The word “embellish” is derived from the French word embellir, “to beautify.” Since time immemorial, people have been embellishing their clothing, their homes, and their bodies. For the July/August issue of PieceWork, we explore all manner of embellishments, from buttons and knitted and embroidered socks to coronation cord and embroidered aprons. And somewhere along the line, someone actually figured out how to embellish filet crochet—seriously!
We found Unique Buffet Set in Raised Filet Crochet in a 1930 issue of Needlecraft Magazine. We just couldn’t pass this up, so we asked frequent contributor Ava Coleman to adapt the instructions and make one section of the set for this issue. It’s intriguing.
Helen Bonney’s article, “Embellishment at All Costs,” details the smuggling that was rampant in the 18th century along England’s Cornish coast. (You’ll be amazed at some of the ingenious ways that were devised to make this task easier.) Eventually, the law won and “smuggling was no longer viable as a way of life.” In the Scilly Isles, a group of islands off the Cornish coast, the loss of income from smuggling was particularly devastating, and the English government stepped in with various programs designed to help the people earn much-needed income.
One of these organizations was the School of Industry for the Scilly Isles. England’s Prince Regent, who would become George IV, became the group’s patron, and the organization decreed that “lamb’s-wool stockings should be knit by some poor families on the islands, as a present to their illustrious patron.” The finished stockings were “generally admired by most of the respectable inhabitants.” And the stockings also were embellished—the initials G. P. R. (for George Prince Regent) and a wreath were embroidered on the white stockings in red silk. Carol Rhoades knitted and embellished our project socks.
Then there are buttons, a form of embellishment that has been used for centuries. Erica Patberg, in her article on the unfortunately named but exquisite silk thread Death Head buttons, explains that by 1250 in France, members of a powerful button guild were making miniature works of art from precious metals and gemstones. In the seventeenth century, when French tailors began creating buttons with silk thread, button guild “members called for legislation to make buttons made with needle and thread illegal. The legislation proved unenforceable, and war, literally, ensued. The tailors won the first battle in la guerre des boutons (the War of the Buttons), but the powerful button guild struck back with searches of wardrobes, fines, and arrests. This unrest in the French button monopoly opened the door for the enterprising English to enter the lucrative button trade.” Oh my.
These are just some of delightful examples of embellishment in this issue, and there’s so much more. I’m sure you’ll find the perfect embellishment!