We have been seeing sheer fabrics on the catwalk for a couple of seasons under various guises. Embroidered with various techniques, from silkwork on power mesh (from our lovely selves) for Reem Juan (1) to incredible chain work on sheer organza by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy (2).
This season we have seen it again, only with a traditional and wholly unexpected twist. Georg Jensen, Balmain and Dolce and Gabbana were some of the designers that supprised us with heirloom florals, but most impressive was this technique onto a sheer organza at Valentino (3).
Needlepoint, specifically ‘Berlin Wool Work’, is usually worked over a heavy canvas and is worked in wool, hence its name. These heavy base materials mean applying this technique to a lightweight fabric is no mean feet. There are over 15 stitches for this style of needlepoint and it is traditionally used to create 3D patterns with just the use of shading of colour, just as if you were working with pixels. One of these stitches was a raised clipped stitch called ‘Surrey’ stitch which adds extra depth to the techniques distinctive shading. Seed beads were also introduced to create texture. Berlin wool work was used specifically for it durability on upholstery, cushions and was very popular for womens hand bags. Below is a modern example from Dolce & Gabana SS12.
Originally the outlines were drawn onto the canvas backing and the colours filled in by eye, but in the early 19th Century in Berlin the first patterns were printed from copper plates and the pixels coloured by hand to create an easy pattern to follow. These were then published in womens magazines and sold in ‘Repositories’ which were the needlework shops of the day. The patterns are beautiful artworks in themselves (4) and I have pictured a couple below. These patterns are for bespoke slippers, embroideries of the same style and use are still made today.
With all of these uses Berlin wool work’s primary practical function was durability as an aesthetic medium. Valentinos use is the most beautiful juxtaposition of textures and weights. This combination of traditional and modern, heavy and light, sheer and opaque is the most inspired use of embroidery we have seen on the catwalk in a very long time.
Hats off to you Maria and Pier, the rest of the Valentino embroidery team and of course the long suffering embroiderers !!
Claire Barrett is an embroidery designer who has been working in the embroidery industry for six years. A former Creative Director at Hand & Lock, Claire runs Hawthorne & Heaney, dealing with celebrity clients such as Kanye West and high profile companies such as Henry Poole & Company Savile Row tailors. Claire is passionate about making embroidery accessible to everyone by offering sponsorships to young designers and even running the London Embroidery School to teach beginners classes to those who are interested in getting a taste of what embroidery has to offer.