As some of you know, I studied botany as a graduate student. I spent hours pouring over plant specimens, flipping through dichotomous keys, and learning terms like “stipules.” There were nights when my dreams were filled with swirling leaf shapes, fragile rootlets, and constellations of flowers.
Now, I dream of others things, but I have retained a love of plant forms. These shapes sometimes inspire my creative projects, but for true, breathtaking, botanically inspired work, I consult the books of Gerda Bengtsson. Published in the 1970’s and 1980’s her books are mostly out of print, but still, easy to find.
Like 18th and 19th century botanical prints, Bengtsson’s designs show specific knowledge of plants and convey appreciation for the varieties of plant form. Yet, they are pretty and decorative.
Flowers and plants are often generic and stylized in needlework, however beautiful. In contrast, Bengtsson’s designs are botanically correct, but also balanced and artistic.
Bengtsson worked mostly in cross-stitch, but much of her published work consists of charted designs that could also be used for needlepoint, and other mediums.
In my mind, Gerda Bengtsson is the godmother of all botanical needlework. When I tried to do a little online research, I didn’t find much. From her books I know she trained as a painter and later switched to textiles. She was also part of the Danish Handcraft guild. My research did turn up a great pinterest board and many of her designs are available in cross stitch kits here.
Since I’m not much for cross-stitch, I mostly just pour over her books and swoon, but I did recently complete a Bentgesson-inspired embroidery piece. I’ll tell you about that in my next post.
8 thoughts on “The godmother of botanical needlework”
These are so pretty! Plant nerds like you and me swoon for a frond rendered in lovely floss colors. I could read posts like this all day. All day. xoxo
Seriously. If only we both had a staffs of house elves to execute all those designs for us!
Oh how lovely – had never come across her work, so thanks for that! I’ve done a handful of classes on botanical painting and have a plant scientist for a father, so love that, as you say, her embroideries are botanically accurate while still being artistic. Looking forward to seeing your own piece.
PS, for more work to pore over and swoon have you seen the plant embroidery by Kazuko Aoki and Sadako Totsuka?
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Thank you, Catherine. I do know the work of Kazuko Aoki (swoon) but not Sadako Totsuka. I’ll have to the seek it out. Thank goodness for the internet!
Textile art and artists have always been rather overlooked don’t you think – probably a legacy of not taking ‘women’s work’ seriously. Glad you’ve made us aware of Gerda’s work, which as you say is remarkable.
Absolutely – there is a “crafts” vs. “arts” divide. Though, I do think she was quite the thing in her country and in her time. If only I spoke/read Danish and then I might learn more 😉