My three days learning Appenzell embroidery with Verena Schiegg were very special. I learned a lot, both embroidery wise and teaching technique wise. As three days are not nearly enough to conquer any new embroidery technique, I am certain to return soon to Appenzell in Switzerland. For those of you who haven't seen the video in last week's post, I highly recommend it as it gives you an understanding of Appenzell embroidery in its historical context.
But first things first. As most of you are probably aware of: Switzerland is expensive! So me and my friend Luise needed a cheap place to sleep. Luckily, Luise had been before and new just such a place: nunnery Maria der Engel in the centre of Appenzell village. The late 17th century nunnery has seen very little modernisation. The last Capuchin nuns left in 2008. Since then the nunnery is run by a small group of dedicated women. They mainly cater for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Earlier this year, a Cistercian nun took up residence in the nunnery and hopes to start a new monastic community. Below is a picture of my cell. Do follow the link to their website for more pictures of this truly special place.
From Maria der Engel, it was only a short walk up the hill to Verena's home. She has a cosy room on the second floor of a traditional Swiss house in which she teaches. Verena teaches individuals and small groups for a fee of 110 Swiss francs per day. This fee is comparable to that of the Royal School of Needlework.
Appenzell embroidery uses a limited number of surface stitches combined with drawn and pulled thread work and a form of needle lace. As I am an absolute novice in fine white work, I decided to start work on a surface embroidery sampler. It is in essence a page from a catalogue. Prospective customers could choose their design from such a catalogue and have it stitched. Several different stitchers would work on the piece, each with her own field of competence.
This is the result of three days stitching. Verena had transferred the pattern onto the linen with the help of a Stöpfel (pricking), charcoal powder and a fixative. The Stöpfel is made with a machine and forms a separate craft not executed by the stitcher. The holes need to be fine and quite close together in order for the powder to form a continuous line to stitch on. An art in itself.
One of the characteristics of Appenzell embroidery is the use of light blue cotton yarn of different thicknesses. My particular sampler will be stitched with a #55. However, the finest threads are about #160 used for the needle lace parts. Unfortunately, both the very fine linen we stitched on and the special threads are very hard to come by nowadays.
As Appenzell embroidery was made for export, it was important to be economical with time and materials whilst still achieving a masterpiece. This becomes apparent when taking a closer look at the Spengen (padding technique) used under the Blatten (satin stitches). These produce long stitches on the top and small stitches at the back. In this way, thread is saved with the padding itself, but also during the later satin stitching as there is no bulk on the back for the satin stitch to also go around. You'll see the padding stitches in the picture above (red arrow). Each and every bit of the above design is padded with at least two threads before being satin stitched. Only exception: the tiny little eyelets forming the hearts of the flowers. To give you an idea of size: the above stitched area is only 28x32 mm! Part of the design is filled with tiny seeding.
Getting a smooth finish and keeping the sheen on the thread will be beyond my grip for a while. This only comes with practice. From tomorrow onwards until Sunday, I will be stitching at the Pilatus Haus in Oberammergau again. This will give me plenty of time to make a good head start with my sampler.
I will leave you with a picture of the beautiful alpine surroundings of Appenzell. If you are interested in learning this very fine white work technique, do contact Verena. There are no books from which you could learn the typical Appenzeller way of stitching. In addition, the materials are very hard to come by and are either old left overs or especially made for Verena. Before embarking on learning such a fine embroidery technique do keep in mind that you'll need very good eyesight, diligence and a patience butt to sit on!
Hope to see you next week for more on the pulled and drawn thread work and the needle lace involved in Appenzeller embroidery. Happy stitching!
Jessica M. Grimm
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