For some years I have wanted to try my hand at working miniature pieces of needle painting embroidery, and as you know this has become a passion of mine in the last year. You may ask why………….? What is the difference between miniature embroidery and a small piece of embroidery? What exactly is a miniature and how tiny does it have to be to qualify? What makes miniature embroidery so unique?
From a personal point of view this is why I love miniatures so much:
- There is something endearing about a tiny, wee thing that has all the detail and form of a larger piece. As a child I would love to sit and draw little things and then add in minute details. This applies to my embroidery where I am able to stitch the main form of the picture and then add in the details with outlines. I love this part as it comes alive in front of my eyes!
- It does not take as long to fill a small piece of embroidery as it does to fill a larger piece, I find myself getting bored when I have to fill an area such as a large flower petal or other aspect that takes days and days to fill with similar shades of colour. With miniature embroidery you can see progress in very little time, so if you are limited to how many hours you have in your day to stitch it is encouraging to feel you have achieved something in a short space of time.
- The small size of the embroidery piece allows us a greater variety of finishing techniques. Unlike larger pieces which have to be framed and take up more wall space, these can be made into quilt blocks, needlework items, bags, cushions etc.
- The nature of its size makes the subjects more flexible – I can reproduce pictures that have more detail in them, even add in some background areas. I can consider subjects such as landscapes that would be just to tedious to stitch on a larger scale!
However there are many aspects of this art that we need to understand before we can fully appreciate it as an art form. Over a series of articles, I hope to enlighten you on the subject of miniature embroidery, its origins and charm, its history , preservation and advancement as an art form up to the current day. There are several Miniature Associations throughout the world here are two in the USA & UK that give us some guidelines:
Association Of Miniature Artists
Defines miniature art as:
- 1. Minute in scale vs. life sized. For practicality following the general 1/6th scale for any work sent to formal miniature exhibitions and shows
- 2. Delicate and painstaking technique that withstands magnification
- 3. Small in format and size: 25 inches or less for surface area.
- 4. High in quality. The work should exemplify Fine Art ~ demonstrating a mastery of composition, color, values etc.
Examples can be seen HERE
Royal Society Of Miniature Painters.
The RMS defines miniature solely by technique. At present the size limit is 6 x 4½ inches inclusive of framing. Scale is limited to 2 inches or less for human heads or single objects.
However since its founding the RMS now recognises pieces as large as 12 x 10 inches. Examples of miniature paintings can be seen HERE:
Here are some examples of miniature paintings by Rebecca & Bonnie Latham – particular favorites of mine, they are really exquisite in detail and I would love to get permission to reproduce them in embroidery but alas it is not to be! You can see more examples HERE.
History of Miniature Embroidery
Unlike a painter with his 0.1 paintbrush it is impossible to work a piece of needle painting to the scale and size of that for portrait miniatures which were used in the production of jewellery lockets, snuff/trinket boxes in the 16th & 17th century, often as small as 4 x 3cm. Also not to be confused with Dollhouse miniatures worked with petite point needlepoint on a very high count gauze. We are limited to the width of our thread and need enough space to include details such as facial features without losing too much of the original form. So how big can a miniature be?
There are only a few surviving examples of miniature embroidery that we can refer to today, a fine example of this is the Embroidered miniature of King Charles 1 Metropolitan Museum of Art 1580 – 1700. The portrait is worked on satin with silk thread and is approx. 15 x 11cm ( 6 x 4 inches). More details on the picture and work can be found HERE in the exhibitions gallery. Click on the image below to view a larger pic.
You may think that this is not that small? But in fact it is worked on the principle of approx. 1/16 scale of a life sized portrait. Based on this and the parameters provided by the Associations lets apply this to our embroidery.
Guidelines For Miniatures in Embroidery
- Portraits head & shoulders no bigger than 10 x 10cm (4,5 x 4,5inches)
- Group of objects size no bigger than 15 x 10cm (6 x 4,5 inches)
- Full painting size no bigger than 30 x 25 cm (12 x 10 inches)
This gives us quite a bit of flexibility with the size of our miniature embroidery. Depending on the subject I like to work each miniature on a minimum scale of: 6 x 7cm (2,3 x 2,7inches) and a maximum of 14 x 9cm (5,5 x 3,5 inches) .
Miniature embroidery is not just a smaller replica of a larger piece, here are some features that distinguish miniature embroidery from conventional embroidery pieces:
- Minute in scale vs. life sized.
- Delicate stitching that imitates the detail of a life size picture as closely as possible.
- Small in format and size: 14cm (5,5 inches) or less for surface area.
- High in quality. The work should exemplify Fine Art ~ demonstrating a mastery of composition, color, values etc.
- Worked on a fine background fabric of 200 thread count or more, to allow for precise stitching.
Next time we will talk about the materials used for miniature needle painting including looking at some alternative threads that will allow us to obtain the fineness needed for miniatures. Meanwhile wherever you are in the world, be it winter, spring, summer or autumn have a wonderful week and many happy stitching hours. Trish