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.