bay leaf and berry with a spider for the intended recipient, a Laurel in lace making. The berry is worked in the spiral trellis stitch, the leaf is simple detached buttonhole, the legs and web are just reverse chain stitching. The stems of the leaf and berry are plaited braid stitch (though I screwed up on the leaf stem, and will tell you how if you ask). I also used the gold in the ceylon stitch and a three legged spider web to jazz up the body of the spider over the detached buttonhole. Finally I had to cover a slip of the ink pen, so added in a little winged bug to the top of the web, done in ceylon, spider web, and reverse chain stitches with a bit of black silk perle wrapping and filling.

Back of some embroideryI used a silk for the back fabric, and the pincushions were stuffed with some wool roving I had on hand. I made some simple four-strand fingerloop braided cords to trim them with in complimentary colors of silk before considering them done and deliverable. We are lucky that there are a few embroidered pincushions to have survived from the late 16th -early 17th century, mainly because they are each attached to more ornate sweet bags. While the embroidery I did on these pincushions is in keeping with the style of garment surface embroidery from the time, in all likelihood the plain linen background would have been filled with gold or silver thread in the Gobelin stitch for such a small item. But that is a whole other experiment.

I've also included a picture of the back of the embroidery that we primarily see the front of. This is not out of hubris or bragging of the neatness, for it is not neat. It is though similar to the reverse sides of some extant pieces I have seen. Also, it shows how most of the expensive threads remain on the surface with relatively little wasted on the reverse.

Links to more information :

Extreme Patterns' Arabella Coif Pattern and Genevieve Coif Pattern, available at

Gilt Sylke Twist threads purchased from Tricia Wilson, of Thistle Threads



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