Sunday, April 9, 2023

Crazy Embroidery 5: Hand-Guided Machine Embroidery

Machine-embroidered pansies using variably shaded thread. About 1890.

Schiffli Embroidery Machine in Calais, France, about 1900

In 1863 Isaak Gröbli of Switzerland developed the Schiffli Embroidery Machine. Schiffli means "Little Boat" a reference to the shape of the shuttle on the underside of the cloth. A history of the machine tells us:

"Over time, more and more needles and corresponding shuttles were added to the machine, so that a much wider piece of cloth could be embroidered simultaneously. After several years, the machine developed into the automatic Schiffli machine that could sew in any direction. The design is controlled by a pantograph arm, which the operator uses to follow the design drawing. The cloth is attached to a frame that moves, while the needles stay in one place."

The pantograph arm remains the operator's control tool.
The tracing is labor intensive but with many needles one machine
produces many embroidereries as the image is traced.

Here a Swiss woman using the arm from the Textielmuseum St Gallen.
St Gall or St Gallen has been the heart of Swiss embroidery for generations.

I found the modern photo at the site of the Textile Research Centre (TRC) at Leiden in the Netherlands.
A few years ago they did a show on machine-embroidered World War I postcard souvenirs.


They describe the postcards as "hand embroidered" because the operator does move the arm around
by hand but a better term might be "Hand-guided Machine Embroidery."

On the theme of the romantic and spurious propaganda so important during WWI they tell us the postcards were "said to be the work of Belgian and French refugee women, as a means to eke out a meagre existence. However, it is evident that the embroidery was carried out by commercial firms using hand embroidery machines."

Related items were European premiums in tobacco products like cigarettes. Above: front and back of a poppy machine appliqued to a gauze. Ebay photo.

Schiffli machines still produce hand-guided machine embroidery.
We just don't add the swatches to our quilts anymore.

Much of the embroidered floral and animal details in the crazy quilts
must have been done on those machines.

Switzerland, which had a true hand embroidery tradition, specialized in producing the shuttle machines. Kursheedt's began importing the Swiss machines in 1873.

H. Bosshardt, working for Kursheedt's, patented improvements
 on the shuttle machine in 1912.

How to tell if the details on your crazy quilt were hand embroidered by the maker or purchased from a machine embroidery manufacturer? 

If the image was technically a slip to be stitched to another piece of fabric, there is evidence of the stitches securing the slip.

The butterfly here is a slip, manufactured to be added to another material. The quiltmaker was not
too skillful or knowledgeable about how to do that. Large red stitches were not the acceptable technique.

It's certainly easier to tell when the quiltmaker is not good at this.

International Quilt Museum Collection
Mary M. Hernandred Ricard's My Crazy Dream
The securing stitches are often invisible or almost so.

An absence of the securing embroidery stitches is no clue to hand embroidery by the quiltmaker, however. The jockey and horse are probably machine embroidered on a black silk background fabric that was trimmed and pieced in crazy-style. A clue here is the skill and detail in the image.

Machine-embroidered horse on blue

Top left: Kursheedt catalog peacock.
They may have done variations on the bird but
we know the peacock with the turned head is theirs.

It would be nice to have an index to the popular slips but we still don't have many catalog images.

You might learn to recognize a style in the machine appliques. Rather long satin stitches, well drawn
images, well executed. Variegated thread or not.

From Pam Weeks at the New England Quilt Museum

The fancier embroidery on many of these crazies is often backed by black silk or velvet.

So much so that a sub-style developed in which black florals were featured.

Crib quilt

New York project & the Quilt Index

We also see a minor style category incorporating strips of
floral embroidery probably done on the Schiffli machine.

1911, Spokane, Washington

About which more later.

Tomorrow: Machine embroidery on a smaller scale

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