I started searching for information about these patterns and found that there were few popular studies or websites in the German language, and few projects referring to these designs. It was only in English that I came across studies, websites and also modern designs using Berlin Work schemes. One of the first books that I came across was written by an Italian artist and researcher Raffaella Serena, entitled Berlin Work, Patterns and Embroidery of the 19th Century. Eventually I fund more information in the library of the Fine Arts Museum in Berlin and was privileged to see the surviving originals of the 19th century Berlin Woolwork charts housed there. It was a delightful experience, looking at the colourful designs that had survived over 200 years. Another interesting encounter was the publication Rosen, Tulpen, Nelken …: Stickvorlagen des 19. Jahrhunderts aus Deutschland und Österreich written by Heidi Müller, published in 1977 by the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin.
Intrigued by the centuries-old patterns, I decided to go a step further and re-create some of them. I was lucky to find a wonderful craftswoman who helped me to reproduce several designs. The embroiderer, Ms. Malgorzata Wrobel lives in Lowicz in central Poland, a place where folk arts and crafts have survived until today.
The 19th century Berlin was a global centre of wool industry. The spinning, dyeing weaving and wool processing industries gave work to thousands of workers. It was in Berlin that the innovation of embroidery charts came into being, providing additional work for large masses of women not only in the manufactures creating these worldwide popular products, but also in the making and sale of finished wool products.
In year 1804 the publishing house of Mr A. Phillipson in Berlin issued a collection of embroidery patterns with 12 different motifs on checked paper. The designs were printed in black and then coloured by hand. The embroidery charts specified the number of stitches per row and colours of a woolen threads to be used. These early Berlin Woolwork (or Berlin Work) embroidery charts were published as single sheets. The designs were created to be transferred onto items of clothing, handbags, shoes, furnishings or as stand-alone works of art in the style of “needle painting”. With such a detailed instruction, it was no longer necessary to draw a detailed pattern on the fabric, which allowed not only
specialists from aristocratic manufactures but also talented amateurs to create beautiful items at home. The invention, therefore, contributed to the financial emancipation of women.