|Berlin work needle case, reproduction of a
19th century French pattern. Photo by Joe Coca
Do you like to follow a prepared pattern or design for your fiber art or start completely from scratch? Maybe your answer is "a little of both" or "it depends on the project."
Our "outside the box" art quilting instincts drive us to chart our own creative paths.
Yet we have such easy access to quilt patterns and projects online that can be downloaded in a matter of seconds, the temptation to at least start from a pattern or project is great. Is that "cheating"? (I'm talking about downloading a free or purchased pattern, not "lifting" another person's idea without permission.)
I'm thinking about this because, loving Victorian needlework as I do, I was reading an article about Berlin work during a layover recently when I felt the need to spend some time unplugged.
In the article (Piecework Magazine, November /December 2011), author Irina Stepanova explains that the Industrial Revolution pioneered the development of new high-quality materials for needlework. In Berlin in the early 1800s, embroidery patterns were first printed on a finely ruled grid and then painted by hand.
Thousands of these Berlin work patterns were printed and sold in needlework shops worldwide. Victorian taste and romanticism shaped the subject matter of Berlin work patterns, which explains why so many featured dogs, kittens, and pastoral scenes.
|Berlin work pattern intended as the top of
a carriage foot warmer.
Photo courtesy of Irina Stepanova
As charming as these patterns are, Berlin work has sparked a debate among needlework and embroidery enthusiasts, almost from the beginning.
On the one hand, mass production of these designs eased the way for thousands of middle-class women to take up needlework. On the other hand, detractors argue that Berlin work limited needleworkers' imagination and the number of different stitches they used and that its popularity was due more to the speed at which it was done than the aesthetic qualities of the finished product. (I just love a heated debate among needleworkers, don't you?)
In the 21st century, we also weigh the benefits of convenience versus originality. I absolutely value original design, but I have so little studio time available that I often long to go straight to "the fun part" of the stitching, needle felting, etc. And while I encourage newbie fiber artists to follow their own path, I also see the value of starting with a pattern, or even a kit, to help them learn the basics and gain confidence.
What do you think? Leave your comment below and let's see what kind of debate we threadheads can start!
By the way, if you are as passionate about the heritage of hand embroidery and other kinds of needlework as I am, you'll enjoy cozying up with Piecework Magazine.