Instructions for dressing embroidery frames were very important to Victorian embroiderers because, as often stressed in embroidery magazines of the time, if the foundation was not properly prepared their work was doomed to less than pleasing. The following instructions are those that ladies received in 1887.
Slight variations in the manner of dressing embroidery frames are necessary according to the materials worked upon; they are as follows:
For Canvas and Cloth and Serge Materials – Select a frame long enough to take in the work in one direction, turn down the canvas or cloth about half an inch all round, and sew it down. If the length of the material will not allow of all of it being placed in the frame at once, roll it round one of the bars of the frame, with silver paper put between each roll to prevent it from getting lined. Sew the sides of the canvas to the webbing with strong linen thread and put the frame together, stretching the material to its fullest, and fastening the pieces of wood together through the holes with the pegs. Then take a piece of twine, thread it through a packing needle, and brace the material with it to the stretchers. At each stitch pass it over the stretcher and into the material, and make the stitches close together. Brace both sides of the material, and draw the twine up upon each side evenly and quite tight Commence the Embroidery from the bottom of the material for canvas, and count the stitches and regulate the position of the pattern by them; and for cloth, see that the design is laid evenly upon it before tracing.
To Stretch Canvas and Cloth Together – This is required when a Berlin pattern is to be worked with cloth, for the ground. If the cloth foundation does not require to be bigger than the frame, cut it half an inch smaller every way than the canvas, as it stretches more. Turn the cloth down, and tack it to the canvas, right side uppermost, then tack them both together, and hem them where the raw edges of canvas are. If the cloth has to be rolled over the frame, put soft paper in between the rolls of cloth, and as the edges of the cloth are turned under, and are therefore thicker than the center parts, lay more silver paper in the center of the rolls than at the outside, or a line will appear upon the cloth on each side of the frame. Having sewn the two pieces of material together, attach them to the frame in the ordinary manner, and put them in, with the canvas uppermost. When the pattern is embroidered, cut the canvas from the cloth, and draw the threads away before the cloth is taken out of the frame.
To Stretch Velvet – When the size of the velvet to be embroidered does not exceed that of the frame, and the work is not for Church Embroidery, hem it round, and sew it to the webbing of the bars by its selvage. When it is larger than the frame, stretch Holland, as in canvas framing, and tack to this holland with tacking threads just the parts of velvet that are to be embroidered. Work the Embroidery through the holland, and when finished, cut the refuse holland away from the back of the material, only leaving the part that is covered by the stitches. Velvet that is used as a background in Church Embroidery requires to be entirely backed with holland, in order to sustain the weight of the Embroidery laid upon it. Frame the Holland (it should be of a fine description) as in canvas framing, and then paste it all over its surface the Embroidery Paste; over this, by the aid of three persons, lay the velvet. Take the velvet up, fully stretched out, and held by two people, and lay it down without a wrinkle upon the holland; keep it fully stretched out, and hold it firmly. Then let the third person, with hands underneath the frame, press the holland up to the velvet, so that the two materials may adhere together without the velvet piles being injured.
To Stretch Satin or Silk – Stretch a piece of fine Holland in the frame, and paste the silk down to it with Embroidery Paste, but only tack the satin to it.
To Stretch Leather or Kid – Stretch a piece of unbleached cotton in the frame, and paste the leather to it with Embroidery Paste, or tack the leather firmly down at the parts it is to be worked; cut the calico from underneath when the Embroidery is finished. Do not stretch the leather or kid in the frame; merely see that it lies flat, and without wrinkles.
To Stretch Crepe – Sew it to Book muslin, and frame that in the usual way.
Embroidery paste was used for two purposes in needlework; first, to effect the adhesion of two materials; secondly, to strengthen and stiffen Embroidery at the back. Today we have fusible web or stabilizing materials to take care of these needs – Thank Goodness!
Below are instructions, published in the 1870’s, on how to prepare your own embroidery paste. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend using it as we have so many better products to do the job, but it does give some perspective on what Victorian embroiderers went through to produce wonderful embroidered pieces.
For Pasting Materials together: Take 1 oz. of the best gum, 1 oz. of sugar candy, and a small piece of alum; reduce this to a fine powder, lay in a shallow vessel, just cover it with cold water, and leave it to dissolve for four hours. Then take 1 oz. of flour, and mix it smoothly in water. Put the mixed flour into an earthen vessel, add the mixture above-mentioned, place the vessel in a saucepan, and surround it with water. Put the saucepan on the fire, and let the mixture simmer (not boil); stir it, to prevent its getting lumpy, keeping the saucepan on the fire until the mixture is as thick as cream; then take it off the fire, but continue to stir until it is cold. Put the paste in a bottle as it will keep for some time. Should it thicken after keeping, add a little cold water.
Another recipe: Take three tablespoonfuls of flour, and as much powdered resin as will lie on a shilling; place these ingredients in half a pint of water, and boil for five minutes; stir until it boils, and afterwards and use when cold. To this a teaspoonful of essence of cloves can be added as a preservative, while the paste is boiling; but this is not necessary.
Use size instead of the gum or resin of the above recipes.