Ready for more springtime embroidery inspiration (it’s technically still spring though it feels like summer!)? This week is all about wisteria. The inspiration came from a classic novel that is now one of my favourites!
You know the feeling of being listless and unhappy, when the weather is cold and miserable and you just feel stuck in the same endless routine day in and day out? And then you scroll through social media and see travel ads for sunny beaches in the south or luxurious getaways in Europe?
What if you actually clicked on the ad and worse, actually went to the destination of your dreams? Just to escape life for a short month and be happy, for a change?
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly!
Unfortunately, for most of us that is sadly not an option. Not realistic in the least. But hopefully, you aren’t listless and unhappy. And if you are, well this post is all about sunshine and happiness and is sure to lift your spirits up!
You see, the heroines of Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April were lucky enough to get their dreamy escape.
Because it’s fiction and it’s the 1920s in Europe and it’s a wonderful story, four women take the plunge and actually respond to the ad that comes their way. It promises wisteria and sunshine at a medieval castle in Italy. How does one resist?
Escaping their various dreary realities in rainy England, they journey to San Salvatore where they intend to spend a month doing nothing but recharging their batteries and admiring the lush, beautiful landscapes. And oh, is there ever something to admire! Von Arnim’s descriptions are absolutely breath-taking.
The setting she creates is as magical and escapist as it gets. Reading this book is like flicking through a Bliss Victoria magazine. It is all garden and flowers and relaxation and flowy tea gowns.
“[…] where the pergola ended the sun blazed on scarlet geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour.”Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April.
Oh, the beautiful, dreamy imagery!
(You can find my full review of the book (really it’s just more gushing) here on Goodreads.)
I picked up this charming novel in early April because it was the month’s selection at The Enchanted Book Club. I didn’t finish it on time, but I was inspired to create something from it as soon as I read the ad about wisteria and sunshine. The more I read, the more I realized it would be impossible to incorporate ALL the flowers mentioned in the book in my embroidery (unless I worked all year on it!), but the wisteria really stuck with me. The idea for the umbrella emerged from a sketch in my bullet journal setup for April, and I knew it would go perfectly with the wisteria!
Flower Meaning & Significance: Wisteria
Alright, confession: I’ve never seen wisteria, and I didn’t know what it looked like when I started reading. I knew it was some kind of flower, but I had no idea what it actually looked like! Does it grow in Canada? I think it’s definitely popular in Europe and in Japan, from the images that come up when you Google it.
Growing in great big vine-like clusters and filling the air with their sweet fragrance, it’s no wonder that the wisteria would be greatly enticing in that newspaper ad. Imagine it growing all over the medieval castle walls, its branches hanging by your bedroom window!
“The wisteria was tumbling over itself in its excess of life, its prodigality of flowering, […]”Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April.
I had to dig around a bit in a few Victorian flower dictionary to find its floriography meaning. My beloved Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway did not have anything on wisteria. But I did find it in another A-Z dictionary of the same name. It was published in 1868 by Frederick Warne & Co. in London. (You can access it for free on Internet Archive here.)
The wisteria stands for welcome, fair stranger.
This meaning is very pertinent in the context of the story, since the flowering wisteria is in full bloom when the four ladies arrive at San Salvatore at the beginning of April. All being English, they are strangers to Italy, but receive a most warm welcome, not the least from the flowers. The wisteria is there to welcome them, in all its abundant purple glory. It starts to fade after the first week, just as the ladies are settling in, and makes way for the banksia roses.
Other Interesting Meanings
Enough flowers are mentioned in The Enchanted April to fill a dozen blog posts and as many embroideries. I can’t discuss all of them, but of significance were also the daphne and the red camellia.
Daphne = Glory. Immortality.
Red Camellia Japonica = Unpretending Excellence.
I might have to do more posts on this book, and read the author’s other novel Elizabeth And Her German Garden. She was passionate about flowers, and it shows!
The Enchanted April has turned into the enchanted June at this point, but I think its overall vibe is still perfect for this time of year.
“Such a jumble of spring and summer was not to be believed in, except by those who dwelt in those gardens. Everything seemed to be out together – all the things crowded into one month which in England are spread penuriously over six.”Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April
Wisteria in Embroidery
This project was immensely fun to work on, from the initial idea in my head to the finished piece. I will admit, there was a point where I grew disheartened with the whole thing and wanted to give up.
I wasn’t loving the colour combination. The umbrella outline was far from perfect. The lace appliqué was shifting, and my wisteria embroidery felt all over the place.
So I walked away for a hot minute, and came back deciding to add pink. There is such a thing as pink wisteria, so it works! And I like the colours so much more now.
This piece isn’t very hard to stitch, but it was time-consuming and I did improvise my flower and leaf placement a lot!
I really wanted to use lace for the umbrella, so I found an old curtain and cut out my umbrella shape. I ran a running stitch all the way around to anchor it, and then did the outline in yellow pearl cotton thread with a stem stitch.
The handle and branches are worked in rows of split stitch, and the flowers are done in lazy-daisy stitches. I really had to pay attention to their direction so they would look “droopy” enough. The bunch on the right side looks almost like it’s being blown by the wind!
I’m really happy with the result, and once I got going it was easy to create more branches. You can probably see that I went way off my original markings, which is partly why I used a water-soluble pen to transfer the pattern. I only had rough guidelines as to where I wanted everything to go, and in the end I changed the placement of a few things.
Exciting News on What’s Next
I’m still tweaking and playing around with this pattern, but I hope to make it available for sale soon! Definitely let me know if you would be interested, and be sure to subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss when it comes out 😊.
In the meantime, I’m also working on a freebie version still inspired from this book and my sketch! I hope to have that ready for you next week. There is already a lazy-daisy stitch tutorial available for you here, and you can also see this blog post for the other stitches I used in this project.
I hope this inspired you to want to stitch your own wisteria, or read The Enchanted April! I can’t recommend it enough. The book is available to read for free via Project Gutenberg if you’re interested! There are some typos, but it is unabridged (and free). It’s the version I read, once my library loan for a paperback copy expired.
I would love to hear your thoughts on spring flowers and dreamy escapes in the comments! Where would you go if you could escape for a month?