I had the opportunity to see a beautiful ring bearer’s pillow last week at the meeting of the Lakes and Prairies Chapter of the Smocking Arts Guild of America. Patty McDowell created this work of needle art for her daughter’s wedding held in October this past fall in Minnesota. It is one thing to see it via a picture; it is quite another to view and appreciate it in real life.
The base fabric is 32-count Belfast linen, and the embroidery work is considered Hardanger (Hardangersøm) or whitework embroidery, which is embroidery stitches worked with white thread on an even-weave cloth, using counted thread or drawn thread work techniques, see Wikipedia.
The photographer, Joelle Julian, a dear friend of the family, captured exquisite photos on the wedding day.
Notice the edging work above. Take note, the edging is not an added lace edging, as I first thought during my first glance at Patty’s initial photo above. It is drawn thread work on linen. Here is how Patty explained it: “That’s all just the Belfast linen. All that open work is stitches, and then you cut away threads in between and wrap the remaining threads – and stitch in Dove’s Eyes or Greek Crosses, or other pretty fill stitches. The edge is a button hole-type stitch. And then all the remaining linen is finally cut away!”
The pattern is Heirloom Wedding Treasures, by Thea Dueck. Patty said there were a number of stitches involved she had not worked before, such as the “Scotch stitch.” Other embroidery stitches included lazy daisy, scalloped stitch, cross stitch, back stitch, Japanese ribbon stitch, bullion roses on top of Kloster blocks. The lattice work in the center is couched, and there are glass and mother of pearl beads included as well. Patty explained there were times she wasn’t sure she would succeed in creating this family treasure. Initially, she had selected a different pattern; however, it was written in several different languages and she found it too complicated to follow. She then discovered the pattern by Ms. Dueck, which seemed doable. She said the greatest challenge was in following the pattern and placing the design corrrectly, especially once the center design was established. “You can’t cheat in Hardanger embroidery,” Patty said. “If you are off one thread, the design will not proceed well.”
Patty found all of the necessary supplies through Stitchville in Minnetonka, Minnesota. 32-count Belfast linen, tiny silk ribbon, and mother-of-pearl beads in heart and oblong shapes were special ordered by Stitchville as well.
“Once the pillow was nearing completion, and my whole family (especially my husband) realized how much work it was, we started saying it deserved carrying the REAL wedding rings (it was assumed the pillow would carry fake rings for the safety of the real rings). My Hardanger pal (who attends the same church) was shocked to think we wouldn’t put the real rings on it. Little five-year-old grandson, Eric (the bride’s nephew), took his job very seriously – a very mature little guy. The Maid of Honor had been carefully guarding the pillow/rings before ceremony, and handed it to him just before he headed down the aisle. He carefully and so sweetly walked down the aisle at a perfect pace, went right up to the Best Man and waited while he untied the wedding rings from the pillow to slip in his pocket until called for by our pastor during the ceremony. We were impressed with his careful behavior, for a little guy, and our pastor, as well as the wedding party, family and close friends knew about this special pillow, and that the real rings were tied to it! So lots of people were on guard! Just couldn’t have been more perfect and meaningful!”
During the reception, the pillow was displayed next to pictures of the bride and groom’s grandparent’s wedding photos and near the wedding cake.
“Every minute of the stress, frustration, cost (time and dollars), was totally worth it! The joy I got from figuring out the difficult instructions, selecting the materials, learning so many new stitches, focusing on that tiny thread count under a lighted magnifying glass for hours and days on end, along with the hopeful feeling that it really might happen for my daughter’s wedding, was something I’ll never forget. I purchased the pattern and materials in April, and it was done the evening of the Fourth of July while I could hear fireworks popping all around our neighborhood! Seriously! It was like a grand finale! I think fear made me so focused on finishing it that I couldn’t believe I was done early. I’d warned it may go down the aisle with a needle in it! Once I was half way toward finishing, and it seemed possible, I couldn’t put it down. I would get home from work and couldn’t wait to stitch.
“My loving hubby, Bill, encouraged me every step of the way as he witnessed my hours of stitching. When I had to back track and undo HOURS of work to get it right, learning from my mistakes, he’d just encourage me or sympathize. He showed such an interest and seemed excited to see how the next stitch came to life on the linen.”
Thank you so much, Patty, for allowing me to share your family’s heirloom.