Surface Decoration – Hand Embroidery

I love Folkwear, especially traditional embroidered blouses. These are garments that women have been making at home for centuries. A real classic that is beyond fashion, and always beautiful. Like a signature dish that has been reiterated so many times, it becomes perfect in its own way. Although the item is never fashionable in its original form, it is appropriated each decade as designers bring some of the shapes, colours and styles into their collections.

During the 1940s, in the middle of the Second World War, these designs were really in vogue. Some of the influences were undoubtedly European – Austrian, Swiss or Bohemian. Some inspiration, especially in the American market, was Mexican and Latin American. The basic idea of making a blouse at home from some ordinary white fabric, personalising it while still sticking to the ancient design, has meant the embroidered folk blouse has been a fashion available to all. Also it has always had importance as a way of expressing one’s national identity, when this may have been threatened.

In any event, I have been keen to create an embroidered blouse for a long time.

I had a go at a smocked blouse. Smocking is a type of embroidery associated, in England, with agricultural workers. It also had a moment in the Aesthetic dress movement. But now I wanted to go European and create some of the nice big flowers that feature in Hungarian and other European styles.

I bought a reproduction pattern, very similar to the images at the top; McCalls 1358 from around 1947. I loved the open floral embroidery design which was relatively simple, but also nicely composed. As the pattern was not an original, there were no iron on transfers included. However a line drawing of the design – reversed so that there was a left and right sleeve pattern, and a left and right yoke pattern – were included. I took some Instagram advice and traced the outline onto my cotton fabric using dressmakers’ carbon paper. This worked well. I also ironed-on lightweight interfacing to give the embroidery something to cling to.

I considered making the blouse in green or navy (all of the above examples are embroidered on black, which really make the colour sing out). In the end I went for white as a white background has a similar effect on colour as black, although slightly less dramatic.

I thought for a long time about my colour scheme, in the end plumping for strongly pink roses, surrounded by little blue flowers, all with yellow centres and green leaves. I decided to do the wonderful French knots in brown to give a little definition to the flowers.

Here are the yokes.

Folkwear embroidery Fabrickated
McCalls 1385 Embroidered yokes

I am looking forward to finishing the embroidery and making up the blouse. Why?

  • it has gussets!
  • it has lace!
  • it is very pretty and will go with everything!

21 Responses

  1. Jenny

    I love embroidering, which is a shock to me as I used to hate it as a schoolgirl doing Domestic Science. My mother bought a preprinted tablecloth for £5 in the 1950’s and worked on it very irregularly for the rest of her life. When she was living with me, in her 90’s she made a big effort and finished it off. The linen is rather off colour, despite several washes, which is a shame. I don’t really know how to deal with it but don’t want to ruin it.

    I enjoy making small pieces, like pictures and I have made 2 single bed quilts for my granddaughters with embroidery in the blocks. I hope they love them as much as I do. It is a very restful hobby.

  2. Jay

    Good grief, I wasn’t expecting the finished embroidery post for weeks! Have you got a speed technique or has this been secretly simmering in the background while you completed all your other wonderful projects? Its going to be lovely, the colours are right in the spirit of the original. I haven’t done hand embroidery since a long convalescence from an op had me lounging around for six weeks – that’s how long satin stitch takes me!

  3. Anne

    Beautiful embroidery. I can’t believe how quickly you’ve got this far! Like Jenny, I have some beautiful embroidered table clothes, one with stains now and I’m not sure how to deal with them.

  4. Bunny

    I love that smocked blouse. How did miss that effort?
    I’ve always enjoyed smocking and embroidery and feel these could easily be used more on contemporary women’s fashion and be a wonderful design element. It’s great to see this.

  5. Geo

    This makes me want to start embroidering right now! In fact, I just ordered some carbon paper so I might start soon.
    I’ve never done satin stitches, they seem to require a lot of patience and accuracy.
    I’ve made a gobelin in my early teens and I gave it away. It was this one, and looking at it now I think I want to do it again, but keep it this time!–172/

  6. Jane

    This is going to be a very pretty top! I love vintage embroidery but it isn’t something I’ve ever attempted myself, apart from cross stitch at school, I do lack patience I’m afraid. I’ve tried machinery embroidery but it is one of those activities that makes me hold my breath for extended periods because of the concentration required which is never beneficial!

  7. Stephanie

    This is so cool! I haven’t done embroidery since I was a teenager, but you are really making me want to make a similar blouse…I just don’t know how to prioritize everything! This is going to be so pretty on you. The sleeves are a double whammy of loveliness with the puffs and the embroidery. 🙂 I don’t know how you can do so much…

  8. Lynn Mally

    I was recently at the China through the Looking Glass exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It was organized by theme, and one room showed the influence of embroidered Chinese shawls. What amazed me is that they looked almost the same as embroidered Russian shawls, and I wondered just who influenced whom.

    • fabrickated

      I would so love to see that exhibition. And that is a very interesting question Lynn. I would guess that everyone invented this sort of thing independently – they are just a T-shaped garment really, with added embellishment.

  9. Lesley

    Oh I’m a huge fan of this look. Purchased a ?70s-80s mexican-ish dress last year, green with white embroidery. Being generous up top I thought it would make me look huge but its surprisingly flattering. Looking forward to the finished product Kate.

  10. Annieloveslinen

    How lovely those flowers are, the colours really pop. You amaze me with your creativity, I’ve never done embroidery but now I’m thinking that a decorative border on my tops would look nice, although I would have to cheat and use my machine.

    • fabrickated

      I have done a bit of machine embroidery but the hand sewing went quickly and was pleasant and calming to do outside in the sunshine. The best thing about embellishment is it allows you a chance to introduce all your favourite colours – you don’t always get that when buying patterned fabrics Annie.

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