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

are worked.

(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.

short stitches.]

(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

from folds.

(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.