Monday, 28 March 2016

A Forgotten Technique - Part 1

Fine needlework will always be admired but there is something about embroidery from the 18th century that stirs the soul for so many different reasons.

It was a time when machines had not been invented and it required skill, patience and time. Embroidery was a professional occupation dominated by men and Guilds. It served as employment and a leisure activity for women.


When you research the techniques used in this period very little has changed. Most of the stitches are still used today and require the same equipment and methods.

There is a whitework technique from this period that is easily overlooked amongst the ornate embellishments, striking designs and bold colours that the 18th century is known for.
Recently whilst carrying out research we stumbled across an item in the collection of the V & A that caught our eye.
A baby's cap with  an inscription worked in needle lace - 'Thos Fry agedd 1 year 1776 Wroham Kent'.

This type of needle lace or whitework is known as hollie stitch or hollie point. It is a knotted buttonhole technique in which the pattern appeared in the form of openings between the stitches.


It was a durable form of needlework that could withstand frequent laundering so it was popular for baby clothes. Women used hollie stitch for decorative panels, which they inserted into their baby's linen.

Motifs used were significant to the newborn baby - the Lamb of God, the Holy Dove, crowns, hearts, initials and dates.


It was very labour intensive and was only used in small areas. It was a stitch that many mothers made with love forming motifs that had meanings to keep their babies safe.

If you would like to find our more about Hollie Point Catherine Barley in her book "Needlelace - Designs and Techniques Classic and Contempory" covers this stitch in detail and provides two patterns.

Nicola was fortunate to meet Catherine last year, a very inspriational, gracious and elegant lady. Her book is a valuable addition to a needleworkers library.


This sampler was worked by Mary Tredwell in 1739 using several different techniques including Hollie Point. Most examples of ths stitch being used in samplers date from the second quarter of the 18th century.

Mary was a fine needleworker and her sampler is both beautiful and interesting. It is in the collection of the V& A Museum and is catalogued as:-

The three main square panels of cutwork are surrounded by a zig-zag border of stylised acorns and flowers worked with cream silk in satin and overcast stitches. Between them are lines of embroidery, worked in satin stitch to form geometric patterns.
The cutwork panels are filled with three bands of reticella and hollie point lace.
The first band consists of four squares of hollie point: one with heart and crowns motifs, one with acorn and crowns, one with lily, and one of diamond pattern. In the centre, there is one square of reticella needle lace.
The second band consists of three large squares: one of hollie point with a parrot and diamond motifs, one of reticella, and one of hollie point with a lamb and floral motifs. Between the squares there are two embroidered plants.
The third band consists of two hollie point squares with floral motifs, followed by a reticella square and two further hollie point squares with floral motifs. The last one is dated 1739.
Between the three bands are two rows of cutwork roundels. Those in the upper row are filled with needle lace stitches, and those in the lower row are filled with needle lace and hollie point flowers. There is a large central oval with the name of the maker worked in hollie point.

It was bequeathed to the museum by Mary Blanche Dick.

Tomorrow we will look at another technique that is closely associated with the 18th century.