Embroidery and Tapestry Weaving
by Grace Christie
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The upper bar on fig. 78 shows a buttonholed picot. The bar must be worked to the left-hand end of the required picot; the thread is then from there taken back about one-eighth of an inch and threaded through the edge of the buttonhole. This is repeated to and fro until there is a loop composed of three threads ready to be buttonholed over. Upon this being done, the thread will have arrived at the right point to continue the bar.

Bullion stitch makes another simple picot—Work the bar to the point where the picot is required, then, instead of taking the next stitch, insert the point of the needle in the heading of the last stitch. Leave the needle in this position, and twist the thread six or eight times round the point of it, just as for the bullion knot (fig. 59). Place the left thumb over the tight coil thus formed, and pull the needle and thread through tightly in order to make the stitch double up into a tight semi-circle, then continue the buttonholing to the end of the bar.



Introduction—Samplers—Petit Point Pictures—Cross Stitch—Tent Stitch—Gobelin Stitch—Irish Stitch—Plait Stitch—Two-sided Italian Stitch—Holbein Stitch—Rococo Stitch.

Canvas work, known in the XIIIth century as opus pulvinarium or cushion work, is of great antiquity, and seems to have had an independent origin in several countries. It is sometimes given the misleading name of tapestry, perhaps owing to hangings of all kinds being called tapestries, whether loom-woven, worked with the needle, or painted. Large wall hangings with designs similar to those of woven tapestries have been most successfully carried out on canvas in cross or tent stitch; as a rule, however, smaller objects are worked, such as furniture coverings, screens or cushions, whence it is obvious canvas work received its ancient and descriptive Latin name. Many Eastern carpets are worked upon a strong canvas in a kind of tent stitch, and so come under the heading of canvas work. It is a particularly durable method of embroidering, and this makes it suitable for use upon anything subjected to hard wear.

The work has usually a very decided and attractive character of its own. A familiar example of this can be seen in the XVIIIth century samplers. Its peculiar character is perhaps due to the fact that it cannot break away from a certain conventionality due to constant use of the same stitch, and its dependence upon the web of the fabric. This regularity prevents the work from showing certain faults of design that other methods may exaggerate. It is hardly possible to copy a natural spray of flowers in cross stitch and keep it very naturalistic. The stitch being square and alike all over gives a formality of treatment to every part of the design, also, some detail is perforce omitted owing to the impossibility of putting it in; all of this tends to a right method of treatment, which renders the sampler an admirable lesson not only in workmanship but also in design.

The XVIth and XVIIth century pictorial subjects worked upon fine canvas in cross or tent stitch afford instances of most interesting work in canvas stitches. Some of these, though, as a rule, very much smaller in size, equal, in their way, the finest tapestries. Most of them, if judged from a painter's standpoint, would be pronounced failures, but this effect is not what is sought after; the method of treatment belongs rather to the great traditions of the tapestry weaver, and is not governed by the canons of the painter. Plate VI. shows a detail of foliage from a particularly fine example of this work lately added to the Victoria and Albert Museum collection.[2]

In what went by the name of Berlin wool work, popular in the early XIXth century, we have before us a degenerate offshoot of this fine and poetic kind of work in which all its possibilities are missed, with a result that is prosaic in the extreme. Some of the canvas-work seat covers decorated with geometrical designs, seen on Chippendale chairs, were a pleasant and satisfactory variation in their way, but in most of the work after that period, the attempt at impossible naturalistic effect gave such unsatisfactory results as to almost deal a death blow to all canvas embroidery. It is, however, a method too good and useful to die out; it must always be more or less in vogue.

Patterns carried out in canvas stitches are sometimes to be seen worked apparently upon velvet or similar ground materials. This is done by first laying the canvas upon the velvet and stitching through both materials; this would have to be carried out in a frame. The threads of the canvas are afterwards either withdrawn or closely cut off. In the former case, the stitches must be drawn tight, or the finished work will not look well. This method has the advantage of saving the labour of working the background, and sometimes it suits the pattern to have a contrast in the ground material. In old embroideries, heraldic devices may be seen successfully treated in this way.

The usual canvas stitches can be worked upon other fabrics that have an even and square mesh, such as various kinds of linen; also other embroidery stitches, such as stem, satin, or chain, can be used upon canvas; they are then always worked with a certain regularity, following the web of the material.

Canvas work can be done in the hand or in a frame, but the technique is often better in work done in a frame. In all-over work it is important that not even a suggestion of the ground fabric should be allowed to show through; for this reason work in light colours should be done on white canvas, and vice versa, as far as possible, also the thread used must suit in thickness the mesh of the canvas. To work a plain ground well is less easy than to work the pattern, though it may sound more simple. The back of the work, though not necessarily similar to the front, must be alike in stitch all over, for the direction the stitch takes at the back affects the regularity of appearance of the front. The stitch must not be commenced in exactly the same place in each row, lest a ridge should appear upon the surface; this can be avoided by using threads of different lengths. A ground is usually commenced at the lower left-hand corner, and a pattern, if a complicated one, from the centre outwards. These technical points are of importance, but they are of little value unless the stitches are at the same time expressing an interesting and suitable design.

The stitches used are exceedingly numerous; those described in the following pages are the varieties most commonly seen.

Cross stitch, the best known in this group, can be worked in slightly different ways, according to the purpose for which it is required. On the surface it is always the same, but it can vary at the back. For instance, when used for marking purposes it should form on the reverse side either a cross or a square, to do either of which demands some ingenuity on the part of the worker. For ordinary work the really correct method is to complete each stitch before going on to the next, though grounding is frequently done by working the first half of the stitch along an entire line, and completing the cross upon a return journey. In any case, the crossing must always be worked in the same direction.

Cross stitch is a double stitch worked diagonally over two threads of the canvas each way. It can, however, be taken over more or fewer threads if required larger or smaller. To work it (fig. 79)—Bring the needle through on the upper left side of the threads to be covered, and take it back again on the lower right, then bring it through on the upper right side and return it to the back on the lower left, which completes the first stitch.

Tent stitch (fig. 80) is the finest canvas stitch, and is therefore suitable for work involving much detail. Pictorial and heraldic subjects are frequently carried out in it. It is worked diagonally over a perpendicular and horizontal thread of the canvas. The diagram shows the method of working both back and front. It will be noticed that though the line goes alternately from left to right and from right to left, the stitch is always the same at the back as well as the same upon the front; if this were not so, alternate rows would have a different appearance upon the right side. The diagram does not show the connection between the first and the second row, but it is evident that it must be a short upright line.

Gobelin stitch is a useful variety; it lends itself to shading better than cross stitch. It is most often worked upon a fine single canvas, and it can be used as a raised stitch. Fig. 81 represents the stitch; it is worked similarly to tent stitch but over two threads in height and one in width, no matter whether the single or double thread canvas is used. In order to work it as a raised stitch, a line of some kind of padding is thrown across the canvas, and the stitch taken over it. This line can be arranged to show in part, in which case the material must be one presentable, such as a gold cord or narrow braid. The padding would be covered with stitching to form the background, and left exposed for the pattern, which would probably be a simple repeating form of some kind. Gobelin stitch is sometimes worked quite perpendicularly just over two threads in height.

Irish stitch is pretty and quickly worked. It is usually taken perpendicularly over four threads of the canvas (fig. 82), though the number over which it is taken may vary. It is worked in such a way as to make the stitches of each succeeding row fit between those of the last row, and can be carried out either diagonally or in horizontal lines. What is known as Florentine work is carried out in a stitch of this kind. The pattern in this kind of work is taken horizontally across the ground in a succession of shaded zigzag lines.

Plait stitch is often used for grounding. It resembles a simple plait laid in close rows to and fro on the ground. It can frequently be seen used upon the Italian XVIth century linen work, that in which the pattern is left in plain linen, and the ground worked in some colour. The diagram in fig. 83 shows the method of working the stitch. If carried out correctly, the back of the material should show a row of short perpendicular lines, each composed of two threads.

Two-sided Italian stitch is descriptively named, for it is alike on both sides. This is frequently seen on XVIth and XVIIth century Italian linen work, similar to that mentioned above. A loosely woven linen makes a suitable ground material, for in the working the stitches must be pulled firmly, so as to draw the threads of the fabric together; this gives over the ground a squared open-work effect, which is very pretty. Fig. 84 explains the working of the stitch; it is shown in four stages, and is quite simple; the final result is a cross surrounded by a square. The lowest figure in the diagram shows the last stage, for the upper side of the square is filled in when the row above is worked. The drawing together of the web is not shown, but at a trial it should be done, for in that lies the special character of the stitch. The silk used must be just thick enough to well cover the linen, but not too thick, for then the work would be clumsy.

Holbein stitch (fig. 85), also known as stroke or line stitch, is alike on both sides, and is often used in conjunction with cross and satin stitch, as well as alone. Very intricate and interesting patterns can be devised to be carried out with these three stitches, worked always with regard to the web of the linen. Squared paper could be used for planning the design, as the stitches would all be practically of the same length, and the pattern must be one that can be easily carried out alike on both sides. The stitch is worked as follows: An even running stitch, picking up as much material as it leaves, is taken all round the pattern. This does half the work on either side; the gaps are then filled up by the running stitch being taken in a contrary direction, which completes the pattern. Occasionally stitches go off at an angle from the running pattern; these are completed on the first journey by a satin stitch being made at the necessary point. The present diagram is a zigzag line, with one of these stitches going off at each angle. Fig. 86 is an example of a border design carried out in Holbein stitch.

The stitch illustrated in fig. 87 is known as rococo stitch. It is a useful one for carrying out a conventional design, such as, to give a simple illustration, a flower sprig repeating in the spaces formed by a trellis pattern. The effect of the stitch when worked cannot be judged from this diagram; to see this properly a piece of canvas must be worked entirely over with it. The pattern chosen is usually one that lends itself to being worked in diagonal lines, as this stitch is best worked in that way. It entirely hides the canvas background, and is carried out very similarly to the oriental stitch in fig. 71. By the help of that diagram and description and the present one, which gives various steps, the worker will easily master the stitch, which is quite simple. The ordinary carrying out of the stitch is shown where the needle is at work, and in another part the diagram, by some loosened stitches, illustrates how to pass from one cluster to the next.

Some fine examples of canvas work design, introducing a variety of stitches, may be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum. These are large panels filled with foliage and flowers growing about architectural columns.[3]


[2] No. 879, 1904.

[3] No. 517-522, 1896.



Couching—Braid Work—Laid Work—Applied Work—Inlaid Work—Patch Work.


Couching is the name given to a method of embroidery in which one thread is attached to the material by another one. Sometimes not only one thread but a number of threads are couched down together; or it may be cord, braid, or metal thread that is attached to the material in this way. Fig. 88 shows some couching in progress. The method probably arose through the difficulty experienced in passing either coarse or very delicate threads through a material. Couching is constantly in use with gold thread embroidery, and it is further discussed in the chapter upon that subject, where also is described an entirely different method, which is to be recommended for couching other as well as for gold threads.

Couching is useful in a variety of ways, e.g. for carrying out work in line or for outlining other embroidery, applied work for instance, which is frequently finished off by means of a couched thread; in the case of a difficult ground material, it is one of the most manageable methods of working. The geometrical open fillings of leaves and backgrounds are often composed of lines of thread thrown across and couched down at regular intervals. Fig. 89 is an example of a favourite filling of this kind. Embroidery stitches can be made use of for couching down other threads; a bunch of threads may be laid upon the material, and an open chain, buttonhole, or feather stitch worked over in order to fix it in place.

Braid work is quickly and easily executed; it needs only a suitable pattern and a pretty braid for couching down to be most successful. There are a few points to be observed about the technique—the cut edge of a braid is awkward to manage, for it must, with a special needle, be taken through to the back of the material and there made secure and flat; for this reason the design should be so planned as to have as few breaks as possible. Interlacing strap work designs, of which a simple example is given in fig. 90, are very suitable for braid work. The thread that couches down the braid may be quite invisible, or, on the other hand, it may be made use of to further decorate the braid by being placed visibly across it, perhaps forming a chequering or other simple pattern, as shown in fig. 91. Ravellings of the braid may be used as invisible couching threads for stitching it down. Curves and sharp corners need special attention by way of extra stitches. The completed work is much improved by several hours' pressure under a weight.


Laid work might be described as couching on a more extended scale—a given space is covered with threads taken from side to side in parallel lines close together, fixed at either extremity by entering the material. Further security is usually given by small couching stitches dotted down at intervals over the laid threads, or by throwing single lines of thread across in a contrary direction and tying these down at intervals with couching stitches. Yet another way is, to work a split or stem stitch over the laid threads, and thus fix them down. Fig. 92 shows a flower carried out in laid work. The tying-down threads can often be made use of in one way or another to further decorate, or to explain form, by means of contrasting colour, change in direction, and so on. The laid stitches in this flower are taken from the centre outwards and fixed in place by couched circular lines of thread. The centre of the flower has a geometrical filling, composed of a couched lattice pattern with French knots between. Conventional centres of this and like kinds are very pretty for embroidery flowers; such patterns as those shown in fig. 93 can often be seen in use, and they need only a trial to be frequently adopted.

Laid work shows off the gloss and texture of silk to great advantage, which is due to the thread being laid upon the material without being cut up into small stitches. Floss silk is much used for the work; it must not be at all twisted in the laying down, since this mars the effect. The work is carried out in a frame; it is quickly executed and economical, the thread being practically all upon the surface. Owing to the length of the stitches, this is not a very durable method, so it should not be subjected to hard wear. The work has sometimes a flimsy, unsatisfactory appearance, probably because of these long stitches. It will be seen that the silk passing through to the back, and then immediately to the front again, takes up very little of the material. A method in use for giving greater strength in this way is to lay the silk first in alternate lines and to fill up the gaps thus left upon a second journey across the form. For added strength, use might be made of a linen thread at the back, as in the point couche rentre ou retire method that is discussed later.

A gold thread outline gives a nice finish to laid work. If there is nothing in the way of an outline, and the pattern and ground are both covered with laid threads, the edges of the pattern are likely to look weak. Fig. 94 shows a leaf filled in with rather loosely laid threads and outlined and veined with gold passing, the veining answering the double purpose of fixing down the laid threads and veining the leaf at the same time.

In this work, the colouring is frequently in flat tones, but if necessary it is quite easy to introduce gradation. Further variety can be obtained by a contrast in colour in the tying-down threads.


The ancient Latin term opus consutum, and the modern French one applique, which is perhaps the name most commonly in use, both refer to the same kind of work; what is now called cut work is quite different from this, and is described elsewhere. Under the heading of applied work comes anything that, cut out of one material, is applied to another; it may have been previously embroidered, or it may be just the plain stuff. Both kinds can, as has been proved, be carried out with excellent effect, but much unsuitable and badly designed work has been done by this method, with the result that the very name has fallen into disrepute.

The simplest kind of applied work is that in which the design, traced upon one material, then cut out along the outline of the pattern, is applied to another material, the junction of the two materials being hidden by a cord or suitable stitch. The applied work is most often flat, but it can be in slight or in strong relief. The texture of the materials employed may be an important factor in the result, for a contrast in material as well as in colour is often wanted; sometimes the former alone is sufficient. The choice of material depends very much upon the use to which the finished work will be put, but this simple form of applied work often relies for part of its effect upon an intrinsic interest in the material, so it is usually carried out with such materials as velvet, satin, or silk, either plain or figured.

The design for this kind of work should be of a bold conventional type, such as large foliage with the character of the heraldic mantling; any naturalistic flowers, figures, or animals easily become grotesque. A simple outline to the forms is necessary, both because of the technical difficulties and for the effect of the finished work. This kind of work is hardly suitable for expressing fine detail; oftentimes it is seen from a distance, and many indentations on an outline sometimes tend to weaken it. Heraldry can be well expressed by this method. Fig. 95 is an example from a piece of XIIIth century work, a fragment of the surcoat of William de Fortibus, third Earl of Albemarle, who lived in the reign of Henry III.; the example can be seen in the British Museum. This method of work is also particularly suitable for such purposes as the decoration of wall surfaces, for hangings of various kinds, or banners; it can, however, be used for many other purposes, provided the design and the materials are well chosen.

Owing to the difficulty of working upon some ground stuffs, the method has arisen of carrying out the embroidery upon an easily worked ground, such as linen; cutting it out, when finished, along the outline and applying it to the proper ground, the junction of the two materials being hidden by a cord or some equivalent. It is usually further completed by light sprays or some other kind of finishing touches being placed around the applied part, these worked directly on to the proper ground. This prevents the embroidery from looking too bald and detached from its surroundings, of which there is always a danger when it is carried out separately and then attached; if at all possible it is always more satisfactory to work directly on to the right ground.

As a matter of fact it is almost always possible to do this; the workers of the XIIIth century, the period at which the art of embroidery was at its height, carried out the most exquisitely fine stitching and design on such grounds as velvet that had almost as long a pile as some varieties of plush. The famous cope of English work known as the Bowden cope, of which a detail is given in Plate I., is an excellent illustration of this point. Upon careful examination of the work it is apparent that between the stitching and the velvet there is a layer of material, composed either of fine linen or silk. This would be of great help in the carrying out of the stitching. It is exceedingly probable that this layer of fine material was at the commencement of the work laid completely over the velvet background of the cope; for one thing, the design, with its finely drawn detail, could easily be perfectly traced upon a surface of this kind and only imperfectly upon velvet; another advantage of this method would be, that the background would be kept quite free from dust and from getting soiled by the hands during the lengthy process of the work. The stitching would be carried through all the surfaces, and when finished, the fine surface layer would be cut away close round the edges of the design, which would be quite easily done. This method of working upon a difficult ground is well worth trying in place of the applied method.

To return to the discussion of applied embroidery—let us suppose the embroidered piece to be just completed on its linen ground, still stretched in the frame in which it was worked. In another frame, stretch the background material and trace upon it the exact outline of the piece to be applied. Cut out the embroidered piece carefully round the edge, allowing about one-sixteenth of an inch margin outside the worked part, leaving, if necessary, little connecting ties of material here and there for temporary support. With fine steel pins or needles fix the cut-out work exactly over the tracing already made on the ground material, then make it secure round the edge with rather close stitches of silk placed at right-angles to the outline; with fine materials the raw edge of the applied part can be neatly tucked under and fixed in place by this overcast stitch. A cord is next sewn on to hide the fixing and give a finish to the edge. The colour of this cord is important, since its colour may increase the expanse of either the applied part or the ground. Sometimes a double cord is put round, and in this case the inner one is attached to the embroidery before it is cut out of the frame, and the second attached afterwards. The inner one is often of a colour predominating in the embroidery, and the outer one of the colour of the ground. Gold cord is very usual; if a coloured silk one is used it must be a perfect match. The ordinary twisted cord looks best attached invisibly; to do this, slightly untwist it whilst stitching, and insert the needle in the opening thus formed. Some kinds of flat braids look well with the fixing stitches taken deliberately over them and forming part of the ornamentation (see fig. 91). Bunches of silk are sometimes couched round with a buttonhole or other stitch, but whatever the outline may consist of, it should be a firm bold line.

The work must be perfectly flat when completed. Puckering may occur through want of care in the preliminary straining or in the fixing on of the applied parts. Some materials are more easy to manage than others. The difficult ones can if necessary have a preliminary backing applied, which is useful also if the material is inclined to fray. The backing may consist of a thin coating of embroidery paste, or of tissue paper or fine holland pasted over the part to be applied. The more all this kind of thing can be avoided, the better the work, for pasting of any kind is apt to give a stiff mechanical look; also, if the work is intended to hang in folds any stiffness would be most impracticable.

Even more than simpler work applied embroidery needs the finish of some light work upon the ground. Gold threads and spangles, arranged in fashion similar to the sprays in fig. 112, are very often used. Sometimes, instead of this, some small pattern in outline is run all over the ground in order to enrich it.


Inlaid work is in effect similar to the applied, and it is used for the same purposes. The difference with this is that both background and pattern are cut out and fitted into each other, instead of only one of them being cut out and laid on an entire ground. The method of work is economical, for there need be very little waste of material. What is left from cutting out the pattern and background for one piece can be used as ground and pattern for another and possibly companion piece. There is in Perugia a church which possesses a complete set of draperies of this description, that were made at a good period for this work, early XVIth century, and evidently were designed for the position they occupy. On festivals, the piers, pulpit, and parts of the wall are hung with these rose and gold-coloured hangings of inlaid work. The design is a conventional scroll-work pattern, and the various hangings have alternately the rose ground with gold pattern, and gold ground with rose pattern, the whole forming a rich and harmonious interchange of colour.

Fig. 96 is an example of inlaid work. It is a XVth century tabard said to have belonged to Charles the Bold, and now in the Musee Historique at Berne. The pattern, it will be noticed, is planned on the counterchange principle, which is particularly well suited for this method of work.

A very ancient piece of the same kind of inlaid work is the funeral tent of Queen Isi-em-Keb, dated about 980 B.C., which is in the Boulak Museum, Cairo. It is composed of thousands of pieces of gazelle hide dyed in various colours and stitched together so as to form a wonderful design.[4]

To carry out the work—Stitch in a frame some holland to use as a background; this may be only temporary, being removed when the work is completed, or it may be left for additional strength. The materials for both background and pattern must first be carefully cut out. It is a good plan, where possible, to cut the two together so as to ensure exact similarity, for they have to fit together afterwards like the parts of a puzzle. The cut edges cannot be allowed to fray, so if there is any danger of this, precautions must be taken to prevent it, though the better way is to choose in the first place more suitable material. Leather is a particularly good example of one. Any pasting or backing which might be used for prevention of fraying would prevent also that possibility of exposing both sides of the work, which in inlay is sometimes a valuable quality; also, the stiffening which unavoidably results from pasting is rarely an improvement. When materials of different thicknesses are used together, the thinner one can be lined with fine holland so as to make it nearer equal in strength. After the materials are cut out the next process is to lay them in position on the prepared holland and tack them to it. Then, with an overcast stitch that must not be allowed to pierce the under surface, join all the edges together, and cover the stitches with a finishing cord or braid. The backing can now be removed if need be.


Patchwork can hardly attain to a high position amongst the various branches of embroidery. The main object of doing patchwork frequently is to make good use of valuable scraps of waste material. Unless, however, the product shows evidence of well thought out colour and arrangement, it cannot come under the heading of embroidery. Interesting results, however, of many kinds can be produced from this paint-box of brightly coloured scraps of material by ingenious mixing and shaping of them. Patchwork infers a rather more mosaic-like design than inlaid work, to which it is in some respects similar. The geometrically planned mosaic and inlay pavements that are to be seen so commonly in Italy and the East suggest great variety of patterns that could be applied to patchwork. The illustration at fig. 97 is a simple example taken from this source. Too often the results are only "alarming," as the Countess of Wilton expressively puts it, thinking, probably, of the patterns frequently seen upon cushions, patterns more resembling bright-coloured bricks set in cornerwise than anything else. They are the most unrestful looking things imaginable. The important elements of the work lie in the colour, shape, and texture of the pieces used, for upon the right selection the result wholly depends. The shapes chosen must be simple owing to the necessity of fitting and stitching them together, but there is plenty of variety obtainable with simplicity. The design may consist of one shape repeated or several. If only one, it is limited to a few geometrical figures, such as the square, hexagon, or shell shape; if more than one, there can be greater variety of pattern. Fig. 98 is an example in which four shapes are made use of, a large and small circle, an octagon, and an S-like twist. Four of these twists together make the figure that interlaces over the surface. Embroidery stitching can be added to patchwork; for instance, this example might have a neat border pattern worked on all the S-shapes, as suggested in the diagram, which would probably considerably increase its interest. Fig. 99 shows flowers springing from the base of the shell-form in use upon it. The embroidery could be simply carried out in one colour, or if a more gorgeous result were required, variety could be introduced in this way as well as in the ground, and a marvellous combination of intricate colour could be thus produced.

For the work to be made up satisfactorily it is necessary that the shapes be accurately cut out. To ensure this, a metal plate is cut and all the shapes are taken from it; sometimes, in lieu of this, a pattern is cut out in stiff cardboard. Lay this pattern-shape on the wrong side of the material and pencil it round, then carefully cut out the stuff, leaving about a quarter of an inch for turning in. Next lay the pattern-shape upon a piece of stiff paper or thin card-board and again trace off the shape, this time cutting it out exactly to the pattern, tack the material to the paper, and stitch down the raw edges at the back. Lay the prepared patches on a table and put them in place by referring to the design, and then commence sewing the edges together with an overcast stitch on the wrong side. When all are sewn, remove the papers and flatten the seams with an iron. Any braid or stitch that may be required to mask the join is next put on; this may be made ornamental by interlacing knots at the corners, or by any other device that happens to suit the work. The last thing to be done is to put a neat lining upon the back to cover and protect the numerous raw edges.


[4] For further information see "The Funeral Tent of an Egyptian Queen," by Villiers Stuart.


METHODS OF WORK—(continued)

Quilting—Raised Work—Darning—Open Fillings—Darned Netting.

Quilting is a method of working by which three materials are fixed together by more or less all-over stitching. It probably developed through the necessity of keeping the three layers in place. For practical purposes only, the sewing machine does the work excellently, but by making the stitching follow out some prearranged design, it is raised to the level of art. Plate III. is an interesting example showing what can be done in the way of design with the stitching over the surface. Embroidery may be added to the quilting, and this is often an improvement. The Eastern nations carry out marvellously intricate designs in quilting, and English XVIIIth century work of this kind shows Eastern influence strongly. A good example of this is a very interesting piece in the Victoria and Albert Museum.[5]

The first aim in quilting was evidently warmth, and the name denotes one of the chief uses to which it is put. It is made use of also for curtains, infants' caps or gloves (see fig. 100), all these things requiring the three layers for warmth. The materials usually consist of a surface one, which can be silk, fine linen or anything else; an interlining of some softer material having a certain amount of spring in it, such as flannel, cotton wadding, or wool; and for the third, an underneath lining of some kind. A cord is sometimes inserted instead of the inner layer of stuff, the lines of stitching running along either side to keep it in place. Occasionally there are only the top and the under layer, with no intervening material. The stitch usually employed is a running, back, or chain stitch, and it can be of the colour of the surface, or a contrast to it. Gold silk is often seen upon a white linen ground. The chief interest in the work lies in the choice of pattern, such things as colour, variety of stitching, interest in material, are not made much of. In planning the pattern, use is made of the knowledge that the closely stitched parts will lie more flatly, so it frequently happens that the ground has a small diaper running over it, and the pattern part, being less worked upon, perhaps only outlined, stands out more and forms an effective contrast.


In the XIVth century raised work was commonly done, but few examples are known of date earlier than this. The raised effect is obtained by an interposed layer of padding, which is a good method of getting a certain kind of effect. It is perhaps wise to err on the side of too little rather than too much relief. An example of too much and also of a wrong kind is the English stump work that was popular in the XVIIth century, when figures were stuffed like dolls, the clothes made separately and attached, even to the shoes and stockings. Germain de St. Aubin, writing in 1769, describes with much admiration a kind of broderie en ronde bosse, apparently much the same thing and in equally doubtful taste, though the skill required to carry it out must have been considerable.

The work, usually done in a frame, must be well carried out technically; the padding should be quite perfect in the form required before the final surface layer is worked over it, for this one will not make any deficiency right, but will only serve to show it up the more. Another point to be careful about is to make the padding stop well within the traced line of the pattern, otherwise the finished design will turn out much larger than was originally intended. The outline is sometimes worked round at the commencement, whereby its correctness is ensured.

Many different materials are brought into use for padding purposes. One of the simplest and most durable is a running of thread as illustrated in fig. 101. The thread can be arranged so as to be thicker in the centre than at the edges by laying some extra stitches over that part. If a quite flat padding is required, the shape, cut out in cloth, felt, or parchment, is attached by stitches to the material as shown in fig. 102; the surface stitching would be taken across it. Cardboard, sometimes pasted on to the ground, is used for this purpose, but it is unsatisfactory in several ways; for instance, cardboard letters are procurable for embroidering initials upon linen, but they are not at all practical for anything that goes through the wash; moreover, the letters are sometimes of bad design. Cotton wool is used as a stuffing, its surface being usually covered over with muslin, but this again would not stand much wear of any kind, and so could only be used under certain conditions.

Another good method is to couch down a hank of threads of fine cotton or perhaps wool as illustrated in fig. 103. For raised lines there is a special kind of string procurable that can be couched to the ground material at the required places. The padding, whatever it may be composed of, should be as nearly as possible of the same colour as the surface layer, in view of any after wear and tear misplacing the threads.

The top layer of underlay must lie in direction contrary to the surface embroidery stitching, which is very often some form of satin stitch taken from side to side over the padding. Instead of going through the material it can be fixed on each side with a couching stitch, as in fig. 104. A stronger way than these would be that shown in fig. 129. Buttonhole is a good stitch for working over a padding; it would be worked solidly in the manner described and illustrated on page 117, but taken, as there shown, over a padding instead of over a flat surface.


There is a most practical sound about darning; it can, however, be made good use of in embroidery as well as in plain needlework. There are two rather different kinds in use; in both the stitch is a running one and done in much the same way that a thin place would be darned in mending.

One kind of darning is rather popular at the present moment, and examples of it may be familiar; it is a large, bold kind of work, often carried out with a coarse twisted silk. Upon the background, the lines of stitching usually run straight across or up and down, in the pattern, they radiate according to the shape of the form to be filled. The entire material is covered one way or another by the running stitches, and just one thread of the ground fabric is picked up where necessary at irregular intervals; a loosely woven linen is often chosen for working upon, one in which it is easy to pick up the single thread. Gradation of colour can easily be introduced; the design chosen is most frequently some kind of conventional flower and leafy scroll. This method of embroidery is seen to best advantage when used upon large surfaces.

The second kind is called pattern darning; in it the stitches are picked up in some regular order, so that they form various geometrical patterns over the surface. It is worked by counting the threads of the fine linen ground and picking up a single thread or more in some regular sequence. The threads are run in parallel lines close together, either horizontally or vertically, so as to take advantage of the web of the fabric. The work is particularly pretty and not difficult, requiring only patience and good eyesight. Fig. 105 gives some simple examples of the work—The first is a chevron pattern, formed by picking up one thread and leaving about five each time; each succeeding row moves a step forward or backward as required to carry out the pattern. In the second example the darning is taken two ways of the material; in the centre, where it meets and crosses, it entirely covers the ground. A different colour might be used for each direction, which would look very well at the crossing in the centre. The four corners are filled up with a chequer darn; this each time picks up as much material as it leaves. The third example shows the darning stitch forming a diamond pattern. Samplers, dated early XIXth century, may be seen entirely filled with these pattern darns; they are covered with most intricate and beautiful sample squares showing various patterns in darning, and were possibly done in order to learn how to repair damask table linen. In a collection of early Egyptian work in the Victoria and Albert Museum, there is some pattern darning, dated VIth to IXth century, A.D., which proves it to be a very early method of embroidering.

This pattern darning, however, is so pretty that it is often possible to make use of it in embroidery work for all kinds of purposes. It makes a very good background if there is sufficient space to show the pattern, if there is not, the irregular darning might be used instead, for it would in that case be just as good and much quicker to work. To pattern-darn the ground with the ornament upon it left in the plain material, perhaps not worked upon at all, is a very effective method of carrying out a design, see fig. 106 for example. Again it might very well be used for the conventional carrying out of draperies in the same way as in point couche rentre ou retire.[6] The draperies on the figure in the frontispiece could easily be carried out with silk thread in the darning stitch, in fact this method of decoration more closely resembles the early couching than any other; it is not quite as satisfactory because the single threads of the background that are picked up prevent the ground showing nothing but silk. Bands of this work may be seen ornamenting needle books or work cases; it shows to best advantage when worked finely with floss or filosel silk, the coarse twisted silks are too thick for the purpose.


Patterns can be carried out in line, they can be worked quite solidly, and there is a method that lies between these two known as open filling. The open and solid fillings are often used together in the same piece of work; examples of this can be seen on the XVIIth century wool-work curtains, the large scrolling leaves are sometimes partly worked openly and a portion, possibly reflexed, filled in with solid stitches in gradating colour; see for an example Plate VIII. This has a very good effect, it prevents the work looking too heavy, shows up the form more clearly, and allows of more variety in the stitching. With open fillings the outline surrounding them must always be some firm decided line, such as is made by a band of satin or long and short stitch, or, in the case of larger forms, by several rows of different line stitches worked closely together, one inside the other, most likely in different shades of colour. A filling of open work can be carried out in a variety of ways; it may be a decorated trellis, a regular dotting of some kind, or some geometrical pattern in outline, or some light stitch such as an open buttonhole (see fig. 107), which would be treated each as a diapering over the form to be filled. It does not much matter what the filling is as long as it is dispersed pretty regularly over the space, giving the effect at a little distance of a light pervading tone, and when examined closely exhibiting an interesting small pattern. The open filling method can be used entirely throughout a design with very pretty effect; an example of this may be seen on an embroidered coverlet and pillow case in the Victoria and Albert Museum.[7] The pattern, composed of vine leaves and grapes, is carried out in dark brown silk on a linen ground, the leaves being all outlined with satin stitch. There is wonderful variety in the patterns, no two alike, which form the open fillings of the leaves; this makes them most interesting to examine, and is evidence of enthusiasm in their designing. Fig. 108, a leaf taken from this specimen, shows one method of filling a form with open work.[8] Fig. 109 shows a collection of patterns taken from the same piece of embroidery. It will be observed that small stitches of the same length compose the pattern, which can be designed upon squared paper and easily copied on to the linen ground by always picking up the same number of threads. To look well these little forms must be accurately worked, and they or similar kinds can be used upon flowers, leaves, beasts, draperies, or anything else quite indiscriminately. Fig. 110, from a cap in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is a drawing showing the same kind of open filling in use upon a bird.[9]

A quicker way of carrying out these geometrical fillings is by using such forms as a lattice and throwing the lines from side to side across the shape to be filled, fixing them down, where they cross each other, with couching stitches; the interstices left between the threads can be filled in with little stars, crosses, or dots (see fig. 111). Buttonhole stitch, if made use of as an open filling, would be taken in lines straight across a form, the stitches being worked possibly two or three closely together and then a space, and so on.

Fig. 112 suggests another method of lightly filling a leaf with a conventional veining and dotting. There is no limit to the variety which can be obtained in this method of working.

Open fillings are effective for use upon any work that is intended to be seen with a light at the back; they make very decorative the various forms they fill, in such things as muslin window blinds, curtains, fire screens, whether hand screens or the larger type. For articles of this kind the patterns should be rather more solid and less lined in character; fig. 113, taken from a window blind exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum, exemplifies what is meant; most of the patterns illustrated in fig. 100 could be treated in a more solid manner if necessary, and would look equally well that way. When working upon transparent grounds special care must be taken with the reverse side as well as with the surface, for the work to be practically alike upon both sides; there must be no threads running from one form to another nor any visible fastening off of ends.


Darned netting, or lacis, as it is sometimes called, might almost come under the heading of either lace or embroidery. It is used effectively with other kinds of white linen work, bands or squares of it being let into the linen; the contrast of the solid with the more open work gives a pretty effect. Fig. 114 is an example of this work. The darning is done on a plain netted ground which can be prepared by the worker if acquainted with netting, if not, the squares can be obtained ready for working upon. The pattern must be designed upon squared paper as for cross stitch work, then it is simply a question of following out the pattern upon the square net ground. Every square of the patterned part must be crossed in each direction by two lines of darning, which should about fill it up. The various lines are run in and out as continuously as possible, so as to avoid unnecessary fastening off or passing from one part to another. When a fresh thread is required, join it with a knot to the end of the last one (see figs. 165 and 166), and darn the ends in neatly with the other threads. These knots are often used in embroidery, for they are both strong and small. Detached stitches and parts must be worked by themselves; the thread should not be carried from one to the other. The work must be done in a frame and carried out with a blunt-pointed needle. The same thread is used for the netted ground and for the darned pattern. A method of work that the French call dessein reserve is, in result, rather similar to this, but it is worked in just the reverse way. The pattern, whatever it may be, is left in the plain linen, and the background has certain threads in each direction withdrawn at regular intervals, whereby the effect of the squared net ground is obtained.


[5] No. 1564, 1902.

[6] For description of this method, see page 238.

[7] A piece belonging to Lord Falkland.

[8] Fig. 18 is a drawing from the border of the same example.

[9] No. 308, 1902.


METHODS OF WORK—(continued)

Drawn Thread Work—Hem Stitching—Simple Border Patterns—Darned Thread Patterns—Corners—Cut or Open Work—Various Methods of Refilling the Open Spaces.

This method of work is the acknowledged link between embroidery and lace, and was possibly the origin of the latter. Drawn work is that in which the threads of either the warp or the weft of the material are withdrawn and those remaining worked into a pattern, by either clustering together or working over them in some fashion. The cut or open work, as it is sometimes called, is that in which both warp and weft are in places cut away, and the open spaces thus formed are partly refilled with a device of one kind or another.

The work is most often carried out in white thread on white linen, but coloured threads may occasionally be introduced with advantage. It is a durable method of work, and particularly suitable for the decoration of various house-linens, things that must undergo daily wear and wash; its rather unobtrusive character too makes it the more suitable for this purpose. The work is used in conjunction with other kinds of embroidery, perhaps making a neat finish to an edge, or lightening what would otherwise be too heavy in appearance.

Drawn thread and cut work can be carried out with such detail and fineness as to really become most delicate lace. In this chapter, however, it is intended to be treated rather as an adjunct to other embroidery, therefore only elementary work will be discussed. More attention might with advantage be paid to the design of this kind of work, for more might be done with it than sometimes is. For one thing, there is very little variety in the patterns, and the result often seems a spidery mass of incomprehensible threads with no very perceivable plan; perhaps if more attention were paid to the proportion and massing of the solid and open parts, a better result might be attained. Neatness and simplicity are good qualities in the pattern, the method of work not being suited to the expression of the various larger and bolder types of design.


In drawn work the question is how to treat the remaining warp threads after the weft has been withdrawn. They can be clustered in bunches in different ways with ornamental stitches added, or be entirely covered over with darning or overcast stitches in such a way as to form a pattern.

The beginning of most drawn thread work is hem stitching, the two edges marking the limit of the withdrawn threads have usually to be hem stitched before any pattern can be carried out. One method of doing this is in progress in fig. 115. In order to work it, draw out three or four threads of the warp and tack the hem down to the top edge of the line thus made. The diagram explains the remainder of the working.

Fig. 116 shows in the first example clusters of four threads drawn together at each edge by hem stitching in such a way as to form a ladder-like pattern. This and the one below are the ornamentations of a plain hem that are most commonly seen. The variation in pattern in the lower one is obtained by drawing together on the lower edge two threads from two consecutive bunches in the upper row instead of just repeating over again the same divisioning as before. These two examples are drawn to show the reverse, not the working side.

Another way of disposing of the undrawn threads is to cover them with a kind of darning stitch, as illustrated in fig. 117. This kind of work is more solid than the other, and is for that reason very durable. This example is commenced at the right-hand corner, where the threads are drawn loosely in order to explain the working. The needle, which should have a blunt point, takes the thread to and fro alternately over and under two clusters of warp thread, drawing them together a little during the process; half-way down, the needle leaves the first set of threads and continues working with the second and a new set (see needle in diagram). When this is worked down to the base the needle takes the thread invisibly up the centre of the worked part to the point where it is required for the continuation of the pattern. The working of this simple pattern explains the principle upon which all kinds of pretty and more complicated designs can be carried out. The darning thread may be coloured; in a more intricate design two or three different colours might be introduced.

Fig. 118 shows another pattern in the same kind of work. The darning stitch begins by working to and fro over and under four clusters of warp threads, part way down it continues over the two central ones only, leaving the outside clusters alone for the present. It finishes up, as at the beginning, to and fro over the four. The threads that were left are next covered with an overcast stitch, the adjoining ones in each case are caught together in the centre in order to form the X shape that recurs along the pattern. This darning kind of work is very closely allied to weaving, and especially the kind often seen in Coptic work, in which bands of the woof threads are purposely omitted in places, whilst the fabric is being made, in order that a pattern may be hand-woven in afterwards to take their place. Many beautiful examples of this work are on view in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In working a drawn thread border round a square shape, at each corner there comes an open space that requires a filling. Fig. 119 shows two wheels that are commonly used to ornament such places. The square in the first one has a preliminary groundwork of threads thrown across from corner to corner and from side to side, all meeting and crossing in the centre. The working thread is brought through at this point and the wheel commenced by taking a kind of back stitch over a bar and bringing the needle up beyond the next bar. It then takes the thread a step back and over the same bar and brings it up beyond the next; this goes on until the circle is of sufficient size, the stitches growing a little longer in each succeeding row. In the diagram the thread is loosened at the end to explain the working. The lower example is a commonly used wheel, which is made by the thread running round alternately over and under a bar until the wheel is completed. It should be as solid as the upper one, but is purposely left loose in the diagram. Either of the wheels could have a line of buttonhole stitching worked round the edge as a finish. This figure shows also the two usual ways of making firm the raw edges in cut work—the square shape is bound by an overcast stitch, and the round one by buttonholing.


Cut work can be most interesting both to look at and to carry out. In the XVIIth century Italy was famous for its punto tagliato or cut work. John Taylor mentions "rare Italian cutworke" in "The Praise of the Needle." This poem may perhaps be of interest to some; it was prefixed to a book of embroidery patterns of cut work named "The Needle's Excellency." It ran through twelve editions, the first of which was printed in 1621, and sold at "the signe of the Marigold in Paules Churchyard." Copies may be seen in the British Museum Library; in the Bodleian, Oxford, in the Ryland's Library, Manchester, and occasionally elsewhere. Fig. 120 shows a pattern taken from this book.

There are several distinct varieties of cut work, for instance, that known as renaissance embroidery, which is usually composed of an arabesque design from which the background is cut away, leaving the pattern in the linen; the cut edges are outlined and protected by an overcast stitch. The pattern has to be specially planned with the idea of holding strongly together, but, if necessary, buttonholed bars can be added to form strengthening ties in any weak part.

Another kind of cut work is that known as broderie anglaise, and sometimes as Madeira work, over which our grandmothers spent much time, perhaps without adequate result. The pattern is followed out by round holes pierced in the linen with a stiletto and then overcast round the edges. At the present day the work is done mostly by machinery, though hand work also is procurable.

Perhaps the prettiest kind of cut work is that in which various-shaped spaces are cut out of the linen, and these filled in, in part, with some design built up with stitches. There are various methods of refilling the spaces cut out, one of the simplest is a diapering formed by some lace stitch, such as an open buttonhole. As a rule, the decoration of the open spaces is based upon bars of thread that are either composed of warp or woof threads left, instead of being cut away, or else upon fresh threads thrown across in various directions. The pattern is planned on and about these strengthening ties, and where necessary receiving support from them. An ingenious worker will soon devise ways of refilling the spaces by all kinds of interesting patterns, which can be geometrical or floral, or any kinds of objects that can be attractively represented in conventional fashion, such as figures, birds, insects, ships in full sail, or anything else. It must, however, be remembered that the various forms filling the spaces are for use in the way of strength as well as for ornament, and that the work is often put upon objects that have to endure daily wear.

Open work is frequently mixed with other, and especially with white embroidery, and such things as counterpanes may be seen arranged with a chequering of alternate squares of embroidered linen and open work.

Fig. 121 shows in progress a simple method of filling a space, mainly making use of the strengthening threads that have been left at regular intervals over the cut part. The threads are covered with an overcast stitch, and alternate squares of those that recur over the space are decorated with a cross. This is made by the working thread, after reaching the right point at the centre of an overcast line, being thrown across the space and then twisted back over itself to the starting-point, where it is in the right position for continuing the overcast line. The crosses being put in at the same time as the overcasting of the bars renders some forethought necessary to get each in at just the right time and place.

Another kind of filling can be seen in progress in fig. 122. The stitches used in it are overcast and buttonhole. With the help of this last-mentioned stitch patterns of all kinds can be carried out, for each succeeding row of the stitch can be worked into the heading of the last row, and in this way it is possible to build up any required shape. This figure is a working diagram of a piece of cut work of which the completed square with its surrounding decoration can be seen in fig. 34. After overcasting the raw edges a diagonal thread is thrown across (E D on plan), upon which the pattern shall be built up; the thread is taken once to and fro and then twisted back again for a third crossing. Commence by overcasting the threads from point D, and upon reaching the part where the pattern is widened out, change the stitch to an open buttonholing (as shown on line B). It is worked openly in this way in order to leave space for another row of the same kind of stitching to be fitted in from the opposite side, which is the next thing to be done. Then an outer row of buttonhole stitch is worked on each side of the central bar and into the heading of the first row of stitching; this is shown in progress where the needle is at work. The entire pattern is carried out in this way, first laying down foundation threads in the necessary places and then covering them up with either overcasting or buttonhole stitch as required. It is easily possible to carry out flowers and all kinds of other things sufficiently well to make them pleasantly recognisable.



Introduction—Materials—Precautions for the Prevention of Tarnish—Ancient Method of Couching—Its various Good Points—Description of Working Diagram—Working a Raised Bar—Examples of Patterns Employed in Old Work—Illustrations upon Draped Figures—Usual Method of Couching—Couching Patterns—Outline Work—Raised Work—The Use of Purls, Bullions, &c.

Gold and silver threads have always played an important part in embroidered work, and are a most valuable addition to the worker's stock of materials, for they give a splendour and richness that is not obtainable in any other way. They have been utilised from the earliest times in both embroidery and weaving; in scripture and other ancient historical writings there is abundant proof of this fact.

The earliest form of gold thread in use was the pure metal beaten into thin plates and then cut into long narrow strips; that it was sometimes rounded into wire form is very probable. The first wire-drawing machine is said to have been invented by a workman at Nuremberg, but it was not until two centuries later that the drawing-mills were introduced into England.

Gold thread, similar to that we now use, entwined about a silk one, is mentioned in a XIVth century Latin poem; also, it is known that in the XIIIth century our English ladies prepared their own gold thread before working it in, and it was of the same type as ours, the gold being spirally twisted round a thread of silk or flax.[10]

To be a skilled worker with gold thread needs considerable application and practice. There is much variety in the work, some branches of it being more simple to manipulate than others. It is desirable for all workers to understand something of gold work, for it is frequently employed in conjunction with other embroidery, as well as alone. Fig. 123 shows a couched line of gold thread outlining some silk embroidery, which gives a pretty jewel-like effect of something precious in a setting of gold.

Gold embroidery may be divided roughly into three main classes, outline work, solid flat work, and raised work. Outline work is, as far as technique is concerned, one of the simplest forms of gold embroidery. The pattern is followed round with a gold cord or double thread of passing, fixed either visibly or invisibly with a couching stitch; the work needs but an interesting design and suitable background to be most successful. Fig. 124 illustrates a portion of a design, carried out with gold cord upon a velvet ground, which has been further enriched by the addition of little applied white flowers. The raised work, and that which introduces the use of purls and bullions, is at once more complicated, and perhaps hardly as pleasing as the simpler flat work.

The method of applying the gold to the material is usually by couching of one form or another, for most of the threads are too inflexible to be stitched through. The ground, if it shows at all, is usually a rich stuff, such as velvet, satin, or silk, in order to be in keeping with the valuable thread. If the ground chosen is difficult to work upon, the embroidery is carried out upon linen, and the finished work afterwards applied to the ground. If both background and pattern are solidly embroidered, linen can be used as the permanent ground. It is usual to have two layers of material for working upon, for gold threads are heavy and require the support of the double ground. There are several advantages in this double material, as the old workers knew, for we find they commonly used two. The under-layer can be a strong linen, and the surface one silk, satin, or a fine linen, as required.


A variety of metal threads are manufactured for embroidery purposes, and they are all obtainable in gold, silver, or imitations of these; aluminium thread has been made lately, and has the advantage of being untarnishable, but its colour and quality do not seem quite satisfactory, and it is not popular. The imitation threads are never worth the using; they tarnish to a worse colour, and are more difficult in manipulation; what goes by the name of real gold, is silver or copper, plated with the more valuable metal. The pure gold thread is said not to be so practical as this, being too brittle; but somehow or other it was more successfully manufactured in the past than nowadays, for some gold work six centuries old exhibits beautifully bright threads.

The following list comprises the chief threads used in this work:—

Passing.—This is a bright smooth thread, resembling in appearance a gold wire; it consists of a narrow flat strip of gold spirally twisted round a silken thread. It can be obtained in different sizes, the finest qualities going by the name of tambour. Most passing has to be couched on to the material, but it is possible to stitch in the tambour like ordinary thread.

Purl.—This resembles a smooth round hollow tube of metal, very pliable and elastic; when pulled lengthways it is found to be constructed like a closely coiled spiral spring. It is manufactured in lengths of about one yard, and for use it is cut into small sections of any required size with scissors or a knife. There are several varieties of purl, namely, the smooth, rough, check, and wire check. The smooth has a bright polished appearance, which is obtained by a flat gold wire being spun spirally round; the rough has a duller and more yellow appearance, which is owing to the wire having been rounded; the check is bright and sparkling, and consists of the flattened wire spun in a different way, so that parts of it catch the light and sparkle; the wire check is the same thing, but duller and of a deeper yellow, owing again to its being made of the round wire.

Bullion.—This is the name given to the larger sizes of purl.

Pearl Purl.—This is manufactured in the same spiral tube-like fashion as the other purl, but the gold wire is previously hollowed out in this [inverted U] shape, the convex side being the one exposed. This, when spun round, has the appearance of a string of tiny gold beads. It is frequently used as an outlining thread.

Various gold twists and cords can be obtained; they are composed of several threads twisted up in the usual cord fashion, each ply consisting of gold spun round a silk thread.

Plate is a flat strip of metal commonly about one-sixteenth of an inch wide; it can be obtained in different widths.

Spangles.—These are small variously shaped pieces of thin metal, usually pierced with a hole in the centre for fixing on to the material. They are frequently circular in shape, and either flat or slightly concave; the latter are the prettier. Many fancy shapes also are obtainable, but they are inclined to look tawdry, and suggestive of the pantomime.

Cloth of Gold and Silver.—This is a fabric manufactured of silk, with gold or silver thread inwoven in the making. It is not now so much used as formerly, when it was in great request for robes of kings and other high dignitaries of church or state.

A special make of silk for couching down gold thread is obtainable in various colours. It is called horsetail or sewings, and is both fine and strong.

Padding for use in raised gold work is usually yellow, and for silver, white or grey. Yellow soft cotton, linen thread, or silk, are all used for the purpose.

Various precautions can and must be taken to keep the gold thread bright, for under unfavourable circumstances it rapidly assumes a bad colour; the silver thread is even more liable to tarnish than the gold, and it turns a worse colour, going black. There is a special paper manufactured to wrap threads in, and the stock supply should be kept in a tin or air-tight bottle; this is in order to protect the metal from damp, which is most injurious; to do this is a difficult matter in the English climate. Linen used for working upon, or as backing, is best unbleached, for sometimes the chemicals used in the bleaching process have a deleterious effect upon the gold; a piece of gold embroidery wrapped up in cotton wool for preservation has been found completely spoiled by some chemical in this wool, which proved more disastrous than exposure to air would have been. Gas, strong scents, handling (especially with hot hands), all have an evil effect, and so should be avoided as much as possible. Work even whilst in progress should be kept covered as much as is practicable, and should not be allowed to hang about; the quicker it is done the better. A piece of finished work can be polished up with a leather pad or a brush, similar to a housemaid's brush for silver-cleaning purposes; this of course, must be used with care.


Gold thread can be couched on to the material in two distinct ways, one of them in use at the present day, the other one that was commonly practised in the XIIIth and XIVth centuries. About the second half of the last-named century the earlier method was supplanted by the present one. Almost every example of early gold thread work exhibits this obsolete and ingenious method of couching. The Syon cope and the Jesse cope in the Victoria and Albert Museum may be mentioned as famous examples. M. Louis de Farcy[11] draws especial attention to this beautiful method of working, to which he gives the name point couche rentre ou retire, and strongly urges its revival; he points out many distinct advantages it has over the method now in use.

The durability is very great, owing to the couching thread being upon the reverse side, where it is protected from wear and tear, and being out of sight can be made strong and durable. If a thread is accidentally broken it does not necessarily give way along an entire line, as may easily happen in the present method. A proof of this point can be seen upon the beautiful Ascoli cope lately in the Victoria and Albert Museum, about which there has been so much discussion of late as to in what country it originated, and who was the rightful owner. The early couching worked entirely over the background of the cope is in a state of perfect preservation; portions of the gold thread drapery have here and there been couched by the other method, the tying down threads have, in those parts, mostly disappeared, and the gold hangs loose and ragged upon the surface.

By the way in which it is worked, there results a particularly pleasing and even surface, agreeably varied by play of light and shade. Another advantage of the ancient method is that the completed work is very flexible; this point will appeal to those who have experienced the extreme stiffness of a large surface of ordinarily couched metal threads. Flexibility is an invaluable quality for any work destined, like copes and curtains, to hang in folds.

Representations of draperies upon figures are well expressed, for by the way in which they are worked there comes an indentation along the lines marking the folds; this emphasises them rather happily, and also breaks up the surface in a satisfactory manner.

Fig. 125 is a diagram that will aid in explaining the working, it gives both the front and the reverse side. This has been found to be the simplest and the most practical method of obtaining a result similar to the early examples; there is, however, no means other than examination of result whereby to get at this obsolete method. To all appearance there is upon the surface a kind of satin stitch worked in gold passing, the stitches carrying out some geometrical pattern, such as a chevron or lattice; but at the back a linen thread is seen running to and fro in close parallel lines in the same direction as the surface thread, and at regular intervals encircled by the gold passing, just as if this was intended to couch down the linen thread.

The ingenuity and satisfactoriness of the method must be admitted by all who give it a trial, and it is interesting to conjecture how it may have arisen. Possibly weaving suggested it to the embroiderers, for, take away the intervening material, and it is not unlike woven work, and these two arts would very likely be the accomplishment of the same person. Perhaps the commonly used method of taking a coarse thread through to the back (see fig. 167) suggested it, for this is briefly the whole process.

In order to try the couching, a two-fold ground material must be firmly stretched in an embroidery frame, a strong linen underneath and a thinner closely woven one upon the upper side. Some fine gold passing and some strong linen thread, well waxed, are required to work with, also an embroidery needle with long eye and sharp point, the size, which is important, depending upon the threads in use; the needle has to pierce the two-fold ground material, making a hole only just large enough for the passage of a double gold thread.

If the linen has a regular even thread the drawn pattern shown in the diagram can be worked by counting the threads of the ground fabric, but if this is difficult or impossible, as in the case say of a twilled surface, a careful tracing must be made upon the linen; a beginner may find this the easier way in any case.

The end of the gold thread, which by now, in readiness for working, will be wound upon the bobbin or spindle, must be passed through to the back at the starting-point, the top left-hand corner in the diagram. The linen thread secures it at the back and then comes through to the front upon the traced line exactly beneath (see arrow on plan). It now encircles the gold thread which the left hand draws out rather tautly, and then returns by the same hole to the back, pulling the metal thread through with it. There is knack in taking the gold thread only just through and leaving the completed stitch straight and flat upon the surface. The process is now repeated, the linen thread coming through to the front again upon the next traced line, and so on. When the base of the pattern is reached the gold thread is taken through once upon that line, and then commences a like journey upwards.

This practically explains the couching; variety is obtained by change of pattern, but the method of carrying it out is always the same. Figs. 126, 127, and 128 show three patterns taken from old examples of this couching.

The difficulties in technique are easily overcome; an important aid in this matter is the use of materials exactly right; this means needles and threads of the correct size, the ground composed of suitable fabrics, and properly strained in a frame. The aim in the working is to get each stitch perfectly flat and straight in its correct place in spite of the obstinacy of the metal thread; to avoid making the perforation larger than necessary, for this makes the work clumsy; to make each succeeding line lie closely beside the last one, for the surface must be of solid gold, and if the ground showed through in places it would impoverish the effect.

The direction of the couched thread is usually either vertical or horizontal, and it may be both of these in the same piece of work. The reason of this may be because it is worked by counting the threads of the fabric, or because the pattern is always treated as a diaper and placed upon the surface without regard to contour. The exception to this rule of direction is when the couching is taken along a stem or the narrow hem of a robe to form the border, or along a girdle, it then follows the direction of the band, this being evidently the most straightforward and satisfactory method to use for the purpose.

The point couche rentre ou retire is an excellent method to use for working a raised bar. Fig. 129 shows the front and reverse sides of a bar worked by it. The gold thread comes cleanly through from the back of the material instead of being clumsily doubled upon the surface, and the durability is evidently great. The linen thread, it will be seen, runs to and fro at the back, at each turn securing the gold thread.

In fig. 130 this couching is to be seen in use upon drapery. It is taken entirely over the exterior surface of the cloak, and upon the crown, sceptre, and model of the church. The lines expressing the folds of drapery are in this case shown by the couching at these places being taken in a different direction. Fine gold passing is used for the couched thread, much finer than can possibly be shown in the drawing, and the pattern chosen for the couching down is a chevron. The other parts of the work are done with silk thread in a fine chain or split stitch. The play of light upon the varied surface of the golden cloak is very beautiful; the drawing of the figure is perhaps primitive, and, regarded from the draughtsman's point of view, somewhat ludicrous; it is however sufficiently good to express all that its author intended, and there is something very human in this dignified little king who would not have you forget that he founded a church. The king who is personified here is Edward the Confessor, so the church is Westminster Abbey, of which he was the founder.

The Madonna and child forming the frontispiece of the work is another example of this couching. The method of expressing the folds of drapery is slightly different from that employed upon the king's robes. All drapery carried out in this stitch is worked in somewhat the same fashion, that is, the couching running to and fro between the lines marks each fold as roughly shown at fig. 131. This method leaves an indented line to express the drapery, which is a more satisfactory way than a simple line of dark colour worked over the gold, as in more modern work. The indented line is often further emphasised by a line of dark silk stitched along it, which is done in this case. The figures are taken from the Jesse cope in the Victoria and Albert Museum;[12] this vestment, with its red silk background and its finely coloured and drawn ancestors of Christ posed amongst encircling vine branches, is a most beautiful, though sadly mutilated, example of XIIIth century design and workmanship.


In the usual form of couching the gold thread is attached to the material by fine strong silk. The thread is fastened down as a rule two-fold, sometimes even three-fold; this method is both quicker and more effective than couching each thread separately. As the couching thread is necessarily in evidence, decorative use is often made of it as well as practical; the stitches, for instance, may be planned so as to carry out some pattern (see fig. 132) instead of being put down at random. There is no limit to the variety of the patterns that can be devised in this way.

Decorative use can be made of the colour of the couching thread; a hot colour warms the tone of the gold and a cool one does the reverse; and the more contrasting the colour the more it is in evidence.

The gold thread may be couched solidly in straight lines, as the above figure shows, or it may be arranged in wavy lines either close or open, as in fig. 133. The thread is waved by bending it round the pointed end of a piercer just before fixing down. This waving line is particularly suitable for the gold thread, since the slight change in direction allows the light to play upon the metal very prettily. For this reason gold is often couched solidly in circular or shell form over a ground. In gold embroidery, therefore, the direction of the thread is a specially important matter.

At the end of a line a technical difficulty sometimes arises in the turning of the thread, which is apt to be clumsy. This difficulty is overcome in various ways; the most usual is to return the doubled thread as neatly as possible and continue the next line; another is to cut the thread sharp off, secure it close to the end with a double stitch, and recommence in like fashion; the thread can sometimes be passed through to the back and brought up in position for working the next line. The fine point of a leaf may present difficulties in the same way; sometimes one of the two threads is temporarily let slip and the point completed with the single one, the left thread being picked up upon the return (see fig. 134). For such occasions as this it is more practical to wind the two threads of passing upon separate bobbins, and bring them together at the working. Another way of overcoming the point difficulty is shown at fig. 135.


The couched gold threads may be raised in parts by means of some kind of padding interposed between it and the ground. They are very effective so treated, since the raised metal catches and reflects the light in a pleasing manner. This raising of the thread, however, has been carried to such extremes as to resemble goldsmith's work rather than embroidery, and it is then hardly in good taste.

A simple method of raising the gold is to lay down lines of string at stated intervals over the ground. The well-known form called basket stitch is done in this way; fig. 136 illustrates this stitch, a part of the square is left unworked in order to expose the under-layer of string. To carry out the diagram—First couch down the lines of string at regular intervals over the surface, then commence laying on the gold by carrying a doubled thread of passing over two bars of string, and there fixing it down to the material, then over two more and fixing it down again, and so on to the end of the line. This is exactly repeated for a second line of passing, then, for the next two lines, commence by carrying the passing for the first stitch over one bar only, and for the remainder of the line over the two as before. This process repeated makes the wicker-like pattern so frequently seen in gold work. It can be used as a filling or as a border. It is evident that with the same arrangement of strings many other patterns could be carried out by varying the points of couching down.

Another way in which string is used for padding the gold is illustrated in fig. 137. The pattern, which in the first part is two diamond shapes and a border line, is laid down in string. The doubled gold thread is then taken horizontally to and fro in close parallel lines over the part to be worked, and fixed by couching stitches at necessary intervals; wherever else these stitches may be put, one must always be placed upon each side of a raised line to make it sharp and clear. Other kinds of padding are used in this method of work; for instance, a lozenge shape may be stuffed with layers of soft cotton, as shown in the second part of this same diagram. Sometimes most complicated patterns are laid down in string and covered with gold thread in this way, e.g.:—fig. 138 shows an interlacing pattern taken from the border of an orphrey upon a XVth century chasuble.


A cursory glance must be given to the use of purls and other fancy threads, but these are mostly used nowadays for badges on uniforms, or for masonic purposes, and are carried out by the trade. These threads, when tarnished, are very difficult to clean, they easily turn a bad colour and catch the dust, and for real embroidery purposes are not as satisfactory as the plainer threads.

Purl and bullion must be cut very accurately into pieces of the required size, and attached to the material as a bead would be. The metal must be as little as possible touched with the fingers; the cut pieces can be placed upon a tray lined with some soft springy substance, such as felt, in order to be easily picked up with the point of the needle, and they can be adjusted to their right position upon the work by the aid of the flat end of the piercer; unnecessary handling may be avoided in this way.

These threads, laid over padding either straight across or at an angle, may be used for the stems or petals of conventional flowers. The various kinds, dull, bright, and check, may perhaps be used in succession.

Plate is frequently taken to and fro over the same kind of forms over a prepared padding, being caught down by a stitch on each side by a method the French call le guipe. It needs skill and practice to do this well. Crinkled plate used to be couched on to work, but now is not much used in this way.

Pearl purl is most often seen outlining a form filled in with the other threads; an enlarged example of this thread lies vertically down the centre of fig. 139, the end of it is pulled out, in order to show the formation of the thread.

Spangles are usually sewn down separately; they may be attached by stitches from the centre outwards or by the thread being passed through a piece of purl and then returning to the back through the hole in the centre of the spangle. Fig. 139 illustrates another way of using these spangles to form a long tail shape. Here again they are attached with the help of pieces of purl. In the same figure are given some illustrations of the use of the fancy threads; to learn more about them the student should examine XVIth to XVIIIth century gold work during which period they were in popular use.


[10] See Dr. Rock's "Textile Fabrics."

[11] In La Broderie du Onzieme Siecle jusqu'a Nos Jours.

[12] No. 175, 1889.



The Uses of Lettering—Marking—Monograms—Heraldry—Emblems.

Lettering of one kind or another is frequently in request. It is useful for inscriptions, verses, names attached to figures, the signing and dating of work, and for the more ordinary purposes of marking linen and so forth. Signed and dated work has peculiar attractiveness: it can be placed amidst definite historical associations: an authenticated piece of embroidery, say of the reign of King Richard Coeur de Lion, Queen Anne, or George III., would be an historical document and a standard to gauge the period of any uninscribed examples. Although few of us are likely to possess treasures of the XIIIth century, signed and dated pieces of our great-grandmothers' embroideries are interesting personal landmarks in family history, so for this reason, amongst others, unostentatious marks of identification are by no means out of place. Descriptive names or verses are also a means of amplifying the story and so enlivening our curiosity.

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