Friday, October 12, 2012

Barry in Outline Embroidery

 My sister and I share a lot of interests: arts and crafts design, architecture, painting. We both like dogs. I like needlework; she likes dog needlework, so we have a nice collection of dog needlework. One of the first pieces we bought was this redwork embroidery of a girl and a big dog.

Today we are collaborating blogwise on this image.
She's going to analyze the image from her perspective: dog history.
See her blog Dr. Barkman Speaks here:
And I am going to analyze the technique from my perspective: needlework history.

A redwork pillow sham
Barry is done in what we call redwork, outline embroidery with Turkey red thread, which was one of the few colorfast cotton embroidery threads at the time.

Redwork tends to date from 1880 to 1930.

Outline embroidery work in blue tends to date from 1910 to 1930, according to expert Deborah Harding. The fashion for single color embroidery was replaced by one for multicolored embroidery thread about 1920, as manufacturers developed more colorfast shades.
The graphic style as well as the multicolor
 thread date this dog as after 1920.
Less sentimental---more cartoon-like

 We can thus date our piece as sometime between 1880 and 1930 by its style.
Outline embroidery done in the
Kensington stitch, also called a stem stitch or outline stitch
The technique of outlining the figure with a simple stitch became popular as a decorative technique about 1880. Earlier embroiderers usually filled in their figures, shading with thread, but a new needlework fad developed after the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, which strongly influenced popular taste. American women saw for the first time classic Japanese design and new ideas in decorative arts inspired by the European Arts and Crafts movement initiated by William Morris.
Cranes, cat tails and fans were popular images
 reflecting the Japanese influence
The Fair introduced technological innovations such as the Briggs & Co.'s Patent Transfer Papers.
A pillow sham pattern.
Instructions tell you to fill in the flowers with "solid embroidery,"
but no one ever did.
"All that is required is to lay the Pattern on the Material to be Stamped; pass a warm iron over the back of the pattern and the design is instantly transferred to the material." Briggs' hot iron transfer paper and the fresh design ideas would come together to create an American fad.

Ladies' magazines and thread manufacturers enthusiastically adopted the new needlework style. By the early 1880s, American embroiderers had a multitude of  published patterns to copy, usually printed as black and white outlines. Patterns could be transferred using a variety of the old-fashioned tracing techniques including a tracing wheel or a form of carbon paper. Patterns could be punched by pricking holes in the lines and sifting a powder through the holes. Embroiderers could also buy cotton, linen and silk stamped or printed with an outline or colored design, essentially kits some call "penny squares." And the new technology of the heat transfer design with transfer patterns bound into periodicals and books or offered for sale as single sheets opened up the world of embroidery to women and children with little training in drawing or art needlework.

A ruffled pillow sham
Embroiderers also drew their own designs, and our embroidery may have been hand drawn by its maker who copied a popular image. We assume it was made to lay atop a pillow because redwork embroidered designs were extremely fashionable in American bedrooms, particularly as dresser scarves and pillow shams. Deborah Harding notes that redwork shams were advertised between 1884 and 1890.

A dog with a human face
on a redwork quilt

Late Breaking News
Xenia found this roller-printed chintz printed in 1846 in an
old black-and-white catalog from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Barry looks more like a sheepdog mix than either a St. Bernard or
a Newfoundland.

References on Outline Embroidery:

Diane Ayers, Timothy Hansen, et al, American Arts and Crafts Textiles (New York: Abrams, 2002)

Virginia Gunn, "Crazy Quilts and Outline Quilts: Popular Responses to the Decorative Art/Art Needlework Movement, 1876-1893,"  Uncoverings 1984 (Mill Valley, California: American Quilt Study Group, 1985)

Virginia Gunn, "Quilts---Crazy Memories," America's Glorious Quilts, editors: Dennis Duke & Deborah Harding (Beaux Arts Editions: 1987)

Deborah Harding, Red & White: American Redwork Quilts (New York: Rizzoli, 2000 & 2001)

 Penny McMorris, Crazy Quilts (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1984)


  1. The girl with the dog is something that I've run across before. From my understanding it is a Newfoundland. They were quite popular in needlework a century, or more, ago. Perhaps from Peter Pan? Just curious.
    Thank you for the pattern, and all that you do to keep us informed. You are appreciated!

  2. My sister says it's a St. Bernard. Barry to be specific. The breeds have changed so much that it's hard to recognize them now. And isn't that a Peter Pan collar you have on in your photo? I think Peter Pan reflected the Barry craze, but the play probably lengthened the popularity of the breed.

  3. You are so right about the change in some breeds' appearance. Next time you see The Wizard of Oz, look at the pigs in the barnyard; they really look nothing like they do now!
    The way I remember that dress, the collar is a bit pointier than a Peter Pan - aren't they more rounded?
    Thanks for responding to my comment!

  4. And you are right about the points. I think a true Peter Pan collar has a curved edge.