The Embroidered Codex story

2014 NOTE: Although originally written as brief blog entries in 2009, I have since added further outline information about the making of the book & recorded it here altogether - I will soon also include the carry-bag.
An embroidered book was made as a result of researching the diversity and inspiration behind ‘Make-Do-and-Mend’ during World War II (1939-45). What initially began as a simple study, soon became a collection of interesting and inspirational facts that I wanted to document. Selecting this textile-based topic for research, I continued the same theme for display of it: similar to a child’s rag book yet resembling a photo album - its finished size was appx. size 60cm x 40cm. The 'book' would contain separate pages, each one relating to a particular Make-Do-&-Mend needlecraft topic of the period. These would include:
  • Clarification of Make-Do-and-Mend
  • Household
  • Magazines and use of Transfers
  • Knitting
  • Embroidery and stitching techniques
  • Fashion and Accessories.
Each topic would either be shown with original technique detail or interpreted using a more up-to-date method. To maintain continuity, the majority of fabrics and threads used for the book’s construction and sample making were either actual pieces from worn items of the period or remnants from past personal projects.

Machine Embroidered Book (slide show here)

General making
All inner pages of the book were made from a length of 1950s black ottoman fabric that had been stored in a cupboard for several years! I envisaged it as being 'Blackout fabric' & similar to that of the wartime period, so it was chosen to represent the blackness, darkness and gloom evident between the war years of 1939 and 1945. Practically, it was also closely woven and ideal for machine stitching. To enable pages to 'be turned' when viewed like a book (as well as  allow them to be displayed at a later date), 2 pages were each decoratively stitched back-to-back using blanket-stitch (although this was worked by machine and pre-programmed into it) and before each page was completed, it was stiffened with card to enable better handling for future use. The pages were made removable (from the book) for ease of handling and their method of attachment to the book's spine (defined by underwear of the period!) was chosen as being hook and eye tape.

Overall theme
Hand-written style notes to accompany samples or provide explanation were computer printed on black paper in white ink and wartime-style stud fastenings used to attach them to the pages – other wording was machine stitched directly to fabric. This style of notation had been the format of many archived documents found during research and its interpretation by using modern computerised sewing machine techniques would represent this - my computer use would be of significance as per the wartime ‘Enigma’ machine. * Many wartime slogans and other official recommendations had been shown in film footage, newspapers and various original memorabilia - this was repeated throughout the book by ‘writing’ them using computerised/pre-programmed stitching. For a variety of reasons, original books or magazine pages were unable to be stitched so photos and photocopies of them were used instead. Their permanent attachment to a page resulted in a selection of machine embroidery techniques being adapted and created. One of these was a method of making lace entirely by machine without the need for any form of backing or retaining fabric (more on this and others from March 2013 where they will be found by clicking to the link here).
* Interestingly at the time, I was using an Amstrad computer PCW 9512 - one of the first on the market. It used a 'daisy-wheel' for  use of fonts and an Amstrad fax machine was connected to it to act as a scanner. The machine used for making the book was a computerised Pfaff 1471.

Outer covers


The image (above left), shows the front of the book and represents aerial images of London during the Blitz. It is worked in a variety of free machine embroidery stitchings using mainly metal thread on different types of net meshes. The black/red central panel is raised - it depicts the bombed and burning London buildings and/or tangled metalwork clearly visible amongst many photographs and films from the period. The outer coloured 'stitched hatching' is a quilted layer representing the radial beams of tracer lights and bombing patterns visible during the night raids (these are more clearly shown on the book's reverse - above right).

Pages 1 & 2
The first 2 pages of the 'Make-Do-and-Mend book' are detachable and resemble a paper book 'flysheet' - a printing omission in various book of the research period due to 'wartime economies'.


Page 1 (left) - machine embroidery on chiffon overlays page 2 (right) - discharge dye/resist technique and machine embroidery on grosgrain fabric. When the book is first opened, these 2 pages initially appear as one (see below) and show the 'landmark beacon' of St. Pauls Cathedral (London) amidst the smoke and fires of the Blitz.

Pages 3
This pages briefly detail the overall effect of WWII on London and changes were imminent.

Lower left pocket (above left) contains samples of parachute fabric and cords to show its quality - it was often used from 'black-market' sources for a wide variety of 'home' uses. Here, photocopies are 'pinned' like notice-board references (as per the book's theme but also as reminders of flight pin boards and in honour of my father who was in the RAF during the period). 

Pages 4 & 5
The Home Front was also changing - homes had to be made secure and further economies made.


Page 4 (above right) shows a typical house interior during the war with items depicted as those suggested during the 1939-45 period that could be made using a variety of textiles and/or needlecrafts. Often made to 'brighten up' a particular room - many were recommended to make ‘for economy’ with instructions found in magazines and books of the period. This page is machine embroidered – a colour photocopy enhanced with stitching and further embroidery. For page 5 (above right), an ‘economy’ slippers pattern has been referenced. Transformed with a modern interpretation, a partial sample was hand stitched in crazy patchwork using sections of post-war ties using an original pattern.

Pages 6 & 7
These 2 pages show some of the reference books and magazines printed during the war period. Providing instructions for a wide range of needlecrafts and fashion-related projects, the majority of these encouraged the recycling of various items of clothing and textiles.


Page 6 (above left) details a selection of popular wartime magazines that were available – sewing technique used is magazine photos held together by machine quilting on a netting layer together with various wording (on the net) in free-machining. At the time of the war, many US soldiers were in the UK - the meshing is a reminder of all the stockings provided by the GI's! Page 7 (above right) shows that transfers could ‘brighten up’ any home to make pictures sample taken from an original transfers/instructions and stitched using today’s threads but in colours as close as possible to the ones of the period.

Pages 8 - 11
These 4 pages reference the variety of transfers that were available for stitching for varied uses and for many different fabrics.


Page 8 (above left) demonstrates that by using transfers, the war effort can be supported by adopting the use (around the home) of the Forces various emblems and badges. Page 9 (above right) is stitched on a background of photocopied interfacing (a modern interpretation of using 'map fabric').


Pages 10 (above left) details the numerous wartime slogans - overlaying a selection of encapsulated photos of embroidered household linens (again using a pre-programmed sewing machine for this purpose). Displayed rather like a photo album of the period, the fine encapsulating fabric is a reminder of the US new materials prevalent at the time. Page 11 (above right) details how garments too can be 'patterned' using some oddments of haberdashery found in the workbox and thereby creating personalised 'embroideries'. 

Pages 12 & 13
These pages generally relate to 'fashion' of the period.


Page 12 (above left), is worked entirely in machine embroidery and shows a typical set of wartime clothes that had been recycled or made using different needlecraft techniques. ‘Stitched notes’ provide explanations (eg. old raincoat to make gas mask bag) as per those found as suggestions in newspapers. Page 13 (above right), shows some examples for 'livening up clothes' using different yarn thicknesses - samples made referencing patterns from the period but with modern equivalent yarns. The upper example shows the creation of a new fabric by weaving on net (to make a collar); the central example decoratively stitching on a plain knitted fabric (to liven up socks) and the third example (as a photocopy) shows a yarn used in a different manner – the example showing how rug wool can be used to make some shoes. 

Page 14 - 15
These 2 pages concentrate on the use of yarn or thread for many different needlecrafts.


Page 14 (above left),
shows some knitting samples of the period – typical stitch patterns and colours alongside those suggested items of clothing. Swatches of stitch patterns were knitted using yarns and colours as close to those as recommended within the original instructions. Again on this page, the theme of a photo album was continued as a means to display the samples - here machine embroidery was used to ‘write’ notes (eg. bright colours were cheerful) and secure swatches and photocopies of patterns. Page 15 (above right) is the last page in the book and shows a variety of uses for other needlecrafts – designs once again having simple shapes and colours being bright. Some suggested ideas were: dolls from wooden spoons, accessories from blankets and matching fashion accessories.

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