|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Most of the designs used today are copied from treasured old pieces in private collections or museums. Some patterns are newly drawn by a designer to fit a given space, but even then they follow closely in the traditions of French designs such as Marie Antoinette may have embroidered or the more sturdy English patterns that the fingers of Queen Elizabeth or Queen Anne worked upon. And once in a while a few daring souls essay to do patterns in the spirit of the modernistic French mode.
Those who would emulate illustrious needlewomen of the past must bring to the work skill and good taste as well as old-fashioned patience. A woman may, of course, take a piece of the criss-cross meshed linen which forms the foundation of the embroidered design and draw her own design on it and work out her own color scheme. But manufacturers have provided helps for the more timorous or perhaps more lazy needleworkers. Linen ready stamped may be bought in the shops. Some of the linens have part of the work already started, so that the needlewoman may have a guide as to the proper colors of silk or wool to use. Where part is to be done in petit point and part in gros point, the linen may be had with the petit point section completely worked. Petit point is such fine and slow embroidery that in this hurried age all women may not have the patience to do it.
Most of the fine pieces of needlepoint of the past combine the two sizes of stitches, although in many English examples only the gros point is used. When this method of embroidery was introduced into England from France, some time in the sixteenth century, it soon took on not only national characteristics of design, but also a more sturdy air, because of the extensive employment of the heavier stitch.
Needlepoint in the hands of Englishwomen of Jacobean times was used both for covering furniture and in making pictorial panels for wall decorations. These quaint pictures took as their subjects Grecian mythology, scriptural incidents and pastoral scenes. Today such artistic efforts of the ladies of the court of James I and his successors for a hundred years delight the antiquarian and provide an amusing spot on the wall above a Jacobean sideboard or by the side of a Queen Anne chair.
The work of the needlewomen of the days of Elizabeth and for a hundred years later showed a wide range of technical ability. The pictorial panels show the ardor, art and skill that this picture making in silk and wool aroused. Many of them are often ludicrous in their representations of human figures and landscapes, but in other examples there is a delightful sense of decoration and dramatic interest.
French needlepoint developed along the lines of tapestry weaving, and artists like Boucher and Fragonard were called upon to contribute drawings for the upholstery pieces. Before that time, in the sixteenth century, when needlepoint became popular in France, the French enriched the art by using gros point and petit point together. All through the great days of the French court life of the eighteenth century needlepoint was one of woman's most popular accomplishments. From La Pompadour and Dubarry to Marie Antoinette the ladies of the court and lesser nobility stitched the silk and worsted through the linen mesh background as a pastime. When imprisoned before her execution Marie Antoinette worked several chair seats of needlepoint for her friend, the Duchess de Serent.
Today needlepoint is being made into chair seats, covers for footstools, piano stools, love seats and even for sofas. Old furniture improperly upholstered will be improved by an appropriate needlepoint covering. Once done, such a bit of upholstery on a chair or stool will last well into another century, for needlepoint has tremendous durability.