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Relishing Embellishing

Jul 15, 2013
    
Carol Huebscher Rhoades's
1896 Beaded Cuffs
Carol Huebscher Rhoades's
Scilly Isle Socks

The new issue of PieceWork magazine is all about embellishments, a word that makes my heart sing! To me, embellishments are the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, and the ying to my yang.

I'm constantly arranging things in my house and adding a little "this or that" to make some vignette cuter or more colorful—so I guess I actually embellish knick knacks. In my paper crafting, I love gilding the lily by adding a little bling here and there; some ribbon or glitter or a jewel never hurt anything! More is sometimes not enough.

I've chosen many a knitting pattern just because I had the perfect button, or because I wanted to shop for the perfect button! My great-grandmother passed her button jar to my gramma, and my gramma passed it on to my mom. I have it now, and it's a treasure. The actual jar is a glass World War II-era Crisco jar, which is pretty special in itself. It contains buttons from four generations, which is amazing. I love it, and I display it in my living room.

The July/August 2013 issue of PieceWork is just wonderful. There are stories (and patterns!) about knitting and crochet, buttons, embroidery, and so much more!

Here's PieceWork editor Jeane Hutchins to tell you more about this neat issue, and to share her own button story!

The Embellished World

Derived from the French word embellir (to beautify), our word "embellish" dates to the mid-fourteenth century. Of course, people have been embellishing their clothing, their homes, and their bodies since time immemorial. In this issue of PieceWork, we explore all manner of embellishments, from buttons and knitted and embroidered socks to coronation cord and embroidered aprons. Helen Bonney's article, "Embellishment at All Costs," sets the stage:

"Shipwreck, piracy, and smuggling are all aspects of Cornish folklore and indeed of Cornish recorded history. Walk into any bookshop near the coast and there will be a whole stack of such titles for sale, both factual and fictional. In the eighteenth century, smugglers traded in forbidden luxuries such as brandy, silk fabrics, and quantities of lace with which to embellish the fashions of the rich and famous. Contraband these articles may have been, but they certainly were highly desirable."

Among the smugglers was the English sculptor and Royal Academy of Arts member Joseph Nollekens (1737–1823), who worked in Rome for a time where he created "life-size portrait busts of wealthy travelers visiting the Holy City on their Grand Tour. Each bust was skillfully modeled in plaster, then shipped home to London, where a ‘statuary' or stonemason would carve a replica in marble to be collected by the grand tourist on his return." Nollekens filled those plaster busts with silk stockings, gloves, and lace.

   
Christen Brown's vintage buttons
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.

When, in the seventeenth century, 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."

When I was five or six, I had a collection of buttons that numbered in the hundreds. I spent countless hours sorting and arranging them. I vividly remember that time.

If you enjoy the history of all things needlework, subscribe to PieceWork magazine today. And I hope you will discover several embellishments in this issue that strike your fancy!

P.S. Leave a comment and tell us about your button jar or your favorite way to embellish knitwear!


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Comments

on Jul 28, 2013 3:42 PM

Our mom used to shop at the clothing factory store for fabric and notions. They had a huge box of loose buttons. My brother and I would spend a happy hour or so digging in the box, finding our favorites, and seeing how many of a particular style we could find. Our mom loved the freedom to shop by herself, and my brother and I (both in our 60s), still remember fondly the  'digging for treasure' we did. It was such fun!

Carol-Ray wrote
on Jul 18, 2013 11:17 PM

tried to subscribe to piecework but kept getting an error message on my postal code so was unable to complete - is it me or?

MoonBear1 wrote
on Jul 15, 2013 6:24 PM

When my younger daughter was around 12 years she was given a t-shirt with a sitting cheetah on the front. She complained that it was 'ordinary' (!), and rarely wore it. I sorted around, found a discarded bling chain bracelet about the right size, took off the clasps and sewed the ends so it fitted 'around' the cheetah's neck like a collar.  That t-shirt was worn till it became threadbare in patches. That little chain made all the difference.

I too have a collection of buttons all from family clothes long discarded, but the buttons are specials and looking through them from time to time I can still remember the original garments. A while ago I bought a number of plastic containers of buttons on the internet, but was very disappointed when they arrived to find that they were all one-offs!