It seems that I am one of those folks who just can not seem to sit idly by. Most of the time when I am watching television, I will be found with some crocheting in hand, a pasttime that helps to make me feel like I am not wasting so much time. And then there is counted cross stitch. Over the years I've collected many books on the topic, and completed more projects than I can remember.
So what is it about Barbara Hammet's book, Elizabethan Cross Stitch that makes me recommend it so heartily?
Hammet begins with an introduction, discussing how the Elizabethans (the late Renaissance in England, about 1550 to 1600) used various forms of embroidery on clothing, cushions, and wall-hangings.
Then she moves on to the designs themselves, begining with one of the more beautiful designs in the book. These are arrangements of heartsease -- or what are known now as pansies. Starting with a bookcover with a knotwork pattern and purple and gold patterns, Hammet then breaks up the design to create simpler designs that can be adapted for card inserts, a jar cover -- and from there, the stitcher can let their imagination work to create new ideas. With each project, a complete materials list is given, along with a chart listing three different manufacturers of embroidery thread -- DMC, Anchor and Madeira -- with how many skeins will be needed to complete the project. There is a full colour gridded chart showing the design to be stitched, as well as a photograph showing the final result. Along with the instructions, most of the designs in the book are easily contained on one page, and the layout and design are laid out with enough care that not only is it nice to look at, but very easy to follow.
Along with the heartsease bookcover, there are projects inspired by tapestries, samplers -- which beginning needleworkers would use to explore new techniques and stitches without committing to an entire project, a set of four pillows that use the four seasons as inspiration, box-covers that have blackwork -- a form of counted stitching worked with just black thread on a white surface, a set of freeform designs that incorporate birds, flowers and insects (These I didn't care much for, but the individual elements were nice), a firescreen, and a selection of small bags that can be used to hold gifts, or use as evening bags.
Finally, there is a motif library, with nearly a dozen pages that has various flowers, fanciful creatures, and even a mermaid, charted out for the reader. This is the most innovative part of the book. Presented with clear, large patterns, it is here that the stitcher can let their imagination roam to make their own designs. While suggestions for colours are pretty much left to the stitcher to decide, with a bit of work, some truly beautiful ideas can be come up with.
The last section of the book covers suggestions for materials, techniques and stitches, with plenty of alternates given. One part I really enjoyed with this was the section on finishing projects, something that far too many books leave entirely up to chance, with the instructions on how to use interfacing, framing work and mounting it up for display, going from making bell-pulls and book covers right on down to such humble items as pincushions and tassels. Along with acknowledgements, an author bio, there is a bibliography and index. One of the best parts is a list of suppliers, with not just surface and telephone contacts, but websites as well, which make this book very valuable indeed.
It's not a very big book either, just about 105 pages, but with so many designs, information and ideas, this is one of the best books I have ever come across on this type of embroidery, and one that I can heartily recommend for any skill level.
So whether you are an experienced or a novice at counted cross stitch embroidery, this is an excellent book to start from. The designs are simple and small enough for a beginner to complete and follow without being intimidated. For the more experienced stitcher out there, the use of metallic threads and seed beads give a new way to add dimension and texture to their work.
What I enjoyed best of all was the section in the back where ideas for new designs, and adaptations of actual designs found in English Elizabethan needlework was added. For anyone who has wondered if they could create their own designs it's a wonderful starting point.
Overall, this has proved to be an invaluable addition to my collection of needlework books, and I intend to keep my eyes out for more works by Barbara Hammet to add to my bookshelves. Five solid stars.