Schwalm is named after a region along the Schwalm River, approximately 20 miles northeast of Marburg, Germany. In Germany, it is called "Schwalmer Weisstrickerel", which translates into "the white stitchery from the Schwalm."
This particular form of whitework dates back to the late 18th century and does incorporate pulled and drawn thread, needle weaving, and surface embroidery. Most of the designs are based on the "tree of life". The Germans depict the tree as an interpretation of the Cross of Christ and overcoming of death. Therefore, the motifs you will see most often include leaves, blossoms, fruits, hearts, tulips, and doves.
Schwalm closely resembles Hedebo embroidery which is from Denmark. Although very similar, you can tell them apart because in Hedebo the designs are surrounded by two rows of chain stitches. In Schwalm the inner row is done in chain stitches but the outer row is coral knots. The Schwalm designs might also continue with the herringbone stitch followed by more coral stitches and a final row of buttonhole designs.
It is difficult to find early examples of Schwalm because the items were functional and, therefore, discarded when worn out. However, from some surviving examples, books, and personal stories, we learn that the designs were used on the sleeves, cuffs, and aprons of regional German costumes, as well as pillowcases and linens. The designs were very symmetrical and extended to the edge of the object. The stitchers strived to cover as much of the fabric surface as possible due to the "fear of the void" which is the belief that the devil will attempt to enter an object at the weakest point. Traditionally, it was done with white linen thread on white linen fabric. The fabric was a fine count in the range of 35-40 threads per inch. Today, stitchers use a wide variety of fabrics and threads, with a lot more color. However, care should be taken not to have the color overshadow the beauty and simplicity of stitches and designs. Schwalm is a wonderful technique that allows an embroiderer to turn their stitching into a personal work of art.
Bishop, Christine. Schwalm Embroidery, Techniques and Designs (1743). Australia: Sally Milner Publishing Pty Ltd, 2008.
Fernau, Renate. Schwalm Whitework, The Exquisite Regional Embroidery of Germany (1738). Berkeley: Lacis Publications, 2000.
Maurer, Phyllis. Techniques of German Schwalm (2353). Ethnic Fiber Art LLC
FABRIC: It is important to have a fabric that is an even weave where the warp and the weft threads are the same thickness. If there is a lot of variance, it may cause your design to be off centered. A good linen fabric would be an excellent choice. You should use at least a 32-count fabric. The finer the fabric the more delicate your finished piece will be. It will also allow you to do more complex designs and needle weaving.
THREAD: Schwalm is considered a Whitework technique so traditionally the thread and fabric were white linen. However, today’s stitchers are experimenting with an array of colors and tone-on-tone combinations besides white. Whatever you choose to use, a good quality cotton thread is recommended. Coton a broder comes in varying weights and is the recommended thread. However, you can substitute pearl cotton and floss:
- Coton a broder #12: Use a size #8 pearl cotton
- Coton a broder #16 and #20: Use a size #12 pearl cotton
- Coton a broder #25 and #30: Use 2 plies of floss
NEEDLES: Depending on the stitching you are doing, you are going to need chenille needles (sharp tips) (7034A) and tapestry needles (blunt tips) like this Jones James Pebble set (7043C). The size of the needle will need to match the size of your thread. You don’t want a needle smaller than your thread or you will be tugging the needle through the fabric and causing wear on the fabric and thread.
- A tape measure comes in handy as you prepare to copy your design onto the fabric. I just love our animal series.
- Scissors with narrow, sharp points are a must! Unlike Hardanger Embroidery, you are often cutting only one thread at a time. I had to buy a new pair just for this fine cutting. Any of the Dovo Embroidery Scissors would be a great choice. I bought the 4" Dovo scissors (305-235-0004)
- A good lighting and magnification system has really helped me. My eyes tire quickly with the finer count fabrics and I begin to make mistakes. The patterns do not rely on counting (except for the cutting) but it is important to be able to see your fabric threads to keep your lines straight and your curves neat.
- A frame or hoop is needed to keep your design properly stretched. If your fabric is loose, you will have a finished piece that is puckered and distorted. For many stitches you will be using both hands to stitch and guide the thread, so use a frame or hoop that provides you the most comfort.
Components of the Design
What I really enjoy about Schwalm is the versatility in the designs and stitches. Here are some standard components to consider when planning your project.
HEMSTITCHED BORDERS (Hohlsaum)
A project such as a runner, tablecloth, or clothing should always have a hemstitched border. Many of the options are done by withdrawing threads and needle weaving or wrapping. The basic patterns include the Simple Hemstitch, Four-Sided Hemstitch, and the Pea-hole Hemstitch. You can build a wide variety of borders using these basics and added wrapping and weaving. Another border option is done with openwork, which creates a filigree lace look. If you know the finished size of your piece, you may wish to do your hemstitching before you transfer your design onto the fabric.
We carry several excellent reference books on hemstitching!
- Hems, Edges & Fancy Borders Book (140-400-0001)
- The How to book of Hemstitching and Edging (2404)
- Hemstitching (2404A)
While many other needle artform ignore the corners, Schwalm embroiderers have created many elaborate designs to showcase the corners. The corners are created in stages using wrapping, needle lace, and needle weaving.
These stitches serve to create a barrier so you can do the cutwork. These stitches must be completed before any cutting and pulling of thread is done. It is also recommended that you finish all outline and ornamental stitches before you start the cutting.
CHAIN STITCH (Kettstich): A row of chain stitches should be your first line of "defense" around any motifs that will have threads cut. These chain stitches are very small, only two or three threads long. You do not want to see the fabric through the loop of the chain stitch. Begin the stitch by bringing the needle out of the fabric at point 1 and reinserting it back into the same point (point 2). This will create a loop in your thread. Bring your needle up through the fabric a couple of fabric threads later (point 3). Make sure your needle remains inside the loop as you pull the thread snug. Don’t pull it tight or it will pucker the fabric. Where your needle comes out of the fabric begins the next stitch. When it is necessary to end a row of stitching or turn a corner, finish the stitch by pulling the thread to the underside of the work then weave under several stitches, then come up again at the point or corner and begin the stitch again.
CORAL KNOT (Knotchenstich): On the outside of the chain stitch you will work a row of coral knots. Also, flower stems, branches, satin stitch edges, and outlines of satin stitched designs are done in coral stitches. Make your stitch length uniform, only two or three threads long. You can do several rows of coral knots, fitting the knots of the second row between the knots of the first row, creating a brick effect. This stitch is worked from right to left, holding the thread ahead of you as you work along the line. Insert the needle into the fabric and catch a couple of fabric threads at an angle that crosses the line of the design. The stitching thread passes over the laid thread and is tightened up to form a knot, which sits directly on top of the thread used to stitch the design line.
The outline stitches not only assist in creating a firm foundation, but they add a lace effect and help conceal irregular reinforcement stitches.
One of the most popular stitches is the buttonhole. Here is an example of a regular buttonhole stitch.
You can create a buttonhole scallop (schnurloch) by stitching the outer edge in a semi-circle with all the threads going through the same hole. Here is an example of a buttonhole scallop with a Brussels Lace edge.
The pointed buttonhole scallops (schnurlochspitze) are worked like the rounded scallops, but instead of a semi-circle they form a point. You can do your buttonhole stitches with the threads being parallel to each other rather than sharing a central hole. A buttonhole arch (geschnhrter bogen) resembles a fine lace edging. You can do the same thing with the pointed buttonhole where the threads are parallel and the stitches make sharp peaks and valleys and this is called the buttonhole knife point (geschnurte messerspitze).
SATIN STITCH (Plattstich): One of the most used stitches is the satin stitch. You determine the direction of your stitches based on your design element.
An alternative approach is the Padded Satin Stitch, which produces a slightly raised surface. For the padded satin stitch, work the base layer slightly inside the outline of the design, with the thread running perpendicular in direction to those on the final layer of stitches. You can work your heart with either satin stitch option.
You can have a single layer of stitches, or you can pad the design with a layer of stitches going the opposite direction of your final layer.
Other common stitches include the herringbone stitch (hexenstich) and the daisy stitch (margeritenstich), and the tree or feather stitch (baumchenstich).
These stitches are used wherever threads have been cut and pulled from the center of motifs to create a grid. There are a countless number of stitches to choose from. You will need a book that has good instructions and diagrams to get you started. Once you are comfortable with the basic stitches, feel free to experiment; even create your own combinations. In the project provided, you will learn the rose stitch.
Needleweaving is also used to fill in the grid. They are very geometric and are usually done on a 2-2 grid (2 threads pulled, 2 threads kept).
Many stitches are the same no matter the technique. Having several reference guides will make your stitching fun!
- A-Z of Embroidery Stitches (1659)
- A-Z of Embroidery Stitches 2 (1659O)
- Stitch Sampler (140-374-5283)
The stitch diagrams used in this newsletter came off of several websites. These sites are excellent resources for all expertise levels.
Transferring the Design
Most of the time the design will not be pre-printed on the fabric. Before you transfer your design prepare your fabric by ironing out the creases. Be sure your fabric is completely dry before you begin or your transfer method may not work. You will need a good water soluble pen (6643) with a light source or a hot iron transfer pen (6634)
with tracing paper (6639). Align the center of your fabric with the center of your pattern and carefully transfer the pattern. Finish your hems if required, then mount your fabric in a frame or hoop and you are ready to stitch.
Ready to Stitch?
Here are some patterns and a kit we carry on Schwalm.
- Hearts and Flowers in Schwalm kit (K2220)
- Moonlight Garden: a Lesson in Schwalm (1508)
- Basket Arrangement inspired by German Schwalm (2352A)
- Tray Inspired by German Schwalm (2371)
I had the privilege of teaching a class on German Schwalm at our annual stitcher’s retreat. I’d like to share with you the small practice piece I designed for that class. You can make this into an ornament, a card insert, or small framed piece.
For the retreat, I stitched the design in Phyllis Maurer’s book Techniques of German Schwalm (2353). Here is the piece with all the foundation work completed and half of the rose filler stitches done.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about German Schwalm and I found the stitching to be quite relaxing. It was especially nice on the nights I didn’t want to do a lot of counting and recounting! Perhaps you will find Schwalm enjoyable also!
We hope these "helpful hints" make your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”