Monday, July 27, 2015

Madeira Linens-A little history

Madeira is a Portuguese owned island in the Atlantic Ocean South of Portugal and to the west of the north African coast. It is on this little island that the Madeira embroidery story began in the 1860’s when the youngest daughter of a wealthy British wine shipper helped turn what was an island pastime into a cottage industry.  The island’s wine industry was under threat from a disease of the vines (Phyloxera) and this was affecting the income of the local vineyard workers and therefore their families.  The concern for the families and their future lead Elizabeth Phelps to use her own skills of organization and motivation and her overseas connections and to begin to sell the work of the Madeiran embroiderers to the Victorians back in England.

The industry was vibrant throughout the early 1900’s but suffered a decline in the years of the First World War (1914-18). The quality declined and the product was not of the previous high standard. There was a resurgence of interest in the post war era as the demand for high quality products increased. It was then that many of the companies were founded Patricio & Gouveia (1925); Imperial de Bordados (1926); J.A. Teixeira (1937). Many of these linens were exported to the US, a huge market with the peak period being the 1950’s. Several companies were then American owned (Jabara; Marghab Linens and Imperial). Much of the trade was lost in the 1970’s due to the opening of the market to Chinese imports.

Linens embroidered in Madeira are still held in high regard as the quality of workmanship remains high. They are still exported and those of the highest standard are given the Gremio, a silver metal disc attached by a thread to the work.

One of the names that has become the benchmark for the quality of Madeira linens is Marghab.  Marghab Linens, Ltd. was founded in the 1930’s by Emile and Vera (nee Way) Marghab. Vera, an American, was born in 1900 in Wesley, Iowa and grew up in Watertown, South Dakota. Vera had hoped to follow a career in music and studied in New York where she met Emile Marghab, a British subject from Cyprus and an extended courtship began that lead to their marriage in 1931. They divided their time between New York and Madeira, where Emile had started an embroidery firm. In 1933 Vera joined him as a business partner and the business became Emile Marghab and Company, incorporating in New York the following year as Emile Marghab, Inc.

Marghab pattern known as 'Knight'
The reason the Marghab linens became the benchmark for the industry was the fact that Vera oversaw all aspects of the production and her desire for ‘perfection-nothing less’ made sure everything was of the highest quality. Vera selected the embroideresses; chose the fabrics and threads and also designed many of the pieces. She also selected the shops where the products sold-Neiman Marcus; Lord & Taylor and Marshall Fields, to name a few.
                                                Marghab pattern known as 'Flower Lady'

The highest quality Irish linen; a form of organdy,  called Margandie was made in Switzerland especially for Marghab (it was harder wearing than the usual organdy) and threads from France and England were used to produce the Marghab linens. The work was done by the embroideresses in their homes and per Vera’s instructions, they were paid for each stitch they made. In a single placemat you could count over 70,000 stitches! Everything was checked and nothing but perfection allowed to bear the Marghab name. The Marghab linens had a paper tag pinned to them with the company logo, a Portuguese sailing ship, along with the pattern number and size of the item.

Detailed buttonhole edging on Marghab napkins
Emile died in 1947 but Vera continued to supervise the business for a further 30 years until its disestablishment in 1980 due to political changes in Portugal. Vera returned to live in her childhood home in Watertown, South Dakota and remained active in business affairs and charity work. She donated her collection of Marghab linens to the South Dakota Art Museum in 1970 which, with subsequent donations from Vera and her estate (she died in 1995), now consists of over 300 patterns and is the most comprehensive collection of Marghab linens in the world.

Reverse side of Marghab Knight
Want to know if you have any pieces of Marghab linen? You can see many of the patterns by doing an Internet search. You can also make an appointment and take your piece to the South Dakota Art Museum for museum staff to verify the authenticity.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Jane Briscoe on Drawn Thread Embroidery

Drawn thread embroidery is one of my all time favorite forms of embroidery. For many ladies it has the (undeserved IMHO) reputation of being difficult and/or tedious. Join me in Valley Forge for my Royal Prince Embroidered Carriage Cover and Pillow Sham class and I will do my best to dispel that reputation. (And failing that, I will suggest surface embroidery stitches to do instead!)

Why do I like drawn thread so much? First of all, there is one and only one correct place for your needle to go in and come out. No agonizing over whether the stitch is too long or too short, no special tapes to make sure your stitches are even, no tracing an intricate design, and no stress over making both sides symmetrical. When you stitch along a withdrawn thread your stitch will by definition be on the straight of grain. 

And although it sound contradictory, drawn thread is, at the same time, very forgiving. In most cases, if you pick up four threads instead of three, no one will every know.

Another common complaint is all the tedious counting. In my projects, I do my best to minimize the counting. Whenever possible I measure, rather than count. It is much easier to measure 6 inches than to count 253 threads! 

As in all forms, of embroidery the proper tools and supplies are important. Individual task light and magnification are essential. If you can't easily see the individual threads of the fabric, you need more light and/or magnification. I can't emphasize enough -- light, light, and more light. The choice of fabric is also important. While I have seen lovely drawn thread work done on fine batiste, that is not my choice for this project. A fine linen with threads loose enough to withdraw easily makes life so much easier.

And finally, most drawn thread projects have both challenging elements that require your full concentration, and elements of virtually mindless stitching. This allows you to work on the element that fits your mood at any given time. I find hemstitching extremely relaxing -- no looking at the directions, no color changes that require constant starts and stops, no changing needles for different stitches -- just peaceful stitching. At other times I prefer elements that require careful planning, preparation, and attention to detail resulting in the satisfaction of a finished project that looks much more difficult than it really is.

So whether you stitch with me in Valley Forge, participate in a drawn thread class through your local chapter, or find directions online or in a book, I hope you will give drawn thread embroidery a try.
You can sign up for Jane's 'Royal Prince Embroidered Carriage Cover and Pillow Sham' class and other classes being taught at the SAGA Valley Forge Retreat in October by visiting the SAGA website

Monday, July 20, 2015

No win for Wes....

Wes did not win a raffle basket at the SAGA Chicago Retreat this past weekend, but never the less he had a wonderful time at the banquet and was pleased for everyone who did win. There were 36 baskets, so lots of chances to win.

Wes also enjoyed meeting lots of friends who had come to the retreat. So many that we had to take two photos to get them all in!


Hope everyone made it home safely and Wes hopes he will see some of you again really soon in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Kids Can Sew!

The photo below is proof that children can and do sew.

Pictured are four sets of mothers and daughters who are attending the SAGA Chicago retreat.

They are:
Kathleen Smith and her mother Mary Layman (Mitten State)
Kate Westlake (Smart Smockers) and her daughter Beth Westlake (MAL)
Bonnie Patton and her daughter Joy Patton (Milwaukee Area)
Charlotte Hallworth (Sew Many Things) and her daughter Lauren Wallis (MAL)

Well done ladies for teaching your daughters to sew and for attending the retreat together!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Wes is here!

Wes made it safely to his destination-the SAGA Retreat at the Doubletree Hotel, Skokie, Illinois.

He is so happy to be here and see all of the SAGA members who are here taking classes. He is also very happy to see so many wonderful raffle baskets. Will he be a lucky bear tomorrow evening when the tickets are drawn at the dinner?

Tonight is market night-a chance to see, feel and buy some wonderful heirloom sewing supplies.

If you aren't here enjoying the fun, maybe you are attending the last retreat in Valley Forge? If you haven't signed up for that there are still a few places left. Visit the SAGA website ( and follow the links.

A Great Find

I enjoy looking for vintage linens, lace and sewing related pieces when I am out and about on my travels. Sometimes you find things in the most unlikely places. Sometimes you can tell what part of the country you are in by the type of items in the antique shops.

I was recently in a town on the west side of the Hudson Valley, New York and just browsing through a multi dealer antique shop when in the very corner of one not-so-tidy booth, amongst some everyday linens (tea towels, hankies) I found these cocktail napkins.

These are a Marghab design known as 'Knight' and I purchased them for under $20 for the set of eight. They are all perfect. Stitched beautifully on a fine pale grey linen. I soaked, washed and pressed them and they are now in my linen draw waiting for a party!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Packed and ready to go-but where?

Wes is packed and ready to leave tomorrow for the airport. He is flying off on his travels again. Can you guess where he is heading?