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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Stumpwork Robe and The Last Stitch: fantasies about an embroiderer

So addicted am I to embroidery that I like to read fiction that engages with embroidery and embroiderers. I am partial to 'cosy' crime fiction, a whole genre of which involves embroiderers and knitters. So when Inspirations Magazine a few months ago carried an advertisement for two fantasy novels with titles of The Stumpwork Robe and The Last Stitch my fingers went immediately to and ordered them both.

They are also available from, with, of course, an excellent exchange rate for Australia at the moment.

Both books are also now available as ebooks for the Kindle, which is how I would buy them if I saw them now.

The two novels are in sequence and very much a continuing story. Set in the world of Eirie,  a European-style land where magical figures drawn from Irish, Scandinavian, Balkan, Breton and English mythology keep their own ways, often running counter to human law and morality. Adelina the traveller is an embroiderer, making her living by selling her embroidery, her services as an embroiderer and the threads she trades as she travels throughout Eirie.

Adelina's skill as an embroiderer together with her humanity - her friendship, love, decency and capacity for loyalty - make her vulnerable. She suffers great loss, then finds herself a prisoner, forced to embroider a robe that will capture faerie souls within the stumpwork, to make the wearer, Adelina's ambitious enemy, immortal. But a stumpwork robe can hold more secrets than the stolen souls and Adelina hopes to use words to achieve a different kind of immortality.

This is a dark, powerful page-turner. It takes seriously the traditions around faerie in European cultures.It is closer to the Brothers Grimm and Raymond Briggs than Walt Disney. It deals in tragedy and any victory is hard won and costly.

I found I needed to know the storyline in order to deal with the narrative. I skimmed ahead - right through the two books - to get a sense of security and destination before I could deal with the suspense and tragedy. Once I had the direction clear I settled down to enjoy Prue Batten's polished prose. She writes clearly; her rhythm and flow carrying the reader on.

She experiments with an alternation of first and third person narrative to allow Adelina to 'speak to camera'. I found the device a bit distracting from the narrative - but I am a tell-me-what-happened-next-reader.

My other niggle is the glossary which is a useful tool for this book but there are other terms that could have been included and alphabetical ordering would have been helpful.

Prue Batten lives in Tasmania and runs a sheep farm. Her background is journalism, she has librarianship qualifications and embroidery skills. She uses her Mesmered's Blog ( to publish work in progress, exposing herself to reader response, a community of writers and scrutiny of her writing as part of the process. It is really interesting to observe the process of publication adapting to new possibilities.

The Stumpwork Robe concept of documents concealed within stumpwork embroidery has led to a partnership with Pat Sweet, a miniature book artist whose work can be seen and purchased at

I dips me lid to Prue Batten. It takes intellect,  integrity and guts to experiment with electronic publishing and social media through a novel grounded in European mythology, and, through an embroidering heroine, explore what it means to be human, .


Jillian Cheek said...

These sound fascinating. I shall certainly look for them...probably ask our local ex-Angus and Robertson's to order them for me, as i do want the shop to prosper.

SewnbySaliba said...

Very interesting blog post - its great to get involved in embroidery in all facets of life; I never thought about reading fiction about it though!! I have heard of a chic-lit book called the knitting club but I just don't think that it would be up my alley!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing such a wonderful precis and review of the novels. As a writer I feel rewarded by your comment.
As an embroiderer, I should let you know that stumpwork still charms me and I am currently stitching Jane Nicholas's medieval mirror... a challenge and a creative balance for writing.

Pat Sweet said...

Jillian: Thanks so much for mentioning me along with Prue Batten and The Stumpwork Robe. I met Prue through my miniature books, and when she told me she had published a novel, of course I had to read it. Not only did it have embroidery as an essential part of the plot, but miniature books too! These are un-put-down-able stories, with great storytelling and sumptuous descriptions. They have inspired me to design maps, costumes, and all sorts of other things as "fan art".

Jillian said...

I am full of admiration for both of you. I admire the way you transform as well as continue traditional art forms. You are amazing, entrepreneurial women, nurturing and developing continuity in creative, wholly contemporary ways. That is rare and difficult. It should be celebrated.