Sunday, March 24, 2013

Brazilian embroidery--what is it?

I first learned of Brazilian embroidery in high school when my parents gave me Rosie Montague's classic book, Brazilian Three-Dimensional Embroidery, published in 1983. It is a Dover book with basic text and iron-on transfers. She made everything sound so easy, but you needed specialized rayon thread to work the embroidery. There wasn't any Internet in the '80s, and the local shops back east didn't sell it. It was 20 years later before I saw a Brazilian kit in a stitchery shop in Albuquerque, but the shop owner discouraged me from buying it, saying Brazilian was very difficult to learn on your own. Two years later, I moved to Denver, found a class, and have been exploring this technique ever since. But what is it?


Brazilian is a style of embroidery developed and popularized in Brazil, during the last half of the 20th century. It is characterized by high-relief, three-dimensional flowers nestled in a profusion of greenery and stitched in multiple weights of vividly dyed rayon embroidery thread. More recently, American designers have moved away from the classic floral and greenery designs toward a huge variety of surface designs. Everything from desert to underwater scenes to cute animals are being designed and stitched with Brazilian effects.


The three-dimensional effect of Brazilian embroidery is achieved through bullion and other knot stitches, rather than the wires and padding characteristic of stump work. The stitches, however, are not new. Bullions, cast-ons, french knots, satin stitch, couching, stem stitch and straight stitch will typically be used in a Brazilian design and have been used for centuries. But in Brazilian embroidery, these stitches are coaxed to ever more heights to produce flowers that can stand up to an inch above the fabric.


Part of the reason that Brazilian can achieve this three-dimensional effect is due to the rayon thread. I don't work much in silks, which have some of the same qualities of sheen and smoothness of rayon, but try making a 40- or 50-wrap bullion in cotton floss and you will soon be discouraged, whereas with rayon, the thread glides over itself. 40, 50 or more wraps can still be tricky, but they are doable.


Because Brazilian embroidery is so new, there is little information on its development, especially in English. Brazilian women began by dying their own rayon threads and experimenting with them before Vericore and Maticor began making them commercially. Both threads came in a variety of weights and a large number of colors. Montague provides a color chart at the end of her book that shows the large number of variegated and non-variegated colors that were in use by the early 80s.


The Internet provides many claims about who first developed the technique. If I could read Portuguese, there would likely be even more! But Madam Maia was an early practitioner and popularizer of the new technique, so much so that Vericore named one of its threads after her.


The technique followed immigrants to United States in the 70s and 80s where, in 1979, Ed and Maria Freitas began producing their own line of Brazilian embroidery threads under the name EdMar. Instructional books in English soon followed, with Maria Freitas's book, The Art of Dimensional Embroidery first published in 1982 (now in its forth edition) and Montague's in 1983. Both books provide clear instructions and inspiring patterns.


I'll write more about Brazilian threads and techniques in later posts, but to learn more on your own, here are some links to get you started.


Here is a free pattern I stitched from the Brazilian International Embroidery Guild web site.

The Brazilian International Embroidery Guild provides good information, instruction and free patterns on its web site.


Brazilian Embroidery Instruction by Loretta's Custom Stitchery provides some information on basic Brazilian stitches.


Christine Hause is a certified Brazilian embroidery instructor who provides classes and lectures on the technique. She is willing to travel and her list of classes and pictures of class samples are available on her web page.


Hause also is the proprietor of A Stitching Shop, where I get all of my Brazilian supplies and patterns. If you are in Denver, stop by. You won't be disappointed at the wide selection of patterns and the full line of EdMar Brazilian threads.


EdMar's website provides additional history on Brazilian embroidery, as well as information on their thread line and Maria Freitas' patterns.


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