You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Monday, 27 August 2012

of forgotten Needlework and the Bush Babies in Limbo

Op-shop rummaging has yielded some delightfully retro results lately.

I must give credit to Majikfaerie for the discovery of this gem. She spotted it in an op shop in the big town and knew I would want it. Melba Art Needlework Book, published by Hawksworth & Osborne at 24 Flinders St. Melbourne, and retailed at one shilling. We couldn't find a date of publication, but I reckon it was around about the time when a book like this would have cost one shilling. Now I thought I was pretty knowledgable about textile art techniques, but there are stitches and methods in here that I have never heard of before. Alston stitch, Craig stitch, double cape plait stitch, oyster stitch, thorn stitch, rambler rose stitch. Can you imagine how exciting that is for me?

At a jumble sale style op shop in the village, I came across a plastic bag stuffed with bits and pieces that seemed to be the chucking-outs of someone's crafty-sewing things collection. Jackpot! Why is a retro sewing manual, or even the advertising, so much more inspiring than a modern one?

And there were also cross-stitch kits.

I loved cross-stitch so much when I was a kid. I didn't really take to early lessons in knitting, crochet and the textile arts in general when I was young. But one day during the early high school years I came across a cross-stitch pattern, and I was hooked. I loved that each stitch is so precise and perfectly governed by the pattern and the perfectly regular weave of the cloth. It's like maths, where there is only one right answer, and there's a very safe pattern of steps that will get you there every time, if followed correctly. I could lose myself in tiny stitches for hours at a time.

Then I grew up. Somewhere in my early twenties I realised that I have great gifts for design myself. I decided that I really should just work on my own designs. I thought it was a waste of my time and my talent to follow a pattern that somebody else had already made. I figured I could design my own cross-stitch patterns. Well, I could, and I still could, but I just haven't gotten around to it, and I haven't done any cross-stitch in all these years. I am aware that I miss it.

When I found these cross-stitch kits in the pile of retro chuck-outs in the oppy, a half-forgotten little piece of my heart cried out - please. Oh, okay. I don't need much convincing when I'm in a jumbly op shop. I could see that someone had bought the kits and opened them, unfolded everything, and then at some point stuffed them back into their cardboard envelopes. One day, it was the last time she did this, and the kits ended up at the op shop.

I've told you about the sadness I feel for beautiful works of handmade art that I find languishing in dusty piles in corners of op shops. Those pieces at least had been finished, and all the ends trimmed off, and laundered and put to use, for goodness knows how long. Imagine how devastated I feel for the efforts in these cross-stitch kits that have never even made it into the light of day. I don't know what I can do to right this tragedy, but I am compelled to rescue these pieces. I take the responsibility for finding them a loving home or a new purpose in life.

It was only once I got home that I opened them up to find what exactly was inside.

This little butterfly and rose are actually finished and ready to be cute little patches on something or other. The ladybird is incomplete, the thread still dangling from the last stitch that was put in place, and threaded to a needle that is pushed through one edge of the fabric in readiness to pick up where it was left off. All the kits have all their leftover threads included. And all the instructions and patterns. Somebody looked after these kits.

This large piece with a Spring Garden theme was about one-quarter completed, and then folded up and put away long enough for the accumulated dirt and dust of time to clearly mark the shape of the folds, and the rust from the needle to stain the fabric.

One thing I really love about cross-stitch is the back of the work. I used to plan my stitches, executing them in an order that would result in the neatest possible workings remaining on the back of the fabric. It creates an alternative image, an accidental, other-wordly art.

This May Gibbs kit was a great find. It looked so new and modern, just like a similar kit bought in shops today. Then I noticed the notice advising that royalties from the sale of this kit support spastic and crippled children - so that dates its production to a time when it was politically correct to use words like spastic and crippled - surely no later than the early 1980's. These bush babies are adorable. Of course they are, it's May Gibbs. It's so nearly finished. I can finish it.

The threads have all been organised onto cardboard holders and neatly labelled. So much care and respect. What could have happened that this lady would abandon all her careful work?

I'm going to rescue these babies from their limbo and bring them into the light of the world.

I have even bought some steel wool so I can clean the rust off the needle that was in place and use it to finish the work. Sometimes I wonder if my urges for thriftiness are getting out of control... it would have cost the same to buy a new packet of needles as I spent on the steel wool. But to know that I am stitching with the very same tools as the first stitcher used... ah, now that's romantic. Sentimentality wins the day.


  1. Lady Demelza thank you for inviting me into the sumptuous, precise, elegant and internal world of stiching! I am reminded of a Bryce Courtenay book called 4 Fires, set around the turn of the century. The last one, that is! The book details the jewish owned rag trade in Flinders St, Melbourne. And I am reminded of an old fashioned English (As in, The Empire the Sun recently Sat upon) rhyme for remembering the various's in the book. Courtneay apparently employs researchers for his novels to get all the facts correct. Although that's standard practice I suppose. Whatever happened to doing the research oneself I ask? Love Ansanity

  2. Ah, these are great! I really wish I could sew. I'm getting pretty good at knitting, but that's about as far as my textile skills go! When I yarnbomb things I sew them on very awkwardly, haha.