Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hand Towels - Drawn-Thread Work

One of the biggest differences between Italian needlework and that which we do at least here in North America is that lots of Italians still decorate household linens and use them daily. I don't know about where you are, but around here if any needlework gets done or is on display, its usually in a frame for placing on the wall.

I really love what I call 'guest towels' (probably because at my house when I was little, they were only put out if we had house guests- which was rare!) or decorative hand towels are still relatively common.

Often in Italy hand towels are done on extremely high count linen, with lots of hemstitching or whitework on them, but I've seen lots of coloured embroidery too.

A popular fabric for hand towels is a linen fabric called Crespo. It has a certain shine to it and the weaving is very compact, making a solid surface for embroidery. I bought some to do some Gigliuccio hemstitching on. When setting out to withdraw the ground threads I got worried that it would be difficult as the weave seems to criss-cross quite a bit. It turned out to be quite easy to do however and I didn't have any difficulty:

I did all the hemming on two hand towels using Ritorto Fiorentino pearl cotton no. 12 and now I search for just the right monogram to stitch on them for my daughter's trousseaux.

While in Ferrara last year I saw some beautiful drawn-thread work done on terry-cloth towels. Elisabetta Holzer Spinelli was kind enough to show me some of her beautiful and intricate work:

These towels had bands intended for embroidery on them from which she withdrew threads and embroidered over:

These are colour photographs though it might not seem so. Elisabetta's incredible sense of colour matching shows in these elegant towels.

I have many books on hemstitching as I'm a drawn-thread junkie. Mani di Fata has five booklets with easy-to-follow diagrams on hemstitching called Punti a Giorno in Italian, of varying degrees of difficulty. Though the scant instructions are in Italian, the diagrams say it all.

Maria Pia Gaiart has several books on drawn-thread work, these are well diagrammed, some in English and Italian, some only in Italian. You can get these books from Tombolo Disegni. (click on 'Books', then 'Sfilati ed Assia' - you must send an email request to order.

Liliana Babbi Cappelletti has a great new book out on intricate drawn-thread work called Sfilature Legate [Tied Drawn-Thread Work], though the text is in Italian, plans are in the works for an English edition. Her diagrams are excellent and step-by-step, you should be able to figure out the patterns with the Italian version if you can't wait for the English, email Elena at Italian Needlecrafts.

There are several tutorials on Tuttoricamo's website under the "How its Done" section.

To really test myself, one day I'll do some scalloped edging on a hand towel...


  1. Hello Jeanine,

    I read your beautiful blog for long, but I think it's the first time I comment.
    It's fun yesterday I spent a lot of time scrolling through your blog and the italien links you have. I was just searching for a new Punti a Giorno to try. I'm doing a new linen towel where a monogram will be embroidered.
    Here in Portugal we still use "guest towels" as well, :)
    Thanks for all information you share.
    Have a great Sunday!

  2. Hi Meri,
    Thanks for the comments, I'm glad you are enjoying my blog. There was recently an article in Inspirations magazine about the beautiful embroideries of Portugal - I enjoyed looking at them very much!

  3. Hi Jeanine,
    please could you tell me which Inspiration is that?

    I've just come from the Elisaricamo you added to your blog roll and think you are right they are alike long long bullion knots.
    Here in North Portugal we have a region where those long long bullion knots are very used

  4. Meri, it's the latest Inspirations, no. 66 on page 10 - the article is by Yvette Stanton of Australia.

  5. Hi - I just found your site and its lovely! I was searching for terry cloth towels that have blank bands for embroidering and see some on your site - where on earth can I find those!?
    Durham NC

  6. Hi Jo, those were from Ferrara, Italy.
    Laura carries them in Milan: