Crewelwork Linen Gown – Inspiration

I’ve fallen head over heels for this crewelwork linen gown from LACMA. The bright sprigs of flowers and the green trim just make me happy.

Crewelwork Linen Gown inspiration - front of gown held at LACMA

This gown presents a couple *minor* challenges. For one, it needs yards and yards of embroidered fabric. Two, it needs yards and yards of handmade trim. So naturally, I decided I need to make it.

I realise this is not a project for the faint of heart. First, I considered having the embroidery stitched in India. After all, that’s most likely where the original fabric was embroidered. I found a workshop that could produce it for under $60/yard, which is actually quite reasonable.

Perhaps too reasonable. I don’t know how fast they can embroider, but one yard of fabric has 20+ motifs on it. Even if they only took 1 hour each, that’s still a pittance for extremely skilled work. That doesn’t even include materials. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I would be exploiting artisans in another country in order to make a pretty dress. That’s a little too much historical accuracy for my tastes.

Crewelwork Linen Gown inspiration - back of gown held at LACMA

The second issue is that the original has carefully matched and mirrored motifs along center back and on the sleeves, plus extra motifs worked in. I’m sure that the Indian workshop would be willing to copy this, for a fee. However, I really didn’t trust that I would have every detail of the motifs in relation to a dress pattern ironed out, or that I wouldn’t change my mind about the details along the way.

I also considered turning this into a machine embroidery design. I’ve played around with mock chainstitch before and have used wool thread in some of my designs. I feel like it would be possible to come up with something close to the look of the original, though it would still take a lot of time. Unfortunately, my upcoming move means my embroidery machine is in storage for an unknown period of time.

Which leaves hand embroidery. Tambour embroidery, to be specific. This is a new-to-me technique that I’ve wanted to try for ages. What better way* to jump back into creating for myself, and learn a new technique at the same time? Challenging myself to do something so ambitious is very appealing. So hand embroidery it is!

(*OK, I can think of lots of better ways that don’t involve jumping into the deep end of an ambitious project. But jumping into the deep end is what I do, no matter what I’m making. My first knitting project was a sock.)

First sample of crewel tambour embroidery

I started with a sample of one of the pomegranates, just to be sure I wanted to go down this path. I’m pretty happy with it – especially as my very first tambour piece! I just hope I get a LOT faster as I go.

I have to admit, I’m daunted by taking on an embroidery project of this size. I will be listening to Caroline’s tips about tackling big projects more than once before this is over! Luckily, I don’t have a deadline in mind and can take my time.

Watch my IG stories for in-the-moment stitching updates, and the blog for details about the planning and execution of this project.

What’s your overly-ambitious dream project? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Share your thoughts...

%d bloggers like this: