Traditional Schwalm Whitework

Some time ago I was allowed to view an extraordinary tablecloth. I want to share that experience with you. The tablecloth was made by piecing together several parts. And it seems that the single sections came from different old pieces. Only elaborately embroidered sections were cut out and recombined to establish one new piece.

Arguably the largest sections originate from about 200-year-old parade cushions – the width of the borders is consistent with those of parade cushions – however, the two similarly embroidered borders were worked by embroiderers possessing different levels of experience.

Between the wide borders there are smaller borders

and elaborately worked needle-weaving bands

with different patterns

and in different widths.

The main focus is the parade cushion borders. Even though the pieces are not in their original condition, so many details of the embroidery of those days can still be seen in them. Interesting discoveries can be made.

Especially eye catching are the huge tulip motifs (picture above: Cable stitches, Diagonal Cross stitches, and Rose stitches worked in a stair-step manner);

all are embroidered with similar patterns

but show definite differences in the embroiderer’s skill.

The other motifs, some of them also very large, have less conspicuous patterns.

Unusual are the many angular shapes, which were designed in different sizes.

Openwork patterns were used exclusively for filling the shapes.

Many motifs are outlined with long, closely worked and slanting Eyelash stitches. In addition, knife points, 2 short-2 long, and

half-eyelet scallops are found outlining shapes. Coral Knot stitches are only worked to establish tendrils and curved lines.

Stems were worked with Chain stitches and with the back of Wave stitches; small leaves were worked with Satin stitches.

Satin stitch motifs in geometrical forms and small Blanket stitch eyelets fill the spaces between the large motifs.

It is unique that thread withdrawing in the shapes was not made up to the edges. The cut edges were subsequently secured with Whip stitches.

Most interesting is the pattern of the heart motif (image above). It is an openwork pattern without a Cable stitch grid. Four – apparently only partly worked – Rose stitches were worked to form a square. Those squares were worked like a checkerboard over the entire shape. One Four-Sided stitch was placed in each remaining section. I tried to replicate this pattern; I will share the result in a future article.
In contrast is the similar, but common, pattern (image below) of the counterpart. It was worked with squares of Rose stitches in a Cable stitch grid.

I hope you have enjoyed examining this very peculiar and individually developed embroidery. It is truly something that cannot be seen every day.

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Historical Schwalm Whitework and Machine-Made Lace

Schwalm people often considered ready-made items more valuable than precious hand-made items. So they liked to add machine-made lace to their elaborate and finely embroidered cushions, bed coverings, and door hangings.

Especially popular were the so-called bell borders that edged some projects.

These were fine machine-made cotton lace bands combined with prominent and fancy knotted fringes.

A door hanging from 1845 with a cross stitch crown,

a tall whitework border with openwork needleweaving bands in the middle part,

and, at the bottom, more openwork pattern bands bordered with double Peahole and Four-Sided stitch hems on top and on bottom got a bell border for its bottom edging.

An old bed covering with a grand Schwalm crown, elaborate needleweaving hems, and bobbin lace inserts

got an edging of machine-made lace.

Also a bed covering from about 1860 – unique and elaborately embroidered –

got such a machine-made edging.

This piece, from 1839, and more outstanding examples of the finest whitework embroidery combined with machine-made lace can be found in the museum of Holzburg. This small village museum is always worth a visit.

Besides these machine-made lace edgings, the Schwalm people often inserted machine-made lace bands between hand embroidery.
On the pincushion in the image below, the machine-made band is bordered by needleweaving hems on both sides.

A bed covering shows a cross stitch crown, many different hem patterns, inserted machine-made lace,

and two kinds of machine-made lace edging.

The museum in Holzburg has an interesting bed covering on display. It is elaborately embroidered with elements of early Schwalm whitework and boasts a grand Schwalm crown showing the year 1822.

Additionally, it is decorated with an inserted band of machine-made lace and machine-made lace edging. I was kindly allowed to show these images on my blog. The partial details cannot show the full spendor of the exhibit, but one can get an idea of the magnificence. The museum welcomes every visitor interested in the details of such selected works.

Transition from Early to Later Schwalm Whitework (3)

The third of my treasures from the transitional period between early and later Schwalm whitework is in its original condition. It is a bodice jacket that was, after the embroidery had been completed, dyed black and then waxed to create a chintz-like finish.

The piece is worked on old handwoven linen with a 14/18/cm thread count – a relatively coarse linen for this purpose. It is embroidered on the front edges and on the sleeve cuffs.

The front edges show a three-centimeter-wide border with ornamental embroidery and interlaced Straight stitches on both sides, a three-unit needle-weaving band, and needlelace.

The sleeve cuffs show wider sections of embroidery. Four different small borders, each 3 cm high, were combined to create the design. Such an arrangement with separated small borders is rarely seen.
Only circle motifs were used. Chain or wide Stem stitches and additionally 2 short-2 long, Blanket stitch points, or Blanket stitch scallops outline the shapes. Leaves are made with Satin stitches.

The bottom edge is decorated with a 1.5 cm high needlelace

followed by a border showing stems, tendrils, and small circles inside some circle motifs stitched with Coral Knot stitches. These are the only Coral Knot stitches on the sleeve cuffs.

All five motifs of this border were embroidered without thread withdrawing. Two circles were filled with a Blanket stitch eyelet.

Three circles were filled with small circles stitched with Coral Knots surrounded by interlaced Straight stitches in the shape of a star.

The second border shows no Coral Knot stitches, but shapes with thread withdrawing. All withdrawn thread patterns of this piece, except one, are Limet filling patterns – this means cutting 1, leaving 3.
Two of the five circles have Four-Sided stitch patterns,

two have a combination of alternating rows of Four-Sided stitches and Cable stitches. This combination is rarely seen as Limet filling pattern.

Also notable – well visible on top of the above shape – is the way of working 2 short-2 long. One round with densely worked Satin stitches of the same length is followed by a second round with pairs of Satin stitches worked between the stitches of the first round.

The fifth pattern is made with Rose stitches.

The third border shows shapes without thread withdrawing. All five circles have the same patterns – triple Blanket stitches stitched through the fabric, not lying on top.

This border is bordered on top and on bottom with one row of wide stem stitches.

The fourth border includes six motifs. One shape (on the right in the above picture) is filled with a simple drawn thread filling pattern – Wave stitches. Two circles have Four-Sided stitch patterns, and three have Rose stitch patterns.

The initials CDNASI, divided by small Cross stitch ornaments, have been added but, unfortunately, no year.

In this example, we see some elements that are typical of early Schwalm whitework: wide Stem stitches for stems and outlining some shapes, filling patterns made with decorative stitches, and filling patterns made with triple Blanket stitches.

Transition from Early to Later Schwalm Whitework (2)

Transition from Early to Later Schwalm Whitework (2)

The second of my treasures from the transitional period between early and later Schwalm whitework is also no longer in its original condition. It was a parade cushion border but has been changed into a table runner.

The piece is worked on old handwoven linen with a 19/cm thread count. The motif border measures 14 cm X 80 cm. It is bordered on top and on bottom by a 5.5 cm high nine-unit needle-weaving band with a Peahole hem on both sides.

This piece also shows only a slight combination of both styles of Schwalm whitework. In contrast to the border from 1804 this border is very densely embroidered. Every small space is filled with stitches.

All large motifs were filled with openwork patterns, but many of the smaller motifs were filled with patterns without withdrawing threads. (Smaller shapes were common in early Schwalm whitework, whereas larger shapes were preferred in the later style. The larger the shapes, the more difficult it is to fill them with early patterns.)

The center shows a design of a heart with three big tulips, two circles, and two shapes adapted in their form to the remaining space. Theses two shapes have Rose stitch patterns; all other shapes have needle-weaving patterns, whereas the two center shapes have figured needle-weaving patterns.

A flower and a flowerpot bordered by big birds can be seen to the left and to the right of the center design. Smaller shapes without thread withdrawing and filled with early patterns are seen interspersed between the larger motifs.

There are hearts filled with leaves,

or flowers,

or Satin stitches only.

And there is a small tulip filled with a pattern made with pairs of Blanket stitches.

The same pattern made with pairs of Blanket stitches is found in hearts on the bottom left

and the bottom right of the border. Whereas there is only one large heart on the left, there are two smaller hearts on the right (unfortunately, a section of the embroidery is hidden by the seam made during repurposing).
As you can see, the design is not really symmetric. Three of the birds have a relatively vertical position while the fourth’s position is nearly horizontal.

In this example Coral Knot stitches and Chain stitches were worked, but no Stem stitches. Many small tendrils are found. The outlines were embroidered using one or two rows of Chain stitches, and with one row of Coral Knot stitches and an additional row of Chain stitches. Additional outlining was made with 2 short-2 long, Blanket stitch points, half-eyelet scallops, Satin stitch points and interlaced Straight stitches (see Schwalm Curved Lines, Narrow Borders, and Ornamental Stitches).

Interlaced Straight stitches are found not only as outlining, like here around the circle,

but also as decorative stitches, like these on the neck of the bird,

or on top of the tulip.

The needle-weaving figures of the different shapes did not turn out well.

A rarely seen openwork Rose stitch pattern was embroidered in the middle part of the flower pot.

In this example, we see some elements that are typical of early Schwalm whitework: in all there are seventeen small motifs without thread withdrawing. Five of these are filled with patterns made with pairs of Blanket stitches, four with Satin stitches, four with Blanket stitch leaves, two with Blanket stitch eyelets and interlaced Straight stitches, and two with small flowers (and tendrils).

Transition from Early to Later Schwalm Whitework (1)

About two hundred years ago, early Schwalm Whitework gradually transitioned to the later style of Schwalm whitework. The transition took place over a relatively short amount of time. Unsurprisingly, since the Schwalm region is narrow and the transitional period was short, it is difficult to find traditional examples with a combination of both.

A customer who loves both early and later patterns asked for historical examples from the transitional period containing both. I was able to find three pieces in my collection that have a slight combination. I will show these treasures on my blog over time; here is the first. Unfortunately, it is no longer in its original condition. Because of the width, I think it was once used as a door hanging.

The piece is worked on linen with a 19/cm thread count. The border in all measures 20 cm X 36 cm; the embroidery only has a height of 16 cm. The embroidery is bordered with two different needle-weaving hems – one with spiders and the other without.

The year 1804, Cross stitch initials, and small Cross stitch ornaments are all additions. Unfortunately, threads dyed yellow or gold fade sooner than threads dyed other colours. In the enlargement I can see the initials AKRHSI separated by ornaments, two birds,

and ANO 1804.

It is notable that no Coral Knot stitches and no Chain stitches were worked. The outlines were embroidered using wide Stem stitches, Eyelash stitches, and Satin and Blanket stitch scallops.

Stems were also embroidered with wide Stem stitches. Some stems were made with a double line filled with Herringbone stitches, as was common in early Schwalm whitework. Leaves were worked with Blanket stitches. No tendrils were stitched.

The only filling pattern without thread withdrawing is found in the two areas on the left and on the right of the center motif.

It is made with pairs of Blanket stitches. The Blanket stitches are not lying on top of the fabric; rather, they are stitched through the linen.

The six circles were filled with two different patterns of needlelace.

All other motifs were filled with openwork patterns.

The above motif shows a Rose stitch pattern in an openwork Cable stitch grid.

The center motif also has an openwork pattern, but without a Cable stitch grid. Rose stitches and Four-Sided stitches create the pattern.

I have never before seen an openwork pattern made with a combination of Rose and Four-Sided stitches.

The small heart was filled with the same pattern, but thread withdrawing was made by cutting 3 – leaving 3.

The large heart in the center was filled with a Rose stitch pattern in openwork without a Cable stitch grid.

Also without a Cable stitch grid, rows of Rose stitches alternate with rows of Cable stitches.

The last motif shows a Rose stitch pattern worked in an openwork Cable stitch grid.

In this example, we see a couple of elements that are typical of early Schwalm whitework: wide stem stitches instead of Coral Knot stitches for the outlining and the stems, double-line stems filled with Herringbone stitches. In addition, there is an absence of tendrils and one filling pattern without thread withdrawing.