Schwalm embroidery dates back, according to Renate Fernau, about 300 years. It was born in “The Schwalm”, a small area in Hesse.
Interest in this embroidery began to surge after Lacis Publications republished Fernau’s book entitled simply Schwalm Whitework. The German magazine Anna has been publishing patterns and directions for at least two decades, as has the italian magazine Rakam. But it has only been recently that the work began to fascinate those in North America.
Although it can be worked on even weave grounds of 16 threads/cm, (40-ct), the work begins to come to life at 50-ct and higher linens.
Threads used for the work are “broder special” – non-divisible threads of medium to find thickness. Currently only available in Europe and a small number of shops throughout the U.S., sizes used are 20, 25, 30, 35 and occasionally 40.
Schwalm is identified by several characteristics: The motifs are simple in structure, each having meaning (bells, birds, tulips, hearts) and fanciful, symbolic names were given to the stitches employed.
All outlining is accomplished first with coral stitch. A fine chain stitch is then added within the motif to further “fix” the ground threads to prevent raveling when doing the centers. Satin stitch or fishbone is used on the small leaves, buttonhole outlines are also used, as is feather stitch and herringbone. French knots occasionally add adornment.
It is in the center of the motifs where creativity reigns. Because close-woven fabric is the basis for the work, openwork grids are created by snipping threads. Upon this mesh, drawn fabric, needleweaving and lace stitches are employed to create balance in the designs.
The embroidery example below is stitched on 40-ct Ricamo linen.
Another good example of the style. Note the added buttonholing (eyelashes) around the scallops, the double rows of coral and chain leaving a space for feather stitching. The center is a fine mosaic filling stitch.
Worked on 60-ct.