Last Friday, I attended a course on Silesian whitework by Elisabeth Bräuer at ArtTextil in Dachau. This particular form of whitework was practiced by the German population of Silesia, which after the second World War became part of Poland. Those Germans that had not fled for the Russian army, were expelled by the new rulers and fled into Germany. They brought with them their cultural heritage and folk costumes. The linen apron worn on feast days and for other special occasions was richly decorated with whitework and needlelace.
On Friday, we started by practicing the surface stitches with cotton a broder (#16 - #30) on a scrap of linen. This particular form of whitework only uses buttonhole stitch, satin stitch, french knots, chain stitch and eyelets. As with for instance Richelieu, parts are cut out and the rim is strengthened with buttonhole stitch. The order of work is a little different though. You start by outlining the design line with a double row of closely worked running stitch. Then you make cuts in the middle and you turn the unwanted fabric flaps under. The edge is then fastened with not too closely worked buttonhole stitch. Any unwanted fabric bits still protruding on the back, are then cut off.
The so formed holes are then filled with needlelace using crochet yarn #80. There are about 19 different forms of this needlelace. However, only five different patterns were ever used on one apron. I presume that using more would result in an unbalanced and unpleasing design. The needle lace consists of differently worked buttonhole stitches and is anchored in the previously worked buttonhole rim. The aim is to create a very open lace. This results in a striking contrast between the surface stitches done in a thick type of thread and the lace being worked very open in a thin type of thread. I must confess that I find this contrast not very esthetically pleasing.
One of the things I had to come to terms with was the very different technical aspects of working the surface stitches. I am a stabber and I don't sew my embroidery stitches. And I am simply too old to change :). It always takes me a while to translate the demonstrated 'sewing' into 'stabbing'. Furthermore, I am used to outline with split stitch before I cover with satin stitch. Silesian women used running stitch. Since I wanted to learn this particular type of embroidery, I went with it. But it wasn't a success. My leaves aren't as crisp as they normally would be.
Another technical improvement I would make, concerns the cutting of the fabric. I would outline with one row of closely worked running stitch, then cut and then secure the unruly flaps of fabric with my second row of running stitch. This prevents the fabric pieces from being caught up in the subsequent buttonhole stitching.
This is how far I have come preparing for coming Friday which sees the second part of our course when we will learn to do the different Hirschberg lace patterns. I will tell you all about it in next week's blog post. Would you like to try your hand at this particular form of whitework? No problem. Elisabeth Bräuer has kindly published the instructions on her website. Do browse through the different articles, although they are all in German, they do have lovely pictures of embroidered Silesian folk costumes.
Jessica M. Grimm
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