The Book of Fine Linen

August 26, 2010


Françoise de Bonneville has put together a lovely book tracing the history of household linens for a bride’s trousseau. The photographs are beautiful and the content is quite interesting. There are only five chapters in the entire book beginning with the vanishing tradition of the trousseau  and ending with the ornamentation of these various textiles; where “fine linen becomes extraordinary”.  This coffee table style book would be a nice addition to your collection and can be obtained through the usual on-line sources. 



I wasn’t sure I would like this book because I’m always a little apprehensive about price guides; especially one  published in 1999. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Elizabeth Kurella writes about a variety of textiles organized into three groups: vintage fashion, home furnishings and “fabrics of society” (e.g. flages, feed sacks and samplers). She even includes information on those unfinished items we’ve all found at flea markets and antique malls. This book is dedicated to the appreciation of vintage textiles and Kurella teaches the reader how to look at a textile, what to concentrate on and what each feature means. If you want to learn to “read” your vintage pieces this book is a good place to start. It is available from the usual on-line retailers.


This coffee-table style book, written by Lanto Synge, the former chief executive of Mallett Plc, a British antique business well-known for furniture and historic textiles, is very much an “art history” book. Synge sets the tone in his introduction when he states that “the history of decorative needlework is intriguing and diverse, with a world-wide richness and broad, human implications. A study of it takes us into many periods and facets of social history, since embroidery is one of man’s oldest skills, referring us to each branch of the fine and decorative arts and pointing to fascinating interplays of inspiration and design generally.” From this jumping off point, Synge discusses the important aspects of decorative needlework from the 5th century BC up to the 20th century.

From all of this information, one of the things that struck me most was a sentence at the beginning of the bibliography; and one with which I agree wholeheartedly. It is Synge’s opinion that “reading good descriptions of old textiles can be nearly as enjoyable for a reasonably experienced enthusiast as seeing them.” If you would like to see what else is in the book you can find it at all of the usual retail outlets.

Embroidery: A History

July 6, 2010


I was not expecting a lot when I picked up this book. I figured it would be just another history of embroidery. I am happy to say that I was mistaken. Yes, it is a history book but from the English perspective. There is a good deal of information about ecclesiastical embroidery in general as well Opus Anglicanum specifically. There is also an entire chapter devoted to the influence on embroidery of the Arts and Crafts Movement. What else I really like about this book are the little extras: diagrams and sketches used to illustrate many of the included examples; a detailed timeline relating events in history with embroidery and the monarchs/personalities of the time and mini biographies of various techniques, schools and societies along with the “movers and shakers” in the embroidery world. As Pamela Warner explains in her introduction, “this book has been written to provide a concise, non-academic and easy-to-read historical background for students and all who are interested in embroidery.” To her I would say “job well done.”


This is Jill Nordfors Clark’s second book about needle lace. It probably would have helped me to read the other one first. Despite that, I respect Clark’s premise that this book “is not meant to be an historical document, but rather a source of information and inspiration.” She does a nice job of mixing the old with the new to inspire her readers to use the old techniques used to make needle lace and create something very new and modern. If needle made lace is your cup of tea this book is for you. It and her earlier volume, Needle Lace and Needleweaving, are both available from on-line resources.  



This book is actually written as if it were two separate books. Part 1, which I really enjoyed, is the story of lace in three well written chapters. Annette Feldman, has a nice “story telling” quality to her writing and fills the chapters with interesting anecdotes about the history of lace. Part 2 is a pattern book with seven more chapters including directions for tatting, hairpin lace and knitted and crocheted lace. I wasn’t as wild about Part 2 because there really wasn’t anything unique about it; granted, it was written in 1975. The book will probably be hard to find in the major retailers but is definitely available (new and used) at  

Bonita Bordado

May 4, 2010


Pretty embroidery, and so much more, is exactly what this book is about. Masako Takahashi’s Mexican Textiles-Spirit and Style is a beautiful book with pictures that explode with color. The six types of textiles she explores range from clothing, cotton, woolens, Oaxacan rugs, linens and lace and speciality fabrics. The book’s introduction explains that, for many historical and cultural reasons, Mexico is one of the few remaining countries that still produces a variety of handmade textiles. It is a “rich and enduring” tradition that continues to exist in a high-tech world.

Of particular interest is Takahashi’s declaration that hand embroidery is “alive and well” in Mexico. Puebla women execute satin stitches on table linens; Michoacan embroideries depict scenes of local village life; the Tarahumara people of Chihuahua sew three-dimensional fabric dolls and the signature dresses of San Antonio, Oaxaca are made so intricately they are called hazme si puedes which means “make me if you can”.

This book, published by Chronicle Books, is available through bookstores and on-line retailers such as The photographs alone make it well worth adding this book to you collection.

Silk in Africa

April 27, 2010


This is one in a series of fabric folios published by the British Museum and it is a wonderful introduction to African silk weaving and embroidery. The informative text, written by Christopher Spring and Julie Hudson, divides the African continent into five geographic areas: North Africa, Ethiopia, West Africa-Nigeria, Ghana and Madagascar. The authors pack in lots of information about the history, traditions and current (as of 2002) state of textile production in these regions. For example, I learned that while silk weaving in North Africa is essentially a man’s activity, embroidery is a woman’s art. I also learned that silk has played an important part in the social and religious life of Ethiopians since the 4th century and that in the early Islamic society of West Africa gifts of clothing were presented to officials or member of the court to reward service and loyalty. Added to this interesting mix of historical and cultural reporting are wonderful full color photographs of over 30 pieces from the British Museum’s collection of African embroideries. What a fantastic overview of African silk textiles!

This book, as well as others in the series, is available for purchase from the usual on-line retailers including You can also order directly from the museum book shop at  


This is a coffee table style book well worth reading! Shelia Paine, a world expert in textiles and tribal societies, explores embroidery from a slightly different angle. It is her belief that the primary function of embroidery is “to decorate or embellish textiles already created to meet man’s basic needs.” She does an outstanding job of defending this hypothesis. In her introduction she explores the symbolism and motifs used in embroidery as well as the social indicators of embroidery in different cultures.

The substance of the book comes, however, in her Guide to Identification in which she divides the world into geographical regions and then investigates and analyzes the textiles indigenous to those areas. Her text is supplemented by 508 illustrations and line drawings; over 300 of them in color. She also includes in-depth explanations of the symbolism of motifs; religion’s influence on embroidery; and embroidery as “magic” to ward against evil.  Awesome stuff! 



This book has a little bit of everything that adds up to greatness! It is divided into sections on needlepoint, embroidery, and counted thread with each section including an introduction to the technique, its’ history, the materials needed and basic instructions on getting started. Each section concludes with an extensive stitch directory containing diagrams, close-up full color photographs and easy to follow directions. Also included are a variety of projects for each technique. This book is one in a series edited by Donna Kooler, founder,president, designer and creative director of Kooler Design Studio, Inc. It is a worthwhile addition to your library.