What could be nicer? Mountain and vineyard scenery in Constantia, a thick green lawn bordered by old fashioned flower beds, couches on the veranda where you sit sipping your coffee, enjoying your home-baked shortbread, soaking in the view, along with the peace and quiet. Which doesn’t last for long, due to noisy ducks flying overhead, but never mind – you get the picture. I spent the morning at Constantia Cellars exhibition centre, where the Cape Embroiderers Guild were holding their needlework display.
After a hectic week in South Africa, the turmoil of the dramatic student demonstrations, I needed a restorative – something peaceful, some soul food. Relaxing on a comfy couch, coffee in hand, I let my gaze rove over the lush flower beds filled with white daisy bushes, mauve foxgloves, red poppies, blue statice, palest pink gladioli. Old fashioned flowers that folk don’t grow any more, what with water restrictions and lack of time for gardening. Hibiscus bushes smothered in red flowers, interspersed with lemon trees drooping with fresh yellow fruit formed a backdrop to the flowers. I was enjoying the garden so much I hardly needed to go inside the hall to admire the needlework!
The display of needlework by the Cape Embroiderers Guild was eclectic and inspiring. There were geometric designs of Scandinavian Hardanger and Blackwork; stylised Jacobean embroidery, smocked dresses, cross-stitch samplers, tapestries, and a very impressive ecclesiastical red brocade cope, decorated with a design in gold thread and beads. There were examples of other embroidery techniques as well, beautifully worked tablecloths featuring drawn thread work, and other techniques new to me.
You may be wondering about my interest in embroidery? The very first school I attended, in central Africa, was a convent run by an order of French nuns. So there in the heart of darkest Africa, they taught us embroidery, French, drawing, basic arithmetic and Scripture; their version of a foundation education for little girls. I enjoyed embroidery and continued doing it for some years.
During my childhood years, many women did embroidery both as a hobby and a household art. My Mother, for example, enjoyed doing Jacobean embroidery and stitched a magnificent fire screen. I still own a fragile linen runner, embroidered by myself, perhaps aged 9 or 10 years old, with a conventional stamped design of a lady dressed in a crinoline standing in a flower garden … those were the days. I enjoyed embroidery all those years ago, and wouldn’t mind trying it again. I think I’ll add it to my list of projects for 2016.