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Sweet Peas: The Darling Buds of May

As we get closer to summer, the more delicate flowers of spring are starting to fade and disappear.  Before we fully embrace the lovely profusion of roses and daisies, we’d like to take a brief look at the lovely sweet pea.

Called “pulses” by Gerard in his Herbal of 1597, he says these little flowers “Though it be not frequently found, is no stranger with us.” Sweet peas are vining flowers and have a gorgeous scent.  In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare named a fairy in Titania’s court “Peaseblossom” after these fragrant flowers.

This illustration of sweet peas is from the Hortus Floridus, published 1615.

In Elizabethan embroidery, sweet peas were often depicted with a bud, a full flower, and pea pods either open or closed.

Thomas Trevelyon, a 16th century draftsman and artist, wrote commonplace books in 1603, 1608, and 1616 which illustrated a variety of historical, biblical, and classical stories, practical information, and embroidery patterns.  This is a sweet pea repeating pattern from his 1608 book:

The Maidstone jacket is a fabulous example of 16th and 17th century needlework using the sweet pea design.  It is worked in monochromatic silk using a sweet pea arabesque pattern.

And finally, here is a sweet pea from our class, Stitching the Trevelyon, using 16th century materials and techniques, along with the Trevelyon pattern.

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