This was a style of counted embroidery popular during the Victorian era, with patterns and imported wools originating from Berlin in the early 19th century. Breakthroughs in dying technology, including new chemical dyes, facilitated the production of vibrant blues, purples and magentas - hence the full-on, almost garish colour scheme. Motifs were typically floral, scenic or pet depictions: designs were full to the brim with overblown roses in a mass of vivid colours. As women found themselves with more time to stitch as a hobby, the relative simplicity of following the charts made Berlin Wool Work an immensely popular hobby.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this technique is the introduction of a new stitch alongside the flat tent stitch: it has many names and variations - velvet stitch, rya stitch, turkey work - but produces a very three-dimensional, sculptured surface. Stitches are worked leaving 'hanging loops', which are then cut and trimmed after completion. Worked with dense rows of wool, the resulting fluff can be sculpted as one might trim a topiary piece (see 'Edward Scissorhands' for further inspiration.)
I have been experimenting with this stitch (which I shall henceforth refer to as velvet stitch). Unlike more traditional examples, the colour scheme for these was kept very muted and dull:
The design is sketched onto paper to show the colour variation in the petals: this same design is painted directly onto the canvas in acrylic paint. This background serves as a 'colour by numbers' with which to work the corresponding wools over.
Personally, Berlin wool work - as it traditionally stands - holds some problems for me. Firstly, the colour scheme makes me feel like I'm standing in the middle of a tube of Smarties, oversaturated by vibrancy: also, the stylised, 'homely' motifs of flowers and pets simply do not appeal to me in their current state. I aim to take inspiration from the technical execution, especially the velvet stitch, and see how I may use it for my own ends.
These roses were worked as part of a commission: integrated into a larger embroidery piece by artist James Hunting, the final result shall be exhibited in Maggs Bros. bookshop later in the year.