Celebrating Important Family Events!

I love weddings.  This past weekend, I attended a gorgeous and pretty elaborate event to celebrate the marriage of my cousin.  It was only the second wedding I've ever attended, and maybe because of that, I had been preparing for months.  What to give? was on my mind from the day they announced their engagement.  

Some of my favorite possessions are linens or tableware that my mother (or Grandmother!) received at their weddings- beautiful, timeless pieces that my family has managed to hold on to.  I don't really have the funds to contribute to a set of silver, so I tend to take the handmade route.  I had a pillow in mind.

I've been collecting embroidery floss for years, but seldom put my skills to the test.  My grandmother embroidered, and taught me the basics when I was young.  I remember a book of Crewel embroidery she showed me, with twisted and antiquated forms of birds, deer and bright, bulbous plants.  She had little patience for dainty things, and her study featured a heavy foot stool upholstered in rough wool, hand stitched by her, in abstract streaks of red-orange and green.

I had recently been inspired by this series of posts by Kate Davies about the Great Tapestry of Scotland, which is truly astonishing in both scale and detail.  It's the result of a generous effort in the spirit of recording history and celebrating ancestry.  The tapestry also displays a collection of native plants and animals as an assemblage of cultural identity, highly connected to the land.  

I decided to ground my design in the land where my cousin met her husband, and where they now live.  I would ring their names in Colorado wildflowers, on a simple decorative pillow they could keep in their home.

The original design was very elaborate, with 6 kinds of flowers packed into a dense wreath.  I didn't know much about choosing materials for this kind of project, but had planned to use a heavy linen for the pillowcase, and settled on Heavy/Rustic linen from Fabrics-store.com.  When it came to transferring the design, I used the lightbox method, holding the fabric up to a bright window, like tracing paper.  This turned out to be nearly impossible due to the "raw" quality of the fabric.  The darker strands show up like a net when backlit.  I ended up just centering the names on the cloth, but decided not to trace every flower's placement onto the fabric.  Thank goodness!!  That decision gave me the freedom to adjust the design as I went along.  I began with Columbine, then Indian Paintbrush, then Asters, then Red Clover.  I ended up with many fewer flowers than I had planned, but I think they needed the room.  

All of the flowers were stitched in DMC Cotton Embroidery Floss, and feature a variety of techniques: split stitch, chain stitch, satin stitch, and french knots, among others.  I looked to needlenthread.com for guidance, encouragement, and inspiration. (I mean, this is ridiculous.)

The very first attempt- these columbines took forever.  The first hint that I'd have to pare down the design

The back of the finished work.  I paid more attention to thread conservation as I went along.

I worked on the lettering last, not sure what colors to use until I saw the flowers finished.  Gold, white, and green were the strongest options, and I settled on a little spool of Belding Corticelli "Pure Silk Twist" in a brilliant gold color.  White and green worked well to define the knot in the arrow, drawing the eye to the center without outshining the names, and white accents gave the lettering an embossed quality, and made them pop off the linen.

I certainly did not expect to finish this project on time, but I found myself, two days before the wedding, with a neat ring of flowers, and all my ends tucked and tied off! (This Never happens.)

Anyway, it was time to break out the sewing machine!

After de-hooping my linen, I gave it a gentle steam-iron from behind, easing out the wrinkles on the edges, and the impression of the hoop.  I worked gingerly around the embroidery ends, and made sure to Avoid The Silk in the center.  High heat can wreck silk, and remove its natural lustre.  The hoop impression lingered, but I'm sure it will ease up over time.  I trimmed the fabric to a 16" square, and cut two halves with ample seam allowance for the back, pulling a few threads from the edges to keep true with the grain.  I gave the back pieces an easy 1" hem (for buttonholes), pinned them overlapping, and pinned the front and back pieces together.  I stitched twice around the whole piece, and bound the eagerly fraying edges with some narrow bias tape.

At the start of this project, I was happy to find a 16" feather-down insert at Crate&Barrel, for only $10.  (It's amazing how expensive these things can be!)  I now gleefully stuffed it into the case, and it was a perfect fit.  There was some rejoicing before I set to making buttonholes.  I marked out three buttonholes at 4" intervals, cut them, and bound them by hand.  I would have happily done this with a machine, but I have a vintage Singer which is limited to a straight stitch.  I sewed on some little silver domed buttons, and that was it.

Here's the finished thing, its handsome front...

...and its cute little bottom!

I was as happy to make it as I was to give it away, and I hope they keep it, like a seal on their home, to remind them how much they are loved.

Congratulations, L&L, and enjoy!