Back in the heyday of crewel embroidery, and by that I mean the 1960s and 1970s, Erica Wilson was the queen. She taught, sold kits, wrote books, and had her own PBS show about needle arts, many episodes found on YouTube.
It seems I am destined to return to wool every so often, and it’s been on my mind for a month or so. I like wool more than any other fiber, and in a strange series of clicks on the internet I found myself buying a 1973 Erica Wilson crewel embroidery kit of autumn plants. It’s supposed to end up as a rather groovy pillow.
It takes patience to stitch, and I’m surprised by how content I’ve been working on this. I love the textured feel and look of crewel embroidery, which is embroidery done in wool, and I’m figuring out quite a bit about embroidery. I’m learning stitches, too, so far stem, satin, padded satin, long-and-short, chain, and French knots.
And, yes, I’ve ordered another groovy kit (owls), some additional wool, and some linen backing.
Bunka is a style of embroidery from Japan using a tightly-woven polyester backing and a four-ply rayon yarn (chainette). The yarn is unraveled before punching it into the canvas with a punch needle. Unlike other punch needle projects I’ve done, the goal isn’t to cluster many loops in a small space; rather, the threads can be extended up to about a half-inch. They lay flatter against the surface, although there’s definitely a dimensional result that’s fascinating to look at. The kinks left in the yarn after unraveling keep the loops secure on the backside of the fabric. Because bunka is stitched face forward after tacking it on a frame, it feels much more like painting on a canvas. However, the final product is not sturdy like a punch needle or hooked rug or even stitched embroidery. In fact, I think a bunka painting is meant to be just that–a painting.
I bought a vintage bunka kit off Etsy. It came with a design on the backing–a lovely woodcut by Hokusai–the bunka yarn, and a small printout, one side with a color painting and the other with a lined drawing of the project with numbers written in that correspond to the yarn colors. It’s exactly like a paint-by-number kit. With instructions in Japanese and only a handful of instructional videos available on Youtube, however, I’m fumbling my way through this, but I’m enjoying it tremendously. The wavy rayon thread and synthetic backing give the piece a unique shimmery, dimensional feeling. I love the look of bunka.
Bunka gained popularity in the 1960s but it may have seen its heyday, although there are a few companies out there as well as an organization or two devoted to it. I’m on the hunt to find supplies in order to try a few designs of my own.