Botanical embroidery project

embroidery floss, WIP

Last week, I wrote about the beautiful needlework of Gerda Bengtsson. This week, I’m sharing my own copy of one of her designs – embroidery of a bedstraw, or Galium plant.

galium embroidery

Most Galium are wild, frothy, unassuming plants. Their beauty lies in delicate arching branches, leaves that cluster around the stem in whorls, and dainty white or green flowers. Some species can be quite weedy and others, like sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) are both ornamental and medicinal.

This embroidery by Gerda Bengtsson captures the beauty of Galium saxatile growing in a flat form. (It comes from Gerda Bengtsson’s book of Danish Stitchery, published in 1972.) The black and white photos probably don’t do justice to her work, but this project still seemed timeless and appealing to me.

tracing galium

To embroider my own version, I scanned the image from the book, printed it, and then traced the original shape. Since I enlarged the design a bit, I modified in some spots and had made most of the branches shorter.

transfering galium design

I then used a hot iron, transfer pen and tracing paper to transfer the design on to some white linen. Since the design was larger than the 8.5″ by 11” transfer paper, I had to improvise with stapling sheets together and my transfer was a bit light in some places. (Note to self: pin the transfer paper down carefully before ironing.)

embroidery work in process

I stitched away, filling the leaves in with satin stitch and tracing the stems with stem stitch.

It was a big project and took a few months. Over time, my transfer ink began to fade, eventually becoming non-existent. By the end of the project, I’d done enough of these stems and leaves that I was fine just making up where to stitch.

I tried to vary the shades of green, with the tips of the growing branches and leaves stitched in lighter shades. Overall, I’m pretty delighted with the outcome, though I have no idea what I’ll make out of it. Cushion? Wall hanging? If you have any ideas, I’m all ears!

overview galium embroidery

 

 

The godmother of botanical needlework

Gerda Bentgesson from Danish stitchery book
Wall hanging by Gerda Bengtsson, from Gerda Bengtsson’s Book of Danish Stitchery

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.

GB.rosamoyesii
Rosa Moyesii by Gerda Bengtsson. From Roses and Flowering Plants in counted cross-stitch.

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.

GB.couluteaarborescens
Senna by Gerda Bengtsson. From Roses and Flowering branches in counted cross-stitch

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.

Mountain Ash by Gerda Bentgsson. From Dye PLants nad Fruits in Cross -stitch
Mountain Ash by Gerda Bengtsson. From Dye Plants and Fruits in Cross -stitch

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.