Spring 2024: Google ended its email subscription service in 2021. I believe I've found a replacement, but haven't had time to test it. I have been stitching a little bit here and there and have some posts ready for when the email subscription is active again. Fingers crossed, I'll have time to rouse this blog out of its dormancy sometime this year.

14 March 2020

Cut it Out

After completing a scissors keeper and a pin cushion I'm on a mission to finish more things!

The next project I wanted to complete was the Antique Society Silk Violets Centrepiece that I started way back in 2017. To recap, this is an antique stamped linen that I am stitching with antique silk thread. The embroidery was completed in 2018, but I have never gotten around to cutting it out along its buttonholed edge.

There are certain things in my embroidery world that I like to avoid. One of those things is cutting along buttonholed edges. However, I wanted to see this piece finished so, I couldn't procrastinate any longer!

Embroidered Society Silk violets centrepiece complete and ready to cut out

I took a cutwork class many, many years ago with Paula Heckmann who did the most amazingly exquisite cutwork. She recommended that we use cuticle scissors for cutting out along a buttonholed edge. I have used them ever since when the need arises. The curved edge of the scissors is very helpful in not clipping the edge because they point away from the loops on top of the buttonhole stitches.

Society Silk Violets: Cuticle scissors which will be used to cut out the Society Silk violets centrepiece

While I was working on this project I often thought how cool it would be to see an authentic antique version of the violets. I was amazed to actually find one!

Society Silk Violets: Comparing an authentic antique to my version of the violets

Society Silk Violets: Another comparison of the authentic version of the violets with the newly stitched version

The stitching isn't of the best quality, but the edge is very neatly stitched and trimmed. Unfortunately, there are many places where the stems have worn away on the antique version. If I can find a matching antique silk thread I will restitch them, but so far I haven't found a good match in my cache. The embroiderer used cream or very light yellow for the stems. That was an interesting choice.

Society Silk Violets: Missing stems from the authentic antique version of the Society Silk violets

A few months after I found the first antique version, I found a second one. Unbelievable!

The second one is more like mine in that the violets are purple. However, for some reason, the stitcher used a brownish colour for the leaves and stems on two of the violet motifs. I wonder if she ran out of green.

The second version needs a little cleanup around the edge, but it's decently stitched and, in that respect, is nicer than the first one.

Society Silk Violets: A second authentic antique version of the Society Silk violets centrepiece with purple flowers

Interestingly, all three versions of the centrepiece are different sizes.

Getting back to my version...I finished cutting it out. I didn't have any problems trimming around the edge, but my scissors did slip one time when I wasn't actually cutting along the buttonhole and sliced through one of the scallops. I was able to repair it, but it was disappointing as I was being so careful when I was working along the edge. The cuticle scissors are very sharp!

Finally, the doily was freed from its surrounding fabric:

Society Silk Violets: The new version of the Society Silk violets centrepiece is cut free from its surrounding fabric

I gently hand washed it with a bar of Ivory soap and cold water in a small basin. When I wash old embroidered linens, I always use Ivory bar soap and lightly rub the soap on the back of the piece only. After rinsing until the water was clear, I wrapped the doily in a towel and then ironed it while it was still damp.

I was looking forward to seeing how the embroidered edges would turn out once ironed. When I initially tested the white threads for washability they looked beautiful after ironing. The iron seems to burnish the thread. (The white thread on the edging is a modern filament silk floss from Japan.)

Society Silk Violets: Detail of edge embroidery after washing and ironing

Normally, I only iron on the back of an embroidered piece, but I did iron the edging on the front in order to 'polish' it. I decided to see what would happen if I ironed the antique silk threads on the front and they, too, looked shinier and more polished. I wanted to flatten them down to make them look a little more like real Society Silk work even though the embroidery is 'Margaret Shading' rather than proper Society Silk shading. I put in much more detail than you would normally see in an authentic piece of Society Silk. Violets, in particular, tend to be simply stitched.

By the way, I do not encourage anyone to iron embroidery on the front. I was curious and wanted to see what would happen, but I certainly wouldn't make a habit of it!

Society Silk Violets: Highlighted silk threads on completed Society Silk violets centrepiece

Taking photos of flat silk is tricky. The way the light plays off of it is difficult to capture. This is a good view of how the filament silks light up under bright light:

Society Silk Violets: Filament silk used to stitch Society Silk violets under brigt lighting showing how it glows

Here are the three versions of the design. The doily on the left is the one missing its stems and it was stitched with very light colours that don't show up very well.

Society Silk Violets: Two antique and one newly-stitched version of the same Society Silk violet design

Here are a couple of photos of my completed centrepiece in natural light. I'm always fascinated by how the light plays off of these silks. They are ever-changing and have a lot of life in them.

Society Silk Violets: Filament silks under natural light with beautiful glow

Society Silk Violets: Another view of the completed Society Silk Violets Centrepiece under natrual light

This project was a wonderful experience. I loved stitching with the old linen and silks--and needle--and I am thrilled with my pseudo-antique along with its built-in age marks! I did subtly sign and date the piece in case someone happens upon it in the future.


  1. Beautiful! I have a piece of Hardanger that's been sitting around with all the surface embroidery done for several years now. The next step is to start cutting and weaving, and I just... haven't done it. :P On the one hand, the cutwork is the fun part, but on the other hand it's the part where you can do real damage. One of these days I'll just make up my mind and do it. [wry smile] But definitely empathy for your dislike of cutting. :)


    1. Yes, at some point you just have to get on with it. Cutting out is one of those necessary evils. :-)

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you. It was a privilege to stitch this piece.

  3. Lovely to see this beautiful project complete - and the comparison with the antique versions is fascinating.

    1. Thank you. Every time I think about finding the two antique versions and I am newly amazed. It was pure luck. The first one was on ebay and was being used as a background item so, wasn't even for sale. I just happened to notice it and that it looked familiar. I asked the seller if she would be willing to sell it to me and she did! I sure hope I can replace its missing stitching at some point.

  4. Mary-on-Hudson14 March, 2020 06:40

    Beautiful work. Thank you for sharing the advice of the cuticle scissors.

    1. Thank you. The cuticle scissors are a great help and they work even better on larger threads which create larger buttonhole loops. Cutting around these fine silk threads was a challenge. By the way, you cut from the back with the cuticle scissors, at least in cutwork (and stumpwork). On this piece it was difficult cutting from any angle because the stitching is so fine and the loops are so tiny. The magnifier was my friend!

  5. I collect publications from American thread companies in the period when Society Silk designs were embroidered. (Mostly 1898 - 1905). The thread companies sold pre-printed doilies in several different sizes with the same design. Some were meant to go under plates, others for serving pieces, center pieces and drinking glasses. How fortunate you were to find period doilies in the same pattern as you so beautifully stitched. I wonder if the antique thread colors changed and were originally green instead of brown?

    1. What I found to be odd about the different sizes was that they were so close in size. Usually, you see sizes in something like: 10", 12", 15", 18", and so on. There is a definite size difference in the old ads. The three doilies I have vary by about 1" and two of them are almost the same size. I think mine--I have another identical stamped linen just like the one I stitched--were possibly giveaways or prizes or something. They don't look like the ones that people actually bought. Mine have advertisements on the corners of the linen (outside of the design, of course!).

      As for the brown thread, I believe it's original. It doesn't look like it has changed colour. I have a couple of other Society Silk examples where the colours used are not consistent, but this one with the leaves and stems is the most obvious colour change that I've seen. If only we knew what happened! :-)

      I'm still amazed to have found the two antique versions. I never dreamed I would find one, much less two!

  6. I also wondered if the antique one had faded over time . Your photography is excellent , really caught the light and shine on your lovely embroidery .

    1. I don't think the antiques have faded. In fact, now that I think about it, I've never seen any fading in society silk works--not that that proves the point, of course. The threads were dyed in toxic ways that we no longer use and the silks are colourfast (thank goodness). They might be lightfast as well.

      Thank you for the compliment on the photography. Taking pictures of these threads is challenging! They are so beautiful in person and I hoped to capture some of their glow.

  7. Gorgeous! All three of them. I'd wonder if something got spilled on the one, but then I'd think there'd be other colors changed, not to mention the fabric stained. And thanks for the cuticle scissors tip!