Creative articles about embroidery

The Scarlet Woman – Bernina Pictogram Challenge 2015

The Scarlet Woman


When this challenge arrived, I had a piece of scarlet fabric and the pictogram.

The package arrives

Beautiful threads from Madeira and luxurious woollen felt in rich scarlet!


I spent a long time wondering what I could do with these two pieces of information.  The symbol reminded me of the Women’s toilet door sign but the felt was fabulous;  a rich and tactile piece of the most gorgeous red!

So was born “The Scarlet Woman” and I spent a whole afternoon reading the poems “Fleurs du Mal” by Baudelaire, translated into English by William Aggeler.  This collection of verse had been the inspiration for a poem called “The Waste Land” by T S Eliot which I found fascinating as a student at teacher training college.

collating images in relation to the pictogram

Sketches of the various parts needed to complete the design.

I collected images of the poet, his mistress – Jeanne Duval – a Creole lady who was a singer in a night club that Baudelaire frequented in Paris and a perfume bottle to represent the scent which featured heavily in the verse.  Jeanne Duval was the original Scarlet Woman.




All the components are now incorporated in the picture.

All the components are now incorporated in the picture.











This piece interprets the relationship of Charles Baudelaire with his dark mistress.




His collection of poems,  “Fleurs du Mal”, are heavy with the scent of her breath and how he was bound to her – enchanted and unable to break free from her spell.


The scarlet woman’s hair in the piece is long, heavy, curvaceous  and draws the attention of the viewer.  This is reminiscent of several lines in the poetry where he admires her rich, dark locks.


She holds the perfume bottle like a talisman, ready to spray the air with her entrancement.

She holds the perfume bottle like a talisman, ready to spray the air with her entrancement.

“Many a flower regretfully exhales perfume soft as secrets in a profound solitude.”

– from Le Guignon (Bad Luck)


“She dazzles like the Dawn and consoles like the night” – from Toute Entière (All of Her)

Baudelaire was the Knave of Hearts and she the Queen of Spades.  In L’Idéal (The Ideal), he wrote

“For I cannot find among those pale roses (the Parisian socialites)

A flower that is like my red ideal.”


Woman plays many roles during a life time.  A daughter, a sister, a niece, then a lover, a bride, a mother, an aunt.  As she ages she may become a grandmother, a great aunt, a great grandmother.

Man has relationships with woman from birth – a son, a husband, a lover, a grandson.  His life is interwoven with the values he has learned from his mother, sister, aunt, grandmother.

Hence was born the man-child at his mother’s knee and the Scarlet Woman, intertwined around the universal Woman figure; the perfume is the cord that binds them all together.

I decided that this would be a project for the Bernina Designer Plus V7 embroidery software and took my sketches into the program where I digitised the images into one compound picture.

experiments with thread and sheers

Trying out options with sheers.

I wanted to show the darkness of the beautiful mistress and the darkness that the poet found himself languishing in when he was with her or the despair he felt when he was away from her.  I needed to have a contrast for the pictogram who represents “Woman” and so I chose the lighter sheer for that part of the portrait.  It represents the wisdom, the compassion and the knowledge of the human race.  The black covers the white in places; the depravity or depression on the surface and the innocence and purity of soul lying deep within the bounds of the images.



Thank you Bernina for giving me the means to take part in this challenge, the opportunity to search for answers to this conundrum and for allowing me to find them in my own way.

She dazzles like the dawn and consoles like the night.

“She dazzles like the dawn and consoles like the night.”Jan Allston                                                                                                                                      November 2015.

Jan Allston                                                                                                                                      November 2015.



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  • roscro

    Gosh Jan, your write-up on this wonderful scarlet woman has taught me a few things. I like the way the universal woman holds everything together along with that wafting fragrance. What a great way to use that red felt. It’s inspired me to find a copy Fleurs du Mal – and maybe a perfume from the back of the cupboard!

    • Jan Allston

      Thanks Ros. I think the translation by Aggeler is the best one I’ve seen and seems nearer to the sentiments of the original than the others I read. It’s freely available on the internet.

      It taught me a few things as well!

  • Jan Allston

    Thanks Hilary. It just all fell into place when I read the Fleurs du Mal!

  • Hilary Gooding

    Oh my, the room has suddenly become very steamy! I enjoyed reading all the background to your piece, Jan. Great interpretation – you have captured the mood spot on. Hilary

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