Rachel Doyle, Search Press, ISBN 978-1-84448-587-1, $21.95
Canvaswork Royal School of Needlework is the latest volume in the Essential Stitch Guides series and it’s a serious disappointment.
The stated purpose of the series is to look at the historic background of the technique, to give the basics and to show how the technique can be used in new ways. It’s flawed in every area.
It begins with a two-page history. This isn’t much space but even so, more than 25% of it is taken up with one picture. Unhappily she basicaly ignores any developments in needlepoint since 1970. Considering the flowering of needlepoint and the expansion of the technique this book is supposed to encourage, this is inexcusable.
The next section deals with materials and is overly UK-centric to the exclusion of materials and tools used in most other places. Doyle only shows white and ecru canvas (she calls it antique), completely ignoring the colored canvas that’s been a vital part of the needlepoint industry for almost 30 years. She only talks about two kinds of frames, a slate frame and a ring frames (a kind of souped-up embroidery hoop) The slate frame is not widely available outside the UK and is a fairly expensive item, requiring a fair amount of work to use. The ring frame, which is even harder to find, requires lots of excess canvas to work. Why not stretcher bars, which aren’t even mentioned?
Continuing on through the materials she mentions few threads, even though a wider use of threads is a hallmark of modern needlepoint throughout the world. And even when it comes to these few she doesn’t make specific recommendations for strands or canvas. I have seen many British needlepoint books with far shorter materials sections that say much more.
Her advice on transferring a design, starting and ending threads and choosing stitches is all good.
The longest section of the book shows stitches. It includes a large, clear diagram of the stitch, a picture of a stitched sample and notes about uses, variations, and related stitches. Throughout pictures of stitched needlepoint pieces are included.
The stitches are presented in alphabetical order. The author tried to select a broad variety of stitches and there are some unusual choices here. But also some inexplicable absences. Diagonal Cashmere is here, but not Cashmere. We see Hungarian Ground, but not Hungarian. The names of stitches follow, I assume, British names, and rarely are alternative names given. Tent is here, but buried on page 86.
There is not attempt to give any help to the beginner. There is no roadmap or suggestions on how to start. Stitches aren’t classified in any way, so you are left with no idea of where to begin.
The final section is called “Moving On.” There are two pages here, one on using more than one stitch in a piece and one on using single colors of thread for shading. Neither provides much help, but pictures one canvas each in more than one picture.
I’m disappointed. The other books in this series I’ve seen give you something to use. You can start doing the technique, you know how to proceed and you have lovely pieces to inspire you. Here I’ve gotten pig in a poke. I couldn’t give this to a beginner and expect anything, another book or in person lessons would be needed. I can’t give it to an experienced needlepointer because although some of the pictured pieces are lovely I can find more advanced uses of canvaswork in a random search on Pinterest.
For all it’s modern layout this book seem mired in the 1970’s a time when using different threads was considered cutting edge and when people were just starting to use different stitches.
I’ve seen far better books coming out of the UK. This book does little credit to the RSN or to needlepointers. Pass on it.