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Venetia’s Blackberries: A Needlework Inspiration From Regency Fiction

“[Venetia] had never been in love; and at five-and-twenty her expectations were not high. Her only acquaintance with romance lay between the covers of the books she had read […]”

It is with great pleasure that I come here as a guest today to share a special project and chat about one of my favourite books by a favourite author: Venetia by Georgette Heyer. I’m Anne, an embroidery blogger over at The Diary of a Northern Belle, where I like to share my needlework adventures. A hopeless book addict, I often find embroidery inspiration within the pages of my favourite novels. I mostly read classics and historical romances and have been a devoted Georgette Heyer fan since my late teens. It turns out that Venetia is also one of Hannah’s favourites, so this is bound to be lots of fun!

My Thoughts on the Book

One of Georgette Heyer’s most acclaimed works and a favourite among readers, Venetia is undoubtedly one of my favourite romances of all time. I assure you that you will seldom find a more perfect one. While Heyer’s Regency novels tend to be more comedy than romance, Venetia is certainly more romance than comedy. The signature witty style is there of course, as well as comedic situations, but it’s overall more serious and lyrical than her typical screwball comedy.

Taking place in the countryside of Yorkshire in 1818, the story is rather quiet (despite the passionate romance scalding off the pages) for a Heyer book. Although Venetia does go to London later in the book, this is not your usual romp among the ton, full of glittering balls and soirées. It’s a more mature story, with an “older” heroine (really, she’s only 25, but most Heyer heroines tend to be 17-20) and everyone’s favourite seasoned rake, Lord Damerel, kindly christened the Wicked Baron by Venetia and her siblings.

“‘[…]your quotations don’t make your advances a whit more acceptable to me – and they don’t deceive me into thinking you anything but a pestilent, complete knave!’”.

There is no doubt that Venetia and Lord Damerel are among Heyer’s best-matched couples, if not the best. Most readers unanimously agree that they are perfect for each other, unlike some other couples (Léonie and the Duke of Avon from These Old Shades come to mind!) Their romance is ultimately grounded in solid trust and friendship nearly from the start (we shall magnanimously gloss over the aforementioned “advances”). They laugh together, share inside jokes, understand each other, and best of all, they can’t stop quoting classic literature.

“‘Item, two lips, indifferent red-’

Oh, no, you’re quite out, and have gone to the wrong poet besides! They look like rosebuds filled with snow!’”

Ahh. Their bond is undeniably strong, and unlike in other Heyer novels, you don’t have to read between the lines to see how attracted they are to each other, and how much in love they soon fall. It’s palpable in their every interaction. I might make it sound a little spicy, but fear not, this is a clean book. Orgies may be mentioned now and again, but what’s to be expected from a novel so bent on referencing ancient Greece and Rome if not to throw in a little orgy (pardon me, a splendid orgy)!?

I’m kidding of course, there are no orgies in this book. It’s all in good taste, I promise. For all this talk about passionate romance, that isn’t exactly what makes their relationship so good. As mentioned previously, it’s the fact that they are so completely in tune with each other and become such good friends so quickly.

“Somewhere in the garden a thrush was singing, the joyous sweetness of its note so much in harmony with [Venetia’s] mood that it seemed a part of her happiness. She was content for some moments to listen, not questioning the source of her happiness; but presently she came to full consciousness, and remembered that she had found a friend.”

I think this is probably the passage that touches me the most in the entire book, and trust me there’s a lot in there to delight you. But that sweet passage, the opening of Chapter 5, in which she wakes up to the delicious memory that she has found a friend in Lord Damerel is just so pure and heart-melting that I can’t help sighing contentedly.

The imagery conjured up is also very beautiful. Venetia awaking – probably wearing a charmingly embroidered white nightgown – to the first rays of sunlight on a golden autumn day, a thrush sweetly singing in the garden…Very romantic and period-drama-esque indeed.

The Inspiration

Georgette Heyer’s books are always lavishly detailed, and are a veritable treasure trove of knowledge and inspiration for historical costuming. Period details abound in her stories, making it pleasantly easy to picture the beautiful gowns and richly embroidered coats. As an embroiderer myself and former costume student, I have always been especially fascinated by that aspect of her books.

In Venetia however, I found the setting and romantic tones of the book even more inspiring. I love to create embroideries inspired by classic novels, and the following project came to mind from what is surely the most famous “first encounter” scene between the hero and heroine in all GH’s books.

“‘Fair Fatality, you are the most unusual female I have encountered in all my thirty-eight years!’

‘You can’t think how deeply flattered I am!’ she assured him. ‘I daresay my head would be quite turned if I didn’t suspect that amongst so many a dozen or so may have slipped from your memory.’”

Repeatedly warned by family and friends against the dangerously rakish Lord Damerel, Venetia nevertheless doesn’t scruple to wander about his grounds when she knows he is not at home.

“It came, therefore, as a surprise to Venetia, serenely filling her basket with his blackberries, when she discovered that he was much nearer at hand than anyone had supposed.”

Naturally, who should happen upon the charming picture of Venetia in an old dress and straw bonnet quietly picking blackberries but Lord Damerel himself (on his horse, no less)? I love this unforgettable scene so much, and have associated Venetia with blackberries ever since.

The Embroidery Project: Beaded Blackberries

 I’ve been dreaming of embroidering my own beaded blackberries after seeing beautiful photos on Pinterest and in the book Embroideries from an English Garden by Carol Andrews. What a perfect project that would always remind me of Venetia!

The design is my own, and I embroidered the piece using different techniques.

I started by stitching the leaves, using a needle-painting technique called the long & short stitch. Needle-painting is intended to look as realistic as possible, like a real painting. By varying the length of your stitches, you’re able to overlap different shades of floss, thus creating a “shading” effect. This technique is also called silk-shading for this reason, although I did not use silk thread here, but cotton floss.

Next, I created the flowers with small pieces of ribbon. I wanted them to have the round petals of a real blackberry flower, and to do this, I cut out each petal out of a wide piece of ribbon and singed the raw edges with a candle. Then I gathered the bottom to create a fold, and sewed each petal one by one to form the flower. I later added the center details using embroidery floss.

And finally, for the blackberries, I knew I wanted to use beads to make them sparkle and shine and look as good as real ones. I also wanted to raise them a little bit, so I decided to do a bit of stumpwork. Stumpwork is raised, or 3D, embroidery, and one of my favourite things to try lately. I used felt and pieces of cotton ball to create the blackberry shape, and then hand-sewed beads one by one to cover the shape entirely.

I’m immensely pleased with how it turned out! It was a lot of tedious work but I enjoyed it a lot and it certainly paid off. And now I’m reminded of Damerel and Venetia’s witty banter and swoon-worthy romance every time I look at it. It probably didn’t help that I compulsively listened to the audiobook version narrated by Richard Armitage while I worked!

I’m very happy and honoured to have been invited to post on The Bohemian Bookworm and I hope that you enjoyed reading my thoughts on Venetia and seeing my embroidery project. Thank you so much, Hannah, for inviting me on and letting me share my project!

Anne, The Diary of a Northern Belle


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