Last week I wrote about Claire Barrett of Hawthorne & Heaney, who does fine embroidery on livery, shirts and slippers for the bespoke menswear trade, as well as working with fashion designers in London.
I came to her to learn about the process and with a suggestion for a project of my own. The idea was to embroiderer something on the outside of a suit, but as subtly as possible. No initials, no bright colours, but something that added a slightly different drop of beauty to a jacket.
I’ve always identified with paisley – I think it goes back to a teenage obsession with Etro. So I picked a small, simple paisley design to be embroidered on the jacket cuff, just behind the buttons. Both the colour of the thread and the size of the bulb of the paisley deliberately mimicked the buttons, running as a fifth, rather more decorative item in the row.
Embroidery involves a lot of drawing, as I mentioned last time in regards to Henry Poole livery. Below you can also see a design for a piece down a woman’s coat. With my little paisley, Claire first traced the design onto tracing paper and then pricked it with little holes around the lines. The paper is placed on the cloth and chalk powder sprinkled on the top, producing a chalk outline to sew onto. The chalk can also be suspended in paraffin to ensure it stays on the cloth and is not rubbed off.
The tracing paper sketch also includes annotation showing which types of knot should be used where. With gold work many different knots are often used, but there are usually fewer with silk. Here there are just two: a stem stitch for the lines and French knots for the dots inside. In the event, the knots were doubled up to make them stand out more, as the grey silk was too similar to the cloth to be distinct.
The work took around 45 minutes and the result was faultless. But I’m not entirely sure whether I will repeat it. I’ve always preferred the subtlest of style and this is rather more ostentatious, even given the small size and tone-on-tone shade. In the end it was an experiment, and I think it will take time for me to know whether I like it. Perhaps the same will be done inside next time.
With thanks to Claire and team for the tea and hospitality.
Photography: Luke Carby