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The Art of the Embroiderer

Start Date 25 September 2008
End Date 31 December 2009
Venue Kent State University Museum
Location Kent, USA
Curator Anne Bissonnette

In 1770, Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin published L’Art du Brodeur, a treatise on embroidery, where he defined the practice as “the art of adding the representation of such motifs as one chooses — flat or in relief, in gold, silver, or color — to the surface of a finished piece of cloth.” Far from being reserved for women, embroidery was the trade of his grandfather who left the farm to settle in Paris where his son was eventually bestowed with the title of Embroiderer to the King. In turn, Charles-Germain also served Louis XV when he published his treatise as Dessinateur du Roi (Draftsman/Designer to the King). Detailed and illustrated, it remains a standard reference and a useful document that speaks of the era’s artistry and opulence.

Aware of the lavish purpose of this type of needlework, he introduced his work by stating that “The progress and variations of Luxury in different Nations would be a long and curious part of history; I believe that to study the origin of Embroidery should suffice for the present purpose.” Spanning over 3,000 years, embroidery can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty of China (ca. 1600-1050 B.C.). Even in 1770, Chinese embroiderers were renowned for their patience and diligence, and the precision of their luminous and colorful silk work was without equal. From leather to diamonds, a wide array of materials was utilized through time and across continents as, according to de Saint-Aubin, “Man’s industry and vanity turn all of Nature into a contributor.”

Following the principles that guide all art forms, de Saint-Aubin maintained that drawing was the base of embroidery as it determines the forms, distribution, harmony and proportion of works. He listed and described a wide array of techniques: high and low relief, gold thread over shaped vellum sections, shaded gold, traditional as well as modified satin stitches, chain stitch and tambour embroidery, knots, couching, sequins, appliqué work and white work among them. Join us to learn more about the world of embroidery and, centuries later, remain “captivated by the novelty of the materials, the variety in the designs, and the beauty of their execution.”