Stitches And Mechanism
As a guiding classification of methods of embroidery considered from the
technical point of view, I have set down the following heads:--
(a) Embroidery of materials in frames.
(b) Embroidery of materials held in the hand.
(c) Positions of the needle in making stitches.
(d) Varieties of stitches.
(e) Effects of stitches in relation to materials into which they
(f) Methods of stitching different materials together.
(g) Embroidery in relief.
(h) Embroidery on open grounds like net, etc.
(i) Drawn thread work; needlepoint lace.
(j) Embroidery allied to tapestry weaving.
In the first place, I define embroidery as the ornamental enrichment by
needlework of a given material. Such material is usually a closely-woven
stuff; but skins of animals, leather, etc., also serve as foundations
for embroidery, and so do nets.
(a) Materials to be embroidered may be either stretched out in a
frame, or held loosely (b) in the hand. Experience decides when either
way is the better. For embroidery upon nets, frames are indispensable.
The use of frames is also necessary when a particular aim of the
embroiderer is to secure an even tension of stitch throughout his work.
There are various frames, some large and standing on trestles; in these
many feet of material can be stretched out. Then there are small handy
frames in which a square foot or two of material is stretched; and again
there are smaller frames, usually circular, in which a few inches of
materials of delicate texture, like muslin and cambric, may be
Oriental embroiderers, like those of China, Japan, Persia, and India,
are great users of frames for their work.
(c) Stitches having peculiar or individual characteristics are
comparatively few. Almost all are in use for plain needlework. It is
through the employment of them to render or express ornament or pattern
that they become embroidery stitches. Some embroiderers and some
schools of embroidery contend that the number of embroidery stitches is
almost infinite. This, however, is probably one of the myths of the
craft. To begin with, there are barely more than two different positions
in which the needle is held for making a stitch--one when the needle is
passed more or less horizontally through the material, the other when
the needle is worked more or less vertically. In respect of the
first-named way, the point of the needle enters the material usually in
two places, and one pull takes the embroidery thread into the material
more or less horizontally, or along or behind its surface (Fig. 1). In
the second, the needle is passed upwards from beneath the material,
pulled right through it, and then returned downwards, so that there are
two pulls instead of one to complete a single stitch.
A hooked or crochet needle with a handle is held more or less vertically
for working a chain stitch upon the surface of a material stretched in a
frame, but this is a method of embroidery involving the use of an
implement distinct from that done with the ordinary and freely-plied
needle. Still, including this last-named method, which comes into the
class of embroidery done with the needle in a more or less vertical
position, we do not get more than two distinctive positions for holding
the embroidery needle.
(d) Varieties of stitches may be classified under two sections: one of
stitches in which the thread is looped, as in chain stitch, knotted
stitches, and button-hole stitch; the other of stitches in which the
thread is not looped, but lies flatly, as in short and long
stitches--crewel or feather stitches as they are sometimes
called,--darning stitches, tent and cross stitches, and satin stitch.
Almost all of these stitches produce different sorts of surface or
texture in the embroidery done with them. Chain stitches, for instance,
give a broken or granular-looking surface (Fig. 2). This effect in
surface is more strongly marked when knotted stitches are used. Satin
stitches give a flat surface (Fig. 3), and are generally used for
embroidery or details which are to be of an even tint of colour. Crewel
or long and short stitches combined (Fig. 4) give a slightly less even
texture than satin stitches. Crewel stitch is specially adapted to the
rendering of coloured surfaces of work in which different tints are to
modulate into one another.
(e) The effects of stitches in relation to the materials into which
they are worked can be considered under two broadly-marked divisions.
The one is in regard to embroidery which is to produce an effect on one
side only of a material; the other to embroidery which shall produce
similar effects equally on both the back and front of the material. A
darning and a satin stitch may be worked so that the embroidery has
almost the same effect on both sides of the material. Chain stitch and
crewel stitch can only be used with regard to effect on one side of a
(f) But these suggestions for a simple classification of embroidery do
not by any means apply to many methods of so-called embroidery, the
effects of which depend upon something more than stitches. In these
other methods cutting materials into shapes, stitching materials
together, or on to one another, and drawing certain threads out of a
woven material and then working over the undrawn threads, are involved.
Applied or applique work is generally used in connection with ornament
of bold forms. The larger and principal forms are cut out of one
material and then stitched down to another--the junctures of the edges
of the cut-out forms being usually concealed and the shapes of the forms
emphasised by cord stitched along them. Patchwork depends for successful
effect upon skill in cutting out the several pieces which are to be
stitched together. Patchwork is a sort of mosaic work in textile
materials; and, far beyond the homely patchwork quilt of country
cottages, patchwork lends itself to the production of ingenious
counterchanges of form and colour in complex patterns. These methods of
applique and patchwork are peculiarly adapted to ornamental needlework
which is to lie, or hang, stretched out flatly, and are not suited
therefore to work in which is involved a calculated beauty of effect
(g) There are two or three classes of embroidery in relief which are
not well adapted to embroideries on lissome materials in which folds are
to be considered. Quilting is one of these classes. It may be
artistically employed for rendering low-relief ornament, by means of a
stout cord or padding placed between two bits of stuff, which are then
ornamentally stitched together so that the cord or padding may fill out
and give slight relief to the ornamental portions defined by and
enclosed between the lines of stitching. There is also padded
embroidery or work consisting of a number of details separately wrought
in relief over padding of hanks of thread, wadding, and such like.
Effects of high relief are obtainable by this method. Another class, but
of lower relief embroidery, is couching (Fig. 5), in which cords and
gimps are laid side by side, in groups, upon the face of a material,
and then stitched down to it. Various effects can be obtained in this
method. The colour of the thread used to stitch the cords or gimp down
may be different from that of the cords or gimp, and the stitches may of
course be so taken as to produce small powdered or diaper patterns over
the face of the groups of cords or gimp. Gold cords are often used in
this class of work, which is peculiarly identified with ecclesiastical
embroideries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as also with
Japanese work of later date.
(h) The embroidery and work hitherto alluded to has been such as
requires a foundation of a closely woven nature, like linen, cloth,
silk, and velvet. But there are varieties of embroidery done upon netted
or meshed grounds. And on to these open grounds, embroidery in darning
and chain stitches can be wrought. For the most part the embroideries
upon open or meshed grounds have a lace-like appearance. In lace, the
contrast between close work and open, or partially open, spaces about it
plays an important part. The methods of making lace by the needle, or by
bobbins on a cushion, are totally distinct from the methods of making
lace-like embroideries upon net.
(i) Akin to lace and embroideries upon net is embroidery in which much
of its special effect is obtained by the withdrawal of threads from the
material, and then either whipping or overcasting in button-hole
stitches the undrawn threads. The Persians and embroiderers in the
Grecian Archipelago have excelled in such work, producing wondrously
delicate textile grills of ingenious geometric patterns. In this drawn
thread work, as it is called, we often meet with the employment of
button-hole stitching, which is an important stitch in making
needlepoint lace (Fig. 6).
(j) We also meet with the use of a weaving stitch resembling in
effect, on a small scale, willow weaving for hurdles. This weaving
stitch, and the method of compacting together the threads made with it,
are closely allied to that special method of weaving known as tapestry
weaving. Some of the earliest specimens of tapestry weaving consist of
ornamental borders, bands, and panels, which were inwoven into tunics
and cloaks worn by Greeks and Romans from the fourth century before
Christ, up to the eighth or ninth after Christ. The scale of the work in
these is so small, as compared with that of large tapestry wall-hangings
of the fifteenth century, that the method may be regarded as being
related more to drawn thread embroidery than to weaving into an
extensive field of warp threads.
A sketch of the different employments of the foregoing methods of
embroidery is not to be included in this paper. The universality of
embroidery from the earliest of historic times is attested by evidences
of its practice amongst primitive tribes throughout the world. Fragments
of stitched materials or undoubted indications of them have been found
in the remains of early American Indians, and in the cave dwellings of
men who lived thousands of years before the period of historic
Egyptians and Assyrians. Of Greek short and long stitch, and chain
stitch and applique embroidery, there are specimens of the third or
fourth century B.C. preserved in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were skilful in the use of
tapestry weaving stitches. Dainty embroidery, with delicate silken
threads, was practised by the Chinese long before similar work was done
in the countries west of Persia, or in countries which came within the
Byzantine Empire. In the early days of that Empire, the Emperor
Theodosius I. framed rules respecting the importation of silk, and made
regulations for the labour employed in the gynaecea, the public weaving
and embroidering rooms of that period, the development and organisation
of which are traceable to the apartments allotted in private houses to
the sempstresses and embroideresses who formed part of the well-to-do
households of early classic times.
ALAN S. COLE.