On Gossamer Wings

Level II Teacher’s Certification piece, 1989

My stitching group friend, Charlie Eldridge, purchased a set of dinnerware on a trip to China. It featured brightly colored butterflies and was gorgeous! Meanwhile, I was gathering my thoughts regarding my expertise piece for NAN Level II Teachers’ Certification, a piece that displays the epitome of the candidate’s color, design, and technique skills. A few days after I saw Charlie’s china, I was stuck motionless in a rush hour traffic jam when a vision of On Gossamer Wings flashed into my consciousness.

The combination of fanciful and colorful design elements incorporated in an elegant, finely sewn garment perfectly represented my personal expertise. However, the project was daunting. I made and fitted a muslin shell, then drew the shape of the proposed stitched inset onto the muslin so that the canvas ground fabric (Congress Cloth) could be all one piece with no seams. After line drawing the individual butterflies and resizing them to provive many options, I cut them out and pinned them to the muslin shell, ensuring that none would be sucking a nipple instead of nectar. Following all that preparation, I ripped out the muslin shell shoulder seams, laid the muslin flat, and drafted the paper pattern/line design of the stitched inset.

The inset uses mostly silks along with some synthetics, metallics, and cotton embroidery floss. What fun I had gathering my materials! These threads were worked in a combination of small-scaled needlepoint stitches and selected embroidery stitches for the butterflies. Since the jacket fabric is washed tussah silk, I experimented with several background treatments that would echo the appearance of the silk fabric. The small two-day pattern darning stitch appears as fabric from a short viewing distance. Finally, the whipped outline stitch scrolling lines and curves represent the butterflies’ graceful flight along with echoing the curving edges of the inset.

The jacket was constructed with a flannel inner lining for body and stability. The fronts and back were hand quilted in tunnel quilting that repeats the curved edge of the inset. Originally, I wore On Gossamer Wings with a tea-length skirt made of matching fabric as a special occasion outfit.

When On Gossamer Wings was accessioned to the NAN Permanent Collection I was allowed five years’ use of the garment before it became part of the collection.