Alison Larkin Embroidery

Historical Embroidery in Full-size and Miniature

Addiction and relapse!

Some 20 or so years ago I got involved in a hobby that rapidly became addictive: Dolls house Miniatures. I started with the furniture and such, then rapidly moved over to miniature embroidery, making all sorts of tiny linens, rugs, curtains etc for my dolls house. I joined the Miniature Needlework Society, even had a couple of designs in one of the Miniaturists magazines. It was fun, a challenge to recreate things in miniature.

Then life, work and other things began to get in the way. I was busy with teaching Biology, and other scales of embroidery intervened and I stopped doing miniature stuff. I spent more time doing ‘normal’ scale, enjoying that work. I had a bit of success at that level, and since I was still working full-time, there was only room for one type of work. The miniatures faded, and I began to believe that I was cured of that addiction.

In 2013 I took a leap of faith: I took redundancy from teaching Biology and set off on a new career working full-time in embroidery – and loved it! I was able to stitch all day, without feeling guilty about the marking, or OFSTED, or targets……. I started teaching classes, making replicas of 18/19th century pieces, demonstrating historical embroidery techniques, and beginning to collect patterns from periodicals published in the late Georgian period. I’ve even been working on a book which came out March 2020, called Jane Austen Embroidery, and based on those embroidery patterns I’ve collected. All normal scale work, although a lot of folks exclaim “gosh that is fine!” when they see it.

But then in mid 2019 I had an email from a miniatures collector from Qatar, of all places. He had seen some of my work in an exhibition: could I make him a copy of one of the pieces there? We discussed the time it takes, and the resulting costs, and I agreed to reproduce the little Ruskin Lace apron he had seen. And then other pieces as well: he is into the 17th and 18th centuries, so it fits beautifully with my own interests in that period and its embroideries.

BANG! RELAPSE! So much for being cured……I think I need to start a Hull Chapter of Miniaturists Anonymous. “Hello, my name is Alison, and I’m an Addict”….I’m loving the tiny stuff all over again.

Why do I do this? Why put myself through the eye-bugging, fiddly, tiny stitches, the 6” lengths of very skinny silk thread? Why peer at my stitching from a distance of about 4 inches?

Well, actually I do work at about 6-8 inches at the best of times, so that is just a function of being severely short-sighted. But why the rest? I think it is mainly the challenge that is so addictive. Ahmed shows me a photograph of something and I’m hooked: Can I do this? How close to a 1/12 scale copy can I get? Can I make something historically accurate (within the inevitable constraints of working at silly scale)?

I love a challenge, and unfortunately I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and a lot of a nerd. Mum was a historian, and there is a secret feeling inside that she would haunt me if I wasn’t historically accurate. Or at least, as correct as physically possible: I do remember an entertaining weekend at my parents’ house during my original miniatures period, trying to work out what to use to stiffen a Tudor farthingale in 1/12 scale. Bits of willow twig from the hedge didn’t work. As soon as they dried out they just snapped. Wire was too squashable, and wouldn’t go back into shape once squashed. Eventually Mum hit on the answer: strimmer cord! It was elastic enough to squash and spring back, and at about 2mm it was almost the right dimension. Not very 16th century, I will admit, but it works in the Dollshouse scale. So perhaps she will forgive me some of my slight inaccuracies……

The one great aspect of working full-time in embroidery is that these days I have enough time to do both normal scale and miniatures (for now at least)! I can spend time working on a tiny apron or stomacher for Ahmed, then when I get too bug-eyed, I can work on a full-size piece, or something for one of my own Georgian costumes, which I use for lectures and demonstrations.

I’m still gob-smacked at where this new career is taking me, and where it might lead, but it is HUGE fun. And everything seems to come out of left field, without warning, and take me somewhere I never dreamed…… All I can say, folks, is “Watch this space”, ‘cos even I don’t know what’s coming next!

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