Would you like to see one of my most prized possessions?
You might have seen it before; it has already made a couple brief appearances on the site. But today it deserves a feature of its own.
It’s my hoop. To be more specific, my circa 1905 Gibbs “Princess” brand 6-inch embroidery hoop:
That’s right: For the better part of 20-odd years, I have used an antique hoop for nearly all of my embroidery, and it may well have seen more than 100 years of steady use!
Gibbs Mfg Co, out of Canton, Ohio, was once the largest maker of embroidery hoops in the world. This 1916 ad is for their more popular style, the Duchess. (I have one of those, too.)
My Duchess and Princess hoops came to me from an estate auction in central Iowa (where I grew up) in the early 1990s. I don’t know their provenance before that, or anything about the needlewomen who owned and used them before me, but I can say these things were built to last! And they are built well. The hype from the ads wasn’t. It’s all true. They really do have the best tension and hold of any hoop, ever—certainly any I’ve ever used, at least. Unlike modern hoops, they’re not adjustable. They don’t need to be. (Technically, Gibbs calls them “automatically adjustable.”) The secret of the Princess hoop is what Gibbs called “the bowspring,” that curvy band of metal shown below (click for full size):
It allows the hoop to flex to fit thick or thin fabrics and hold them taut while you stitch. I’ve stitched everything from lightweight needlepoint canvas to heavily-fulled wool kersey, to the finest Irish linens and cotton batistes, and it’s brilliant at all of them. The wood is finely turned, and further burnished to incredible smoothness by its long lifetime in use. The 6″ size is easy on the hands and nicely portable. Gibbs made these hoops in seven sizes, from 4 to 12″. My Duchess hoop is one of the larger ones, and I also have a 10″ Princess from a different auction. But the 6s are my favorites.
One of my favorite aspects of being a needlewoman is the connection I feel to generations, to centuries, of needlewomen before me. I don’t have a personal needlework heritage in my own family (my mom was/is a woodworker; and although my grandmothers each sewed all their clothes, stitching was not a pastime we shared or ever did together). So I am connected to my stitching forebears most strongly through my equipment.
So when the Historical Sew Monthly August challenge, “Heritage and Heirlooms,” came up, I knew immediately what I wanted to do.
Although I’ve been stitching nearly all my life, I have only recently joined the Embroiderers Guild of America. One of our first tasks as members is to design and stitch a namebadge to wear to meetings (or they will fine you! A whole 25 cents!!). A while back I stitched (in my 95-year-old hoop!) this little fleur-de-lis, but never made it up into anything. Since I use that piece as my avatar on my online stitching groups, it seemed the appropriate candidate for my badge. I pulled it out (found the floss to go with it!), and added my name and the date I joined the EGA.
The back of the badge is a scissor (and class fees!) pocket. The backing fabric is a scrap of printed corduroy from my very first “historical” costume ever, a cloak I made in high school. I still love that fabric (and have worn the cloak as recently as this century). That jacquard trim wandered into the party, and the scissor charm and the beautiful fleur-de-lis scissors were birthday gifts from Milord.
I am thrilled to pieces with how this little thing came out, even if it did get a bit carried away! Gilding the lily, anyone?! I have done all kinds of needlework in my lifetime and don’t seem to have any particular style or leaning toward what I make. But this piece… this one is very, very me. I think it’s a perfect expression of my personal needlework heritage, and I will love wearing it.
…But while I was prepping this blog post, doing the research on my hoops’ history, I realized I needed to stitch something from the hoop’s own era! So I whipped up this little whitework hanky. The design is from Wm. Briggs’s Album of Transfer Patterns from c.1900 (Dover 1986 reprint—also period-appropriate to when I began using the hoops!). As my 1905 sister stitcher might well have done, I sent away for the fancy work (handkerchiefs) via mail order. The cotton is fine/sheer enough that I was able to trace it directly over the page in the book. The book does not suggest which stitches or weights of thread to use, but the design itself does. I used primarily a mix of stem stitch and lazy daisies (detached chainstitch), with a couple fly stitches and straight stitches tossed in for good measure. Two strands of floss for the bolder bits; one for the finer ones. I like the way the stranded cotton photographs against the sheer hanky fabric.
So there you have it. From 1905 to 2015, my beloved heirloom hoop in good use.
What the item is: 100 Years of Embroidery Heritage. Whitework Handkerchief, and Renaissance Revival Chatelaine, stitched on an antique embroidery hoop from 1905.
The Challenge: #8, August, Heirlooms & Heritage
Fabric: For the whitework, cotton batiste ready-made handkerchief with crochet cotton lace. For the chatelaine, natural linen with metallic gold accents. The backing fabric is vintage printed corduroy from the early 1990s.
Pattern: Whitework, Wm Briggs & Co Album of Transfer Patterns, 1900. Chatelaine, Fleur de lis motif from Abbey Lane Designs “A New Beginning” spot sampler, 2005 by Susan Gastler. Construction, My own, based on previous finishes.
Year: Whitework, 1905. Chatelaine, 2015.
Notions: Whitework, DMC stranded cotton. Coton a broder would have been the preferred choice then and now, but stranded cotton was also widely available and what I happened to have on hand. Chatelaine, DMC rayon embroidery floss, jacquard trim, cardstock & batting for mounting, twisted cord, scissors charm, and pearl-head straight pins.
How historically accurate is it? The whitework is extremely accurate: Original period design, stitched on reproduction (or rather, ongoing-production!) period fancy goods, with authentic antique equipment from the era. About the only inaccurate part was the electric light I used to stitch it by! The chatelaine is also “accurate” to 2015—a modern heirloom using heirloom tools and modern/vintage materials. 🙂
Hours to complete: Whitework, about an hour. Chatelaine embroidery, unknown. Chatelaine finishing, a little over two hours, maybe? (Unless we’re counting Thinking Time, in which case it’s closer to about 10!)
First worn: I debuted the chatelaine last week at my EGA meeting. I don’t really know when I’ll have an occasion to carry the hanky—perhaps it will go in a hope chest to be passed down or discovered by someone in another 80 years.
Total cost: Oh, I wish I knew! The hoops came in an auction lot twenty-five years ago or so, and I have absolutely no idea how much they cost or what they might be worth. I have seen them on ebay and etsy for wildly varying costs, and typically they come in lots of several older hoops. I think you could expect to pay around $20 US for a lot at auction; probably much less at a yard sale or thrift store for a single hoop. The hankies were 3 for $10. The embroidery design came from a Dover book that I purchased, but many similar period needlework books are digitized online for free. For the chatelaine, everything came from stash except the pins.
This has been my very favorite HSF challenge so far. What a wonderful way to do honor to those who came before us, and to the ongoing work that we do.
(And for anyone keeping track, these mark Projects #6 and #7 of my Project 41 Challenge.)