True confessions time. I'm addicted. I'm piling up embroidery supplies like there is no tomorrow. I'm dreaming up projects faster than I can stitch (and considering that I'm just learning, that's pretty slowly!). And of course, because I am learning, I need educational materials. That's right books.....oh, sweet books. One of my big lifelong loves. I have always loved reading. My mother and father were big readers when I was growing up, and I think that planted the seed. Before I started school I used see them reading all the time, and when I asked for them to show me how, they promised I would be taught at school. When I came home from my first day at kindergarten, I was not a happy camper. My mother, fearing a the worst - a child who would forever hate going to school - asked what was wrong. Hands on hips, I angrily complained "They didn't teach me how to read!" Of course I'm absolutely relishing the opportunity to have a new topic to research and am having a grand old time finding interesting books to add to my collection. I haven't really come across any good guides to embroidery-related books, so I thought I'd share my discoveries here.
One of the first books I bought was what I think has to be one of the all-time classics - Mary Thomas's Dictionary Of Embroidery Stitches.
First published in 1934, and since reprinted about a zillion times, including an update done in 1989 - which I haven't seen but also haven't read good things about. If you want a copy of this I think you are much better off finding a secondhand copy (I see them all the time on eBay, Etsy etc) as part of the charm of the book is the vintage-ness of it. My copy is a fourth edition version from 1936, and it's 235 lovely, slightly yellowed, really heavy paper pages. You know, how they used to make books. I love the fact that I'm holding a book which is 75 years old, and imagine it being held by other generations of women, furrowing their brow and trying to figure out how to make a triangular two-sided Turkish stitch work.
The book is fairly straight-forward in it's presentation - sticking firmly to the dictionary format, Mary marches on through an astounding 305 stitches of all types - free-hand, counted thread, drawn fabric and canvas. As she says in her preface:
With such a heritage it is often disappointing to find, amongst all the beautiful embroidery produced to-day, so very little originality in the choice of stitches, the same well-worn favourites, daisy stitch, fly stitch, chain stitch, satin stitch and so on, appearing again and again with monotonous regularity. There really is no reason for this poverty of choice, as glance through the pages of this book will prove.
The instructions are well illustrated and for the most part quite clear (though for some of the more complicated stitches I have found it necessary to refer to more modern sources with step-by-step photographs). As well as the stitch diagrams there are some black and white photographs of the drawn thread work, and throughout the book there are delightful little comic illustrations playing on the names of the stitches - such as the cowboy with a lasso, if you can see it by the back stich entry in my photo? They're done by woman credited as "Miss Kay Kohler", who with a bit of research, I've discovered is Elsie Kay Kohler, who later published two books on design for needlework under her own name (and yes...I've just ordered one!). Despite much feverish Googling I couldn't find any information about dear Mary herself, other than she was born in 1889 (and is not to be confused with the "knitting Mary Thomas" from the 1970's). Although the original publisher, Hodder & Stoughton also published the 80's version of the Dictionary, they don't carry any information about either on their site. Humpf. Shortly after the publication of the Dictionary, Mary followed up with Mary Thomas's Embroidery Book, but then was heard from (well published) no more. I'd love to know more about her.
In summary, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who, as Mary says "make themselves proficient first in the simpler popular stitches, but then go on to experiment with some of their lesser-known relations and see what interest and variety they bring to your work!".
You go, girl!