Stitched Up: Embroidery For The Home

Penny McCormick takes her NEEDLE AND THREAD and follows her namesake with varying degrees of success …

Does a name determine destiny or indeed diversion? I have often pondered my namesake – the mythical Penelope who is traditionally seen as a beacon of fidelity as well as ingenuity. To recap on the legend; as the wife of Odysseus – a Greek James Bond who embarked on several missions and got diverted by sirens – Penelope waits 20 years for his return, during which time she is wooed by 108 suitors no less. As a delaying tactic she pretends to embroider a shroud (for her father-in-law Laertes) and tells each suitor she will decide when she has completed it. Each night she undoes her work before being rumbled by one of her astute handmaidens.

Fast-forward to Christmas last year and I had the not-so-clever idea of weaving my own cards, which I unravelled each evening – not because of any suitors in sight, more to do with my rather inconsistent cross-stitch – a hobby I adopted some 20 years ago. In the end I managed about five cards and hoped the recipients did not look too closely at my handiwork. 

My interest in needlepoint has always been on the backburner; inspired by a love of Jane Austen (whose industrious heroines were on point in more ways than one), Victoriana, and latterly by a desire to own one of Sarah’s Bags – the niche Lebanese designer who favours a handmade approach. I noted with pleasure this season’s catwalks have been awash with embroidered details from Dolce & Gabbana to Simone Rocha. It would be easy to cite Alessandro Michele as the catalyst for this revival as he has done much to promote craftism in general since his arrival at Gucci, though my theory is The Crown has also had an impact. All those Hartnell gowns and fabulous fifties couture replete with embellishment are filtering down to the high street with embroidered cardies, brocade and chinoiserie details galore. Traditionally Chanel has used the petits mains at Maison Lesage in Paris for its sewing, while Hand & Lock, the British embroidery institution celebrating 250 years, (holders of a royal warrant), may well be working on Ms Markle’s wedding gown. Hand & Lock has created inter alia the embroidery for HM The Queen, Diana and the Duchess of Cambridge’s gowns.

Whither fashion, also interior design. Tapestries are one way to introduce colour and style into the home without having to drastically repaint or redecorate. I yearn for a Charlotte Lancelot pouf or a Tulip chair from Boboboom – a Marseille-based design company I came across when wondering how to upcycle some furniture. While embroidered cushions are a throwback to 1980s English interior design, they always add texture, pattern, and sometimes humour. Historically tapestries were a display of wealth and status, though as a visitor attraction they are now much in vogue. The Game of Thrones tapestry, currently at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, has drawn throngs, while the Ros Tapestry is one of the nation’s most rewarding experiences, involving 150 stitchers working on 15 giant tapestries depicting Norman history. I particularly like the Abduction of Dergovilla and the Marriage of Isabel de Clare panels. For now I’ve ordered an Emily Peacock kit, from Liberty of London, and hope I may complete it without too much undoing – of both sanity and stitchery.

Get the look at home…

Floral pouffe,

Blue Ryker embroidered cushion, €32,

Bar stoole,

Embroidery by Domino Whisker,

Embroidered Fruiticana cushion, €66,

Penny McCormick

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