Sunday, March 3, 2019

Weekend Review: Stitch Encyclopedias

February was full of thematic sewing: it was not only Black History Month, and a celebration of Menswear at the Sewcialists, it was also National Embroidery Month, at least in the US. I had to bump some of the stitching books I use to this month instead to fit them all in!

I'm sharing two books today, both called stitch encyclopedias -- one I have had for a while now, the other I just picked up the other day.

First, the new one. The Complete Illustrated Stitch Encyclopedia (New York: Crafter's Choice, c2001) is an oversized, well illustrated collection of stitches for a variety of needlework techniques. This is both its strength & its weakness. I'm only interested in a few types of needlework, so that there are many parts of this book I won't use at all -- although perhaps someday I'll suddenly want to check them out. Also, because it tries to cover so very much, it can only give an intro to each style of stitching.

Nonetheless, for such a book it does manage to cover quite a lot, and is well organized, with great illustrations and photographs demonstrating each stitch. It does make it more useful when you can see the steps clearly. It goes into the basics of set up, covers a large amount of cross-stitch & surface embroidery stitches (including blackwork), goes into needlepoint, and then gives a brief look at a variety of specialty techniques like bargello, ribbon embroidery, drawn thread, smocking, etc. It finishes off, suitably, with a section on finishing your items.

Each section includes a few little projects, from wall hangings to slippers to table runners and more. In any book of this type, I find that the projects date the most quickly, and some of these are a bit out of style now. But the techniques are solid, and the information in this book is wide-ranging and useful. It has a few stitches in it I hadn't seen before, which is always nice to discover.

So as a basic resource, I'd recommend this one. The illustrations and directions are clear and easy to follow even if you aren't already familiar with stitching. I found it at a thrift store so perhaps you'll be as lucky, or of course, check your local library.

Now for Stitch-opedia (New York: St Martins, c2009). I've had this one for quite a while now. I think that the subtitle, "The Only Embroidery Reference you'll ever need" is overselling it a bit though.

It's another lengthy and involved explanation of various sorts of needlework. The organization of the book is a little puzzling to me -- it starts off logically with a look at setting up, materials, framing etc., then goes into techniques. I'm a little stumped as to why the book starts off with a deep dive into stumpwork, surely a more obscure and specialty style of stitching (and to be perfectly frank, one I dislike generally). Then it covers Blackwork, Canvas Work, Crewelwork, Freestyle, Hardanger, and Pulled Work. There is suddenly a lot more author commentary in the Pulled Work chapter, so I'm assuming it's one of her favoured techniques. Out of these, the Blackwork and Freestyle chapters were of the most interest to me. 

After the technique chapters, there is a sudden index-like listing of stitches with pictures which seems like it would fit better at the end of the book. It's followed by a collection of projects covering all the techniques, three to six for each one. I wasn't too impressed with most of the projects, they seem either a little old fashioned or the samples are not done to a high level. But a few are interesting! And then there is a little gallery of photos of sample work by others in these techniques, which I found to be one of the most inspiring parts of the book.

There is some good stuff in here, but the scattershot organization and the focus on these few techniques make this a book that I don't refer back to all that often. The Blackwork chapter makes it worth it, for me -- it's hard to find in-depth info on blackwork, and this chapter is thorough and has some good designs in it. 

So this is still worth checking out, although it is definitely not the "only embroidery reference you'll ever need"!

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