An image I’ve been familiar with and wanting to do for awhile (given my adoration of cats) is  from Edward Topsell’s “History of Four Legged Beasts and Serpents and Insects” (1657). Multiple eyebrows,  giant weird thing above his nose and all, it’s a very distinctive sort of cat.

topsell_originalI’ve found a German wood print (? I think) of this image. ( )


I’ve been stitching my version of Topsell’s cat for “easy” work. Tent stitch on 32 count linen using the AVAS D’Alger threads I won from the 12 Days of Christmas competition Tricia/Thistle Threads held last year. I call the piece (and hence the cat I’m creating) “Topsell” for short.

topsell 001

He’s 17cm (6.7″) high – a fair bit of stitching but in this winter cold, my Fibromyalgia plays up so I’m quite happy to curl up and do some straight forward stitching.

Funny to think that I was completely intimidated by tent stitch when I started it, but now it’s an ‘easy’ stitch for me. I’ve found that the far the best way to get each stitch looking plump (and if in flat silk, jewel like) is the “L” stitch approach. That is, to form an “L” on the back of the ground between each stitch. This approach does use a lot of thread. Jacqui Carey has a wonderful diagram of where to move for each new stitch, as if the needle were a pawn on a chess board, in her book “Elizabethan Stitches”. Tension is also all important – I find pulling firm at the end of each needle stab is working for me. It’s all about getting a rhythm, because inconsistent tensioning of the stitches really stands out because the stitch is so simple. I’ve also found that the completion of the first part of a stitch, pulling firm, cements the tension of stitch before.

I particularly how his legs have turned out

topsell 003And his face

topsell 002

He’s a startle-eye cat, rather than a sleepier looking one, like the original. And yes, that is a (real) cat hair sitting over his top of his nose. There is approximately half a cat stitched into this piece, due to the proximity of my cats in this cold weather.

I feel there is a disconnect between his chest colour and the rest of him at the moment, but it should all come together when I do his (circular) thigh and his tail. I’m using colour changes for the colour of his fur, his anatomy (such as to make his chin and cheeks stand out, and the difference between his chest and his body), and to reproduce the flavour of the original etching – all of which has been a bit of a balancing act. Getting his thigh looking right will be a bit tough – the lines I drew are not quite right and definitely far too numerous – but I’ll figure it out.

I’m saving doing his whiskers for last. I’m thinking a fine, highly twisted thread for those.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
19 Responses
  1. Sue Jones says:

    Hello Topsell! He’s great fun, isn’t he? You’ve done a good job of getting his markings converted to tent stitch, and it is admirably smooth and even work.

  2. Megan says:

    Topsell says hello back :-) I think I’ll make him into a panel and hang him near my door, he seems like a welcoming sort of cat to me. Thankyou so much for the compliments.

  3. Francesca says:

    I love him ! You did a lovely job in translating the etching into embroidery and also with the colours and all the shading, not easy ! and so many details too.

  4. Susan D says:

    Gorgeous! Your stitching is beautiful and I love the way you have shaded him.

  5. pamina says:

    Your work is beautiful ! Topsell is really very expressive !

  6. Janet Brandt says:

    Mr Topsell is great! I love those eyes!

    • Megan says:

      It was pretty exciting to swop to green after all that brown! Tho I love the D’Alger brown shades I’m using.

  7. Rachel says:

    I think he’s looking terrific – just like a bronze I’ve just see onf Matthew Flinders’ cat, Trim!

    • Megan says:

      Is there a statue of Trim in the UK? I know there’s one in Sydney. I read a book about M.F.’s circumnavigation told from Trim’s perspective, which was a lot of fun.

  8. Laura says:

    So cute! I admire your translation into stitch and color. The engraving reminds me of my cat, but her eyes are more like your embroidery. :)

  9. Gina says:

    How lovely, you have done a great job of converting the drawing. I played around with Jacqui’s version of tent stitch over the winter too, and did find that it flowed more easily than the version I learnt as a child. xx

    • Megan says:

      Thankyou :-) Lesley (the Order of Australia Victorian Guild lady who is a Goddess of Embroidery) said today he was good enough for the upcoming Guild exhibition. He won’t be finished in time (latest hand-in is only 2.5 days away) but I’m absolutely over the moon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>