Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Cherish the Past, Adorn the Present, Create for the Future

The first thing I must say in my defense is that because I move so often, I regularly whittle down my book collection. Too many books is not the problem. In fact, I have gone from a peak of something like 40 boxes of books down to just 12 as of the last move. I am an ardent librarian, and I know which books I cannot live without and which ones can go on to another home. I swear, your honour, that I have no recollection of buying this book. In fact, the other day I saw it on the shelves of a bookstore and coveted it dearly, but I didn't have enough money to buy it. How it appeared on my bookshelf at home, right next to Early 19th Century Embroidery Techniques (which I do remember buying), is a complete astonishment to me. I plead early onset dementia, or the existence of a fairy godmother, to explain the presence of this book in my collection. It is not possible that such a treasure could languish on my shelf unread.

The book in question is Gail Marsh's Early 20th Century Embroidery Techniques. I took it to bed with me last night after discovering it on my shelf, and couldn't put it down. More thrilling than a murder mystery, more passionate than a Harlequin romance, it spoke to my soul. I couldn't get to sleep for a long time afterwards, thinking of the heights to which embroidery has so recently soared, and the relatively sorry state it is in now. (I blame WWII, but that's probably better left to social historians.) When I finally did get to sleep, my dreams were filled with the strong, visionary, incredibly skilful women, like Ann Macbeth, Rebecca Crompton, Louisa Pesel and Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth, who inspired and influenced  a couple of generations of stitching artists. I woke up wondering what the hell happened, that we could now live in a world where cross-stitched swear words pass for radical embroidery. (Etsy, I'm looking at you.)

Now, I know that there are many fine stitchers out there, and the art world has opened up to valuing context and concept as much or even more than technique. But less than 100 years ago, embroidery was not only taught in schools, it was seen as a means to improving one's life, to learning many essential life skills, to developing one's mind and creativity. It was a vital, surging force, and one I wish was still with us now.

P.S. The title of this post is from William R. Lethaby, architect, writer, designer, teacher, and esteemed friend of Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth, whose collection forms the essence of this book.
P.P.S. Needle'n'Thread's Mary Corbet has written a very thorough review, and she had a similar reading experience to my own. Check out her post for lots of inside pages.


5 comments:

saskia said...

the avid, ardent book lover in me now says, nay cries out: I too must HAVE this book, both your reviews (I just read Mary Corbet's as well) have convinced me I NEED this book and so very soon it will arrive here and I too will enjoy a sleepless night, all because I want to IMPROVE whatever needs improvement.....

(see how powerful WORDS are)

Heather said...

As near as I can figure it, I must have bought this book while in Victoria sometime in 2012. I must have soon packed it up before moving back to Lasqueti, and it remained in storage until sometime last summer. I finally unpacked it in my new home, putting it on the shelf behind the utility stand where projects are piled high, where it stayed hidden until I finally discovered it while looking for something else. Yup. That's got to be it. No need to remind me of the lesson here!

jan said...

Hey Heather, are you on commission? Hahaha! Like Saskia, I read Mary Corbet's review, as well as yours; and am going through my purse, to copper up for this book! Might have to wait till payday; but yes, it sounds wonderful; and it's on 'the list' to order from local independent bookshop.

Sue McB said...

And another one....despite the fact I have been getting rid of books and ever other non essential thing prior to moving later this year, I read the two reviews and instantly bought it. I'm looking forward to its arrival from the UK in a week or so - buying books in Oz is ridiculously expensive and online from overseas for this country dweller is much more convenient.

Julia Kelly said...

Thank you so much for this book recommend! I got on Amazon and ordered one just looking at the cover-before even reading your post-which was very interesting too, have discovered a few books on my shelves couldn't remember where I bought too!