Embroidery and Tapestry Weaving
by Grace Christie
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Flowers, Plants and Fishes, Birds, Beasts, Flyes, and Bees, Hils, Dales, Plaines, Pastures, Skies, Seas, Rivers, Trees, There's nothing neere at hand, or farthest sought, But with the needle may be shap'd and wrought."

—JOHN TAYLOR ("The Praise of the Needle").

The Artistic Crafts Series of Technical Handbooks Edited by W. R. Lethaby


A Practical Text-Book of Design and Workmanship



With Drawings by the Author and Other Illustrations

Second Edition Revised (A reprint of the First Edition, with various slight alterations in text)

Third Edition Revised (A reprint of the Second Edition)

Published by John Hogg 13 Paternoster Row London 1912

Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co. at the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh


Needlework, which is still practised traditionally in every house, was once a splendid art, an art in which English workers were especially famous, so that, early in the XIIIth century, vestments embroidered in England were eagerly accepted in Rome, and the kind of work wrought here was known over Europe as "English Work." Embroideries facon d'Angleterre often occupy the first place in foreign inventories.

At Durham are preserved some beautiful fragments of embroidery worked in the Xth century, and many examples, belonging to the great period of the XIIIth and XIVth centuries, are preserved at the South Kensington Museum, which is particularly rich in specimens of this art. In order to judge of what were then its possibilities it is worth while to go and see there three notable copes, the blue cope, the Sion cope, and the rose-colour Jesse-tree cope, the last two of which are certainly English, and the former probably so. The Sion cope bears a remnant of an inscription which has unfortunately been cut down and otherwise injured, so that all that I have been able to read is as follows: DAVN PERS : DE : V ...; probably the name of the donor.

In the XIIIth century the craft of embroidery was practised both by men and women.

That great art patron, Henry the Third, chiefly employed for his embroideries, says Mr. Hudson Turner, "a certain Mabel of Bury St. Edmund's, whose skill as an embroideress seems to have been remarkable, and many interesting records of her curious performances might be collected." And I have found a record of an embroidered chasuble made for the king by "Mabilia" of St. Edmund's in 1242. The most splendid piece of embroidery produced for this king must have been the altar frontal of Westminster Abbey, completed about 1269. It was silk, garnished with pearls, jewels, and translucent enamels. Four embroideresses worked on it for three years and three-quarters, and it seems to have cost a sum equal to about L3000 of our money.

"The London Broderers" did not receive a formal charter of incorporation until 1561, but they must have been a properly organised craft centuries before. In 2 Henry IV. it was reported to Parliament that divers persons of the "Craft of Brauderie" made unfit work of inferior materials, evading the search of "the Wardens of Brauderie" in the said City of London.

In Paris, in the year 1295, there were ninety-three embroiderers and embroideresses registered as belonging to the trade. The term of apprenticeship to the craft was for eight years, and no employer might take more than one apprentice at a time. In the XVIth century the Guild was at the height of its power, and embroideries were so much in demand that the Jardin des Plantes in Paris was established to furnish flower-subjects for embroidery design. It was founded by the gardener, Jean Robin, and by Pierre Vallet, "brodeur" to Henry IV. In the XVIIIth century the company numbered 250 past-masters.

To this craft the present volume forms, I believe, an admirable introduction and text-book, not only on the side of workmanship, but also on that difficult subject, "design"—difficult, that is, from its having been so much discussed in books, yet entirely simple when approached, as here, as a necessary part of workmanship. It is fortunate that we have not as yet learned to bother our cooks as to which part of their work is designing and which is merely mechanical. Of course the highest things of design, as well as of workmanship, come only after long practice and to the specially gifted, but none the less every human creature must in some sort be a designer, and it has caused immense harm to raise a cloud of what Morris called "sham technical twaddle" between the worker and what should be the spontaneous inspiration of his work. What such combination has produced in past times, may perhaps best be understood by some reading in old church inventories of the simply infinite store of magnificent embroidered vestments which once adorned our churches. In an inventory of Westminster Abbey I find mentioned such patterns as roses and birds, fleur-de-luces and lybardes, angels on branches of gold, roses and ships, eagles and angels of gold, castles and lions, white harts, swans, dogs, and antelopes.


September 1906.


In the following pages the practical sides of Embroidery and Tapestry Weaving are discussed, their historical development being only incidentally touched upon.

The drawings illustrating design and the practical application of stitches have been taken almost without exception from actual Embroidery or Tapestry; the exceptions, where it has been impossible to consult originals, from photographic representations obtained from various sources, among which the collection of M. Louis de Farcy should be mentioned.

I have to thank Miss May Morris and Mrs. W. R. Lethaby for permission to reproduce pieces of their work, and Miss Killick, Colonel J. E. Butler-Bowdon, the Viscount Falkland, and the Reverend F. J. Brown of Steeple Aston for permission to reproduce work in their possession. Also I must thank the authorities of the Victoria and Albert Museum for help in various ways, and Mr. J. H. Taylor, M.A. Oxf. and Cam., for his kindness in reading the proofs.


Ewell, September 1906.










Needles—Scissors—Thimbles—Frames—Stand and Frame combined—Tambour Frame—Cord-making Appliance—Requisites for Transferring Patterns—Pricker—Knife—Spindle—Piercer—Materials suitable for Embroidering upon—Threads of all Kinds—Stones, Beads, &c. 34



The Difficulties of Pattern Making—A Stock-in-Trade—Some Principles upon which Patterns are Built Up—Spacing-Out—Nature and Convention—Shading—Figure Work—Limitations—Colour 51



Introduction—Chain Stitch—Zigzag Chain—Chequered Chain—Twisted Chain—Open Chain—Braid Stitch—Cable Chain—Knotted Chain—Split Stitch 75



Satin Stitch—Long and Short Stitch—Stem Stitch—Overcast Stitch—Back Stitch—Buttonhole Stitch—Tailor's Buttonhole—Fancy Buttonhole Edgings—Flower in Open Buttonhole Stitch—Leaf in Close Buttonhole Stitches—Petal in Solid Buttonholing 95



Knots and Knot Stitches—Herring-bone Stitch—Feather Stitch—Basket Stitch—Fishbone Stitch—Cretan Stitch—Roumanian Stitch—Various Insertion Stitches—Picots 118



Introduction—Samplers—Petit Point Pictures—Cross Stitch—Tent Stitch—Gobelin Stitch—Irish Stitch—Plait Stitch—Two-sided Italian Stitch—Holbein Stitch—Rococo Stitch 147



Couching—Braid Work—Laid Work—Applied Work—Inlaid Work—Patch Work 164


METHODS OF WORK—(continued)

Quilting—Raised Work—Darning—Open Fillings—Darned Netting 189


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 213



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. 229



The Uses of Lettering—Marking—Monograms—Heraldry—Emblems 259



Finishing off—Making up—Edges—Use of Cord-making Appliance—Cord Twisted by Hand—Knotted Cord—Fringes—Tassels—Knots 271



Transferring Patterns—Paste for Embroidery Purposes—Protection and Preservation of Work—Washing Embroidery—Prevention and Cure of Puckered Work—Points about the Thread—Dressing the Frame 292







The Loom—Mirror—Bobbins and Needles—The Comb—Embroidery Frame treated as a Loom—Warp—Wools—Silk—Gold and Silver Thread 315



Warping the Loom—Dressing the Coat-Stave—Tracing the Pattern upon the Threads 328



Weaving—Commencing and Fastening Off—The Interlocking Stitch—Fine Drawing—Shading—Added After-stitches 339







In the practice of embroidery the needlewoman has an advantage not now shared by workers in any other craft, in that the technical processes are almost a matter of inherited skill. Every woman can sew, and it is with little more than the needle and thread, which she habitually employs, that the greatest masterpieces of the art have been stitched. The art of embroidery, however, is not merely an affair of stitches; they are but the means by which ideas can be expressed in intelligible form, and memories of all kinds of things be pictured on stuffs.

To laboriously train the hand is scarcely worth while unless it is capable of expressing something that is at least pretty. Nowadays much embroidery is done with the evident intent of putting into it the minimum expenditure of both thought and labour, and such work furnishes but a poor ideal to fire the enthusiasm of the novice; happily, there still exist many fine examples showing what splendid results may be achieved; without some knowledge of this work we cannot obtain a just idea of the possibilities of the art.

It is obvious that much advantage can be gained from studying the accumulated experience of the past in addition to that current in our own day. To do this intelligently, the history of embroidery must be followed in order that the periods richest in the various kinds of work may be ascertained. Museums afford useful hunting-grounds for the study of past work; other sources are private collections, churches, costume in pictures or on engraved brasses, and manuscript inventories such as those of cathedral treasuries, which sometimes contain interesting detailed descriptions of their embroidered vestments and hangings.

Blind copying of old work is not of much value; it is not possible or desirable to imitate XIIIth century work now, but much can be learned by examining fine examples in an appreciative and analytical spirit. In what way the design has been built up can be discovered; the most complicated result may often be resolved into quite elementary lines. The student must find out wherein lie the attraction and interest, note good schemes of colour, and learn about stitches and methods of work by close examination of the embroidery, both front and back.

Every one knows what embroidery is, and a formal definition seems unnecessary. As a matter of fact, it would be a difficult task to give one, since weaving, lace-making, and embroidery are but subtle variations of the same art.

This art may be of the highest or the most homely character, and the latter is by no means to be despised. Simple unaffected work decorating the things of every-day use can give a great deal of pleasure in its way. This should surely be the accomplishment of every woman, for though she may not have the skill to attain to the highest branches, it would at least enable her to decorate her home with such things as the counterpanes, curtains, and other objects that set such a personal stamp upon the English domestic work of several centuries, and which nowadays can hardly be found except stored up in museums.

It is advisable as a general rule that the design be both made and carried out by the same person. From the worker's own point of view the interest must be much greater when working out her own ideas than when merely acting as amanuensis to another. The idea is more likely to be expressed with spirit; further there is the possibility of adding to or altering, and thereby improving, the work as it progresses. The designer must in any case be well acquainted with stitches and materials, for they play an important part in achieving good results. The individuality of the worker should be evident in her work; indeed it generally is, for even plain hems by two people bear quite different characters; the degree of individuality present, varies with each one, but in any case it will be much more marked if the design and stitching bear the stamp of the same personality.

The difference between good and unsatisfactory results should be carefully thought out, for it is often but a small matter. The best kind of work is that which appeals to the intelligence as well as to the eye, which is another way of saying there should be evidence of mind upon the material. Work must be interesting in some way if it is to be attractive; it had better almost be faulty and interesting than dull, dry, and correct. It can interest by reminding us of pleasant things, such as familiar flowers, shady woods, or green lawns; birds, beasts, and so forth can be depicted in their characteristic attitudes, or a story can be told; in fact, work can be made attractive in a hundred different ways. It must not show signs of having wearied the worker in the doing; variety and evidence of thought lavishly expended upon it will prevent this, and enthusiasm will quicken it with life.

The selection of the object to work comes at an early stage, and is a matter to be well considered, for it is a pity to spend time and labour upon unsuitable objects when there are many excellent ones to choose from. In thinking over what to work it should be realised that it takes no longer to execute one rather important piece than several of a less ambitious character, and that the former is generally more worth the doing. Whether the subject is a suitable one for embroidery or not sometimes depends upon the method chosen for carrying it out; for instance, anything that has to endure hard wear must be treated in such a way as to stand it well.

Dress is a fine subject for embroidery; but, for the decoration to be satisfactory, the art of designing dress must be understood, and the dress must also be well cut, or the embroidery will be quite wasted upon it. What is termed "art dress," proverbially bad, well deserves its reputation. There is a great difference in the quantity of work that may be put into dress decoration; this may be simply an embroidered vest, collar, and cuffs, or it may be actually an integral part of the costume, which as a much bigger and more difficult undertaking is correspondingly finer in effect when successfully carried out.

Amongst larger objects that well repay the labour of embroidery, hangings of various kinds, quilts, screens, furniture coverings, altar frontals, church vestments, may be mentioned; amongst smaller, are bags, boxes, book-covers, gloves or mittens, bell-pulls, cushions, mirror frames, all kinds of household linen, infants' robes, and so on, and for church use such things as alms-bags, book-markers, stoles, pulpit and lectern frontals. Then a panel may be worked with the deliberate intention of framing it to hang on a wall. There is no reason why the painter should have the monopoly of all the available wall space, for decorative work is undoubtedly in place there; a piece of embroidered work might well fill a panel over a mantel-piece. There is no need to discuss what not to do, but, if the attraction to embroider a tea-cosy is too strong to resist, it should surely be of washable materials.

Embroidery has distinct practical advantages over some other crafts practised nowadays—no special studio need be devoted to its use, for most work can be done in any well-lighted room, which indeed will be rendered more attractive by the presence of an embroidery frame, for this is in itself a characteristic and dainty piece of furniture. It need but seldom interfere with one of our pleasant traditions, genial converse with, and about, our neighbours, for it is a distinctly sociable occupation. Work of this kind can be put down and taken up at leisure; the necessary outlay in materials need not be extravagant, and so on. Many other points might be thought of, but the claims of the art do not demand any special pleading, for it is pleasant in the actual working, and can produce an infinite variety of most interesting results.



Needles—Scissors—Thimbles—Frames—Stand and Frame combined—Tambour Frame—Cord-making Appliance—Requisites for Transferring Patterns—Pricker—Knife—Spindle—Piercer—Suitable Materials for Embroidering upon—Threads of all Kinds—Stones, Beads, &c.

Good workmanship takes a prominent, though not the first, place. Technical excellence in needlework, as in all other artistic crafts, is a question of the worker's perseverance and her ability in the use of tools. In embroidery these are few and simple, and are as follows:—

Needles.—For most purposes needles known as long-eyed sharps are used. Tapestry needles, similar to these, but with blunt points, are useful for canvas work and darned netting. For gold work a special needle can be procured with sharp point and long wide eye. A bent needle makes a crooked stitch; but needles if made of good steel should not bend; they break if used unfairly. The eye should be cleanly cut, or it roughens the thread. The needle must be just stout enough to prepare for the thread an easy passage through the material.

Scissors.—Three pairs may be necessary; for ordinary work a small pair with fine sharp points, for gold work small ones with strong points similar to nail scissors, and for cutting-out purposes a large pair with one rounded and one sharp point.

Thimbles.—Steel ones are said to be most serviceable, silver are most usual; but whatever the material they must be neatly made in order not to wear the thread.

Frames.—A common type of frame is shown at fig. 1. It is made in various sizes; the one here represented measures 18 inches across. It consists of four pieces of wood, two rollers for the top and base and two side pieces. Each of the rollers has a piece of webbing securely nailed along it, and its extremities are pierced with holes to receive the side pieces. These are formed of two long wooden screws, fitted with movable nuts, which adjust the width of the frame and the tautness of the stretched work. The piece of material that is stretched between is the link that keeps the frame together, for the screw ends fit just loosely in the holes of the rollers. The side pieces are sometimes made of flat laths of wood pierced with holes at regular intervals; in these are inserted metal pins, by means of which the work is kept stretched. Fig. 9 represents a frame of this type. If the frame is a very large one it can have a strengthening bar fixed across the centre from roller to roller.

The frame is most convenient for work when fixed in a stand, although it can be used leaning against a table or the back of a chair. A very large frame would be supported upon trestles, but for ordinary purposes, a stand, such as the one shown in fig. 2, is practical. It consists of two upright wooden posts, a little over 2 feet in height, which are connected near the base by a strengthening cross piece. Both this and the uprights are adjustable; the centre part of the posts is arranged to slide up and down, and can be fixed at any convenient height by the insertion of a long metal pin; the width of the cross piece is regulated in similar fashion, being made firm, by a screw, at the required width, thus allowing various sized frames to be used in the same stand. The frame is fixed in place by metal clamps, and a wooden pivot is arranged so as to permit the stretched work to be inclined at any angle convenient. Both stand and frame should be well made and of good wood, for they must be able to stand strain and be perfectly firm and true when fixed for work.

A small circular frame, such as is shown in fig. 3, is useful for marking linen or for any small work. This, formed of two hoops fitting closely one within the other, can be procured in wood, ivory, or bone, of various sizes, the one illustrated being about 6 inches in diameter. The material to be worked upon is stretched between these hoops like the parchment on a drum. These tambour frames, as they are called, are sometimes fixed into a small stand or fitted with a wooden clamp for fastening to a table; this frees both hands for work. These tambours cannot well be recommended; the material is apt to stretch unevenly, and a worked part, if flattened between the hoops, is liable to be damaged.

The illustration at fig. 4 shows a simple little instrument for making a twisted cord. It is interesting to note that Etienne Binet, who wrote on embroidery about 1620, when discussing some necessary equipment for an embroideress mentions "un rouet pour faire les cordons."

There is sometimes a difficulty in procuring the cord just right to suit the finished work; the texture may be too coarse to put beside fine embroidery, it may not be a good match, and, even if so at first, it may fade quite differently from the worked silks. For these and other reasons it is a safe method to make the cord one's self, possibly with some materials of the kind already used in the embroidery.

This appliance enables the worker to make any kind of twisted cord; it is as simple as a toy to handle, and gives excellent results. It is a metal instrument about 8 inches in height. The three small discs are wheels, supported on the arms of an upright cross which has a heavy circular base. These three wheels are connected by a cord with a larger wheel below that has a handle attached to it. The cord runs in a groove round the circumference of each wheel, and must be held taut in position. By turning the handle of the large wheel the three small ones are set in motion. Three hooks, attached to the axles of the small wheels, are therefore rotated with them. One end of each ply of the cord in making is looped on to one of these hooks, the other ends are attached to three similar hooks fixed into a block of wood which, when in use, is firmly clamped to the table. Further instruction in the making of cords is given in Chapter XIII.

To trace the pattern on to the material the following articles may be required: Indian ink, a small finely-pointed sable brush, a tube of oil paint, flake white or light red, according to the colour of the ground material, turpentine, powdered charcoal or white chalk for pounce, tracing paper, drawing-pins, and a pricker. This last-mentioned tool is shown in fig. 5. It is about 5 inches long, and is like a needle with the blunt end fitted into a handle. For rubbing on the pounce some soft clinging material rolled into a ball is necessary. A piece of old silk hose tightly rolled up makes an excellent pad for the purpose.

The knife shown in fig. 6 is useful for cutting out at times when the use of scissors is not practical. It is used in an upright position, with the point outwards.

A spindle for winding gold thread upon whilst working is shown in fig. 7. It is about 8 inches long. A soft padding of cotton thread is first placed round (between A and B, fig. 7), and the gold thread wound upon that. The end of the thread passes through the forked piece at the top on its way to being worked into the material. The use of this or some similar appliance enables the worker to avoid much touching of the metal threads.

A small tool called a piercer is represented by fig. 8; it is used in gold work; the flat end assists in placing the gold in position, and also in making the floss silk lie quite flat; the pointed end is used for piercing holes in the material for passing coarse thread to the back, and for other purposes. This little tool, made of steel, is about 5 inches in length.


The surface is a matter of special interest in embroidery work. This makes the choice of materials of great importance. Besides the question of appearance, these must be suitable to the purpose, durable, and, if possible, pleasant to work with and upon. The materials chosen should be the best of their kind, for time and labour are too valuable to be spent upon poor stuffs; occasionally a piece of old work is seen with the ground material in shreds and the embroidery upon it in a good state of preservation, which is a pity, for a newly applied ground of any kind is never as satisfactory as the original one. Still another plea for the use of good materials is the moral effect they may have upon the worker, inciting her to put forth her best efforts in using them.

The purpose to which the work is to be put usually decides the ground material, besides governing pattern, stitches, and everything else. A background is chosen, as a rule, to show to advantage and preserve what is to be placed upon it, though sometimes it is the other way about, and the pattern is planned to suit an already existing ground.

A background must take its right place, and not be too much in evidence, although if of the right kind it may be full of interest. There are, roughly speaking, three ways of treating the ground, leaving the material just as it is, covering part of it with stitching, or working entirely over it.

If there is no work upon the ground the choice of material becomes more important. Texture, colour, tone, and possibly pattern, have all to be considered, though the problem is often best solved by the selection of a plain white linen. The question of texture is sometimes one of its suitability for stitching upon; colour and tone may be of all kinds and degrees from white to black; these two, as a rule, being particularly happy ones. If the ground stuff is patterned, as in the case of a damasked silk, it must be specially chosen to suit the work to be placed upon it; small diaper patterns are frequently very good, since they break up the surface pleasantly without being too evident.

Linen, which well answers all the usual requirements, is, for this reason, very frequently chosen for a ground material. It can be procured in great variety, the handmade linens being the best of all. Of kinds besides the ordinary are twilled linens, of which one named Kirriemuir twill is similar to the material used in the fine old embroidered curtains. Some damask linens look very well as backgrounds for embroidery; the pattern is sometimes a slightly raised diaper, which forms a pleasantly broken surface. Loosely woven linens can be obtained specially suitable for drawn thread work. In any case, if there is dressing in the new material, it must be well boiled before the embroidery is commenced: this makes it much softer for stitching through. Coloured linens are rarely satisfactory, a certain kind of blue being almost the only exception. The safest plan is to keep to pure white, or to the unbleached varieties that have a slightly grey or warm tone about them. Wools, silks, and flax threads all look well upon a linen ground; it is not usually in good taste to embroider with poor thread upon a rich ground material, and, upon the other hand, gold thread and floss demand silk or velvet rather than linen, though any rule of this kind may on occasion be broken.

Velvet and satin make excellent backgrounds for rich work; they should not be used unless of good quality. The pile of the best velvet is shorter than that of poorer kinds, and so is easier to manipulate, which is a further reason for using the best. It is in any case a difficult material, so much so that work is often carried out on linen and afterwards applied to a velvet ground. The modern velvets, even the best of them, are for quality or colour not comparable with the old ones.

Silk of different kinds is largely employed, since it makes a suitable ground for many kinds of embroidery. Twilled and damasked silks are much used; in the last-named kind, patterns must be carefully chosen to suit the particular purpose. A thick ribbed silk is rarely satisfactory for embroidery purposes.

For working with silk thread, an untwisted floss takes the first place, but it needs some skill in manipulation. Filofloss is somewhat similar, but it has a slight twist in it, making it easier to work, though producing a less satisfactory result. Filosel is useful for some kinds of work, but it is a poorer quality of silk. The purse silks, and what is called embroidery silk, are all excellent; they are tightly twisted varieties of fine quality. There are various others in use; a visit to a good embroidery depot will probably be the best means of finding out about these and about materials in general.

Wools can be obtained in various thicknesses and twistings, each good in their way. Some workers prefer a but slightly twisted wool; however, examples of old wool work are to be found in which a finely twisted variety is used with most satisfactory effect.

Flax threads can be obtained in very good colours, and are to be highly recommended. There are various cottons procurable, either coloured or white, that are good for marking and other embroidery purposes where an evenly twisted thread is desirable.

Pearls and precious stones take their place in rich embroideries, also various less expensive but pretty stones may often be made use of effectively.

Beads are a fascinating material to work with; all kinds of pretty things can be done with them, either sewing them upon a ground, knitting or crocheting, or making use of a small bead loom. A good deal of the ready-made bought bead work, that only requires a monotonous ground to be filled in around an already worked pattern of sorts, is not at all suggestive of its possibilities. Beads of both paste and glass can be obtained in much greater variety than is usually known, from the most minute in size to large varieties of all kinds of shapes and patterns, the colours of most of them being particularly good. The larger ornamental beads are useful in many ways, sometimes taking the place of tassels or fringes.

Many kinds of most curious materials are at times brought into the service of embroidery, but the above-mentioned ones are the most usual.



The Difficulties of Pattern Making—A Stock-in-Trade—Some Principles upon which Patterns are Built Up—Spacing-Out—Nature and Convention—Shading—Figure Work—Limitations—Colour.

A beginner sometimes experiences difficulty in preparing her own patterns. A designer needs a wide knowledge of many subjects, which necessitates much time being given to study; also drawing ability is necessary to enable the worker to set down her ideas upon paper. For much simple and pretty work, however, a slight acquaintance with drawing and design is sufficient, and any one who can master the requisite stitches can also acquire some knowledge of these two subjects.

The word design frightens some who do not know quite what it means or entails. Perhaps they do not realise that the design has already been begun when the object to be worked has been settled, and the material, thread, and stitches have been decided upon—the rest comes in much the same way, partly by a system of choice; as it is necessary to know what materials there are which can be used, so must the chief varieties of pattern be known from which choice can be made. All patterns are built up on some fundamental plan, of which the number is comparatively small. The ability to choose, plan, and arrange is in a greater or less degree inherent in every one, so there should be, after all, no great difficulty in the design. The necessary underlying qualities are—a nice taste, freedom from affectation, an eye for colour and form, and, it might be added, a fair share of common sense.

A pattern maker requires some stock-in-trade, and it is wise to collect together a store of some well-classified design material of ascertained value, ready to be drawn upon when required. A good knowledge of plants and flowers is very necessary. This is best acquired by making careful drawings from nature. In choosing flowers for embroidery purposes, the best-known ones, such as the daisy, rose, or carnation, give more pleasure to the observer than rare unrecognisable varieties. Figures, birds, beasts, and such things as inscriptions, monograms, shields of arms and emblems, all demand study and drawing, both from miscellaneous examples and from embroideries.

The treatment of all these should be studied in old work, in order that the curious conventions and all kinds of amusing and interesting ideas that have gradually grown up in the past may still be made use of and added to, instead of being cast aside in a wild endeavour after something original. The student who collects a supply of the foregoing materials will find she has considerably widened her knowledge during the process, and is better prepared to make designs.

In making a pattern the first thing to be decided upon is some main idea, the detail that is to carry it out must then be considered. This latter may be of various types, such as flowers, foliage, figures, animals, geometrical forms, interlacing strapwork, quatrefoils, &c., &c.; perhaps several of these motifs may be combined together in the same design.

One of the simplest plans upon which a pattern can be arranged is that of some form recurring at regular intervals over the surface. The principle involved is repetition; an example of it is shown at fig. 10. The form that is used here is a sprig of flower, but the repeating element admits of infinite variation, it may be anything from a dot to an angel.

Copes and chasubles, bedspreads and curtains, are often to be seen decorated with some repeating form. Fig. 11 shows in outline a conventional sprig that is repeated in this fashion over the surface of a famous cope in Ely Cathedral. Fig. 12 is an example of a sprig of flower taken from a XVIIth century embroidered curtain; similar bunches, but composed of different flowers, recur at intervals over this hanging.

It may interest the practical worker to know what are the different stitches used upon this figure. The petals of the top flower are in chain stitch in gradated colouring, the centre is an open crossing of chain surrounded by stamens in stem stitch in varied colour, the outermost leaves are outlined in stem stitch with an open filling of little crossed stitches. The petals of the lower flower are worked similarly, and the centre is carried out in chain stitch and French knots. The leaves are filled in with ingenious variations of these stitches.

The repeating element is perhaps a symbolical figure, a heraldic shield, or it may be some geometrical form that supplies the motive. Fig. 13 is a conventional sprig of hawthorn that ornaments in this way an altar frontal at Zanthen. It is by no means necessary that the element which repeats should be always identical; so long as it is similar in size, form, and general character it will probably be the more interesting if variety is introduced.

The principle of repetition is again found in fig. 14, but with an additional feature; a sprig of flower is used, with the further introduction of diagonal lines, expressed by leaf sprays, which are arranged so as to surround each flower and divide it from the adjoining ones.

It is advisable to space out the required surface in some way before commencing to draw out a pattern; for carrying out fig. 14 it would be well to pencil out the surface as in fig. 15; a connection between these two will be perceived at a glance. This spacing-out of the required surface in one way or another is of great assistance, and may even prove suggestive in the planning of the design. It helps the regularity of the work, and order is essential in design as in most other things in life.

Another very usual expedient is that of introducing a main central form, with others branching out on either side and symmetrically balancing each other. An example of this is given in fig. 16. The symmetry may be much more free than this; a tree is symmetrical taken as a whole, but the two sides do not exactly repeat each other.

A plan very commonly employed is that of radiating main lines all diverging from one central point. Fig. 17 shows a design following this principle; there is infinite variety in the ways in which this may be carried out.

Another method would be to plan a continuous flowing line with forms branching out on one side or on both. Figs. 18 and 19 are border designs, for which purpose this arrangement is often used, though it can also well form an all-over pattern; sometimes these lines used over a surface are made to cross each other, tartan wise, by running in two directions, producing an apparently complicated design by very simple means.

Designs may be planned on the counterchange principle. This is a system of mass designing that involves the problem of making a pattern out of one shape, continually repeated, and fitting into itself in such a way as to leave no interstices. The simplest example of this is to be found in the chess board, and it will easily be seen that a great number of shapes might be used instead of the square. Fig. 20 is an example of a counterchange design carried out in inlay; for this method of work counterchange is very suitable. On reference to the chapter upon this work another example will be found (page 181). Fig. 21 illustrates the same principle, further complicated by the repetition of the form in three directions instead of in two only.

A method of further enriching a straightforward pattern, covering a plain surface, is to work a subsidiary pattern upon the background. This is usually of a monotonous and formal character in order not to clash with the primary decoration, though this relationship may sometimes be found reversed. It has the appearance of being some decoration belonging to the ground rather than to the primary pattern; in its simplest form it appears as a mere repeating dot or a lattice (see fig. 22), but it may be so elaborated as to cover with an intricate design every portion of the exposed ground not decorated with the main pattern.

Many other distinct kinds of work might be mentioned, such as needlework pictures, the story-telling embroideries that can be made so particularly attractive. Embroidered landscapes, formal gardens, mysterious woods, views of towns and palaces, are, if rightly treated, very fine. In order to learn the way to work such subjects we must go to the XVIth and XVIIth century petit point pictures, and to the detail in fine tapestries. The wrong method of going to work is to imitate the effect sought after by the painter.

It is a mistake in embroidery design to be too naturalistic. In painting it may be the especial aim to exactly imitate nature, but here are wanted embroidery flowers, animals and figures, possessing the character and likeness of the things represented, but in no way trying to make us believe that they are real. The semblance of a bumble bee crawling upon the tea cloth gives a hardly pleasant sensation and much savours of the practical joke, which is seldom in good taste; the needle, however, adds convention to almost anything, and will usually manage the bee all right unless the worker goes out of the way to add a shadow and a high light. Such things as perspective, light and shade or modelling of form, should all be very much simplified if not avoided, for embroidery conforms to the requirements of decoration and must not falsify the surface that it ornaments. Shading is made use of in order to give more variety to, and exhibit the beauty of, colour by means of gradation, to explain more clearly the design, and so on; it is not employed for the purpose of fixing the lighting of the composition from one point by means of systematically adjusted light and shade, or of making a form stand out so realistically as to almost project from the background.

In avoiding too much resemblance to natural forms it is not necessary to make things ugly; a conventional flower implies no unmeaning straightness or impossible curve, it may keep all its interesting characteristics, but it has to obey other requirements specially necessary in the particular design. Another point to be noted is that, since there is freedom of choice of flowers and other objects, only those perfect and well-formed should be chosen; all accidents of growth and disease may, happily, be omitted; if anything of this kind is put in it helps to give the naturalistic look which is to be avoided. Both sides of a leaf should match, though it may happen in nature, through misfortune, that one is deformed and small.

In figure work, which, though ambitious, is one of the most interesting kinds of embroidery, the figures, like all other things, must be treated with a certain amount of simplicity; very little attempt must be made to obtain flesh tones, roundness of form, perspective, or foreshortening. The work should be just sufficiently near to nature to be a good embroidery rendering of it. However, without overstepping the limits there is a great deal that may be expressed, such things as character, gesture, grace, colour, and so on, matters which are after all of first importance. Detail, if of the right kind, may be filled in, but it is wrong to attempt what is to the craft very laborious to obtain, for this would be misdirected energy, which is great waste. A right use of the figure can be seen in the XIIIth century embroidery pictures, which, covering mediaeval church vestments, often display episodes from the lives of the saints. These are some of the masterpieces of the art of embroidery; observation of nature is carried to a marvellous pitch, but the execution never sinks into commonplace realism.

Certain restrictions are always present, in making a design, that must be conformed to, such as, the limit of space, the materials with which the work is to be carried out, the use to which it will be put, and so on. These, instead of being difficulties, can afford help in the way of suggestion and limitation. A bad design may look as if it obeyed them unwillingly—a form is perhaps cramped, perhaps stretched out in order to fit its place, instead of looking as if it naturally fitted it whether the confining lines were there or not. In the early herbals, illustrated with woodcuts, examples can be found over and over again of a flower filling a required space simply and well; fig. 23 is taken from the herbal of Carolus Clusius, printed at Antwerp in 1601 by the great house of Plantin. The draughtsman in this case had to draw a plant to fit a standard-sized engraver's block, and he had a certain number of facts to tell about it; he drew the plant as simply and straightforwardly as possible, making good use of all the available space, the result being a well-planned and balanced piece of work, with no affectation or unnecessary lines about it.

Fine colour is a quality appreciated at first sight, though often unconsciously. It is a difficult subject to speak of very definitely; an eye for colour is natural to some, but in any case the faculty can be cultivated and developed. By way of studying the subject, we can go to nature and learn as much as we are capable of appreciating; even such things as butterflies, shells, and birds' eggs are suggestive. Again, embroideries, illuminated manuscripts, pictures, painted decoration, may be studied, and so on; in fact, colour is so universal that it is not possible to get away from it. Unfortunately we are sometimes forced to learn what to avoid as well as what to emulate.

Colour is entirely relative, that is to say it depends upon its immediate surroundings for what it appears to be. Also it has effects varying with the material which it dyes; wool is of an absorbent nature, whereas silk has powers of reflection. It is a safe plan to use true colours, real blue, red or green, not slate, terra cotta, and olive. Gold, silver, white and black, are valuable additions to the colour palette; it should be remembered about the former that precious things must be used with economy or they become cheap and perhaps vulgar.

For getting satisfactory colour there is a useful method which can at times be made use of; this is to stitch it down in alternate lines of two different tints, which, seen together at a little distance, give the desired effect. Backgrounds can be covered over with some small geometrical pattern carried out in this way, such as is shown in fig. 24, perhaps using in alternation bright blue and black instead of a single medium tint of blue all over. At a slight distance the tone may be the same in either case, but this method gives a pleasantly varied and refined effect, which avoids muddiness, and shows up the pattern better. This same method is used for expressing form more clearly as well as for colour; waves of hair, for instance, are much more clearly expressed when worked in this way.



Introduction—Chain Stitch—Zigzag Chain—Chequered Chain—Twisted Chain—Open Chain—Braid Stitch—Cable Chain—Knotted Chain—Split Stitch.

It is necessary for every worker to have a certain amount of knowledge of stitches, for they are, so to speak, the language of the art, and though not of first importance, still there is a great deal in stitchery. The needlewoman should be absolute master of her needle, for there is a great charm in beautifully carried out stitching; also a good design can be made mechanical and uninteresting by a wrong method of execution. The simplest and most common stitches are the best, and are all that are necessary for the doing of good work. Work carried out entirely in one stitch has a certain unity and character that is very pleasing. There are a great number of stitches in existence, that is, if each slight variation has a different name assigned to it. The names are sometimes misleading, for often the same stitch is known by several different ones; descriptive names have where possible been chosen for those discussed in the following pages.

A worker may find it useful to keep by her a sampler with the most characteristic stitches placed upon it; a glance at this will be suggestive when she is in doubt as to which to use, for it is often difficult to recollect just the right and most suitable one at a moment's notice. It is necessary to learn only the main varieties, for each individual worker can adapt, combine, and invent variations to suit a special purpose.

The direction of the stitch is important; tone, if not colour, can be very much altered by change in direction; also growth and form can be suggested by it; for instance, lines going across a stem are not usually so satisfactory as those running the length of it; these suggesting growth better. Folds of drapery are often explained by direction of the lines of stitching quite as much as by gradation of colour.

With reference to the stitches described in the following chapters, the worker is advised to try to work them by simply examining the diagrams, and, if in any difficulty, then to refer to the printed description, for such directions are apt to be tedious. The simplest way to master these is to let some one read them out step by step, and to work from dictation. It should be remembered that the use of a particular thread often makes or mars a stitch, some requiring soft silks to show them to advantage, whilst others may need a stoutly twisted thread.

Chain stitch is universal, and one of the most ancient of stitches. It is the most commonly used of a group that might be described as linked stitches. Much beautiful work has been carried out entirely in it, and when a monotonous even line is required, this is a most suitable stitch to employ. It is equally in request for outline and filling in, and its chain-like adaptability makes it specially good for following out curved forms or spiral lines. Tambour stitch is practically the same in result, though worked in quite a different manner, for it is carried out in a frame with a fine crochet hook, instead of with a needle. This makes it quicker in execution, but more mechanical in appearance, so it is not to be as much recommended.

To work chain stitch (fig. 25) bring the needle through at the top of the traced line, hold the working thread down towards the left with the thumb, insert the needle at the point where the thread has just come through and bring it up on the traced line about one-sixteenth of an inch further along, draw the thread through over the held down thread. It should show a neat line of back-stitching on the reverse side. The chain can be made broader by inserting the needle a little to the right, instead of at the exact point where the last thread came through. Care must be taken in the working not to draw the thread too tightly, as this stitch is inclined to pucker the material, especially when it is worked in curved lines.

A flower and leaf worked with a solid filling of chain stitch are shown in fig. 26. The dark outline of the flower is in back stitch, the centre a mass of French knots, and the stem in stem stitch. By working the petals in curved lines in this way the shape is well suggested, and the play of light on the curves is particularly happy, especially if the thread used is silk or gold. Another slight variation from this would be to work the lines of chain stitch in different shades of colour, and so get each petal gradually either lighter or darker towards its base; this gives a very pretty effect. Fig. 27 shows an oak leaf carried out in this way, the lines upon it indicate the way in which the stitches would be worked. The rule in solid fillings is to work from the outside inwards where possible, and thus make sure of a good outline.

In the Victoria and Albert Museum there is a white linen dress[1] daintily embroidered in chain stitch. It is an excellent example of a kind of design suitable to this stitch; the leaves and flowers are carried out in lines of chain stitch following the outline, and in these lines use is made of strongly contrasting colour to both show up the form better, and also decorate it. The leaf in fig. 28 is in style somewhat similar to this, and is intended to be carried out in two distinct colours.

Chain stitches can be worked singly; they are used in this way as a powdering over a background. Sometimes they may be seen conventionally suggesting the small feathers on the shoulder of a bird's wing by being dotted over it at regular intervals. Fig. 29 shows how they might be used to carry out a tiny flower, five separate stitches represent the petals, and two more the leaves at the base; this is a simpler and more satisfactory method than to attempt very minute forms with satin stitches.

The common chain makes a particularly neat border stitch taken in zigzag fashion. To work this (fig. 30)—Trace two parallel lines on the material and work the chain across from side to side at an angle of 45 deg. to the traced lines. For further security it is well to catch down the end of the stitch just completed with the needle as it commences the following one. The line can be further decorated by placing a French knot, perhaps in a contrasting colour, in each little triangular space left by working the stitch.

There is an ingenious method of working ordinary chain stitch in a chequering of two colours (fig. 31). It is quite simple to work. Thread a needle with two different coloured threads, commence the chain stitch in the usual way until the thread has to be placed under the point of the needle for forming the loop. Place only one of the two threads underneath, leaving the other on one side out of the way, then draw the needle and thread through over the one held down. A chain stitch will have been formed with the thread that was looped under the needle. For the next stitch, the alternate thread is placed under, and so on, taking each thread in turn. The thread not in use each time usually requires a little adjustment to make it entirely disappear from the surface.

Twisted chain is worked very similarly to the ordinary chain stitch. It has not such a decidedly looped appearance, which is sometimes an advantage. To work it (fig. 32)—Bring the thread through at the top of the line, hold it down under the thumb to the left, and insert the needle to the left of the traced line, slightly below the point where the thread has come through. Bring it out again on the traced line, about one-eighth of an inch lower down, and draw it through over the held down thread.

An entirely different effect can be obtained by working this stitch much closer together, but in exactly the same way. It will then resemble a satin stitch slightly raised on one side. This is known as rope stitch and is at times very useful.

Open chain stitch makes a good broad line; it looks best when worked with a stout thread. To carry out the stitch (fig. 33)—Trace two parallel lines upon the material, about one-eighth of an inch apart, and bring the thread through at the top of the left-hand one. Hold the thread down with the thumb and insert the needle exactly opposite on the other line, bring it up one-eighth of an inch lower down and draw the thread through over the held down part, leaving a rather slack loop upon the material. Then insert the needle on the first line again, inside the slack loop, and bring it out one-eighth of an inch below. Repeat this on each side alternately. Fig. 34 is a drawing from a piece of white linen work in which the open chain stitch is used in combination with other stitches. This figure, with its open-work centre, is repeated diagonally over a white linen cloth exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Braid stitch rather resembles a fancy braid laid upon the material. It looks best when carried out with a stoutly twisted thread. To work it (fig. 35)—Trace two parallel lines upon the material about one-eighth of an inch apart, and bring the thread through at the right-hand end of the lower line. Throw the thread across to the left and hold it slackly under the thumb. Place the needle pointing towards the worker under this held thread, then twist it round towards the left and over the held thread until it points in the opposite direction. It will now have the thread twisted loosely over it. Next, insert the needle on the upper line one-eighth of an inch from the starting-point, and bring it through on the lower line exactly underneath. Place the thumb over the stitch in process of making and draw the thread through as the diagram shows. It can be worked openly or more closely as preferred.

Cable chain is descriptively named, for, when worked with a stoutly twisted thread, it has very much the appearance of a chain laid upon the material, rather too much so perhaps to be a pretty embroidery stitch. To work it (fig. 36)—Bring the needle through at the top of the traced line, throw the thread round to the left and hold it down with the thumb near where it has come through the material. Pass the needle under the held down thread from left to right and draw it through until there is only a small loop left. Insert the needle in the centre of this loop, on the traced line about one-sixteenth of an inch below the starting-point. Bring it out a quarter of an inch below and outside the loop. Take the thread in the right hand and tighten the loop that has now been formed, and then pass the thread under the point of the needle towards the left (see diagram). Place the left thumb over the stitch in process of making and draw the thread through; this will complete the first two links of the chain; to continue, repeat from the beginning.

Knotted chain is a pretty stitch; to look well it must be worked with a stout thread. To carry it out (fig. 37)—Trace two parallel lines upon the material, about one-eighth of an inch apart. Bring the thread through at the right hand end in the centre between the two lines, then insert the needle on the upper line one-sixteenth of an inch further along, and bring it through on the lower line immediately below. Draw the thread through and there will be a short slanting line left upon the material. Throw the thread round to the left and hold it under the thumb, then pass the needle and thread through the slanting line from above downwards, leaving the thread a little slack. Place the thread again under the thumb, then in the same way as before, from above downwards, pass the needle and thread through this slack loop. This makes the first two links of the chain; the last one will not be properly fixed in place until the next stitch is taken. The dotted vertical line on the diagram shows the piece of material taken up by the needle upon commencing the next stitch.

Split stitch is a most useful one for many purposes. It is difficult to distinguish from a fine chain when done, but in the working it much more resembles stem stitch. It can be carried out in the hand or in a frame. This stitch, frequently seen upon ancient work, was much used for both draperies and features; the lines of the stitching usually, by their direction, expressing moulding of form or folds of drapery. To work it (fig. 38)—Bring the thread through at the lower end of the traced line, then insert the needle about one-eighth of an inch further along, and bring it through on the line two or three threads nearer the starting-point; whilst bringing it through take it also through the centre of the working thread, which thus splits each stitch.


[1] No. 184, 1898.



Satin Stitch—Long and Short Stitch—Stem Stitch—Overcast Stitch—Back Stitch—Buttonhole Stitch—Tailor's Buttonhole—Fancy Buttonhole Edgings—Flower in Open Buttonhole Stitch—Leaf in Close Buttonhole Stitches—Petal in Solid Buttonholing.


Satin stitch is perhaps the most commonly used of all stitches. It is more quickly worked by hand, but for complicated work the help of a frame is required. Floss silk thread is seen to greatest advantage in a stitch of this kind, for it shows off the glossiness of silk particularly well. It is straightforward in the working and needs no further description than is given by the diagram (fig. 39). The stitches may vary in length, they must neither be impracticably long nor, on the other hand, too much cut up, lest the silky effect be partly lost. These stitches lie close together and in parallel lines; the chief difference between satin and several other closely allied stitches being that these others may radiate or vary in direction according to the space to be filled. The stitch is usually worked in oblique lines; stems, leaves, and petals would be treated in this way; sometimes it is worked regularly having regard to the warp and woof of the material; it would be treated thus when used in conjunction with cross or stroke stitch.

It will be seen that there is as much silk at the back as on the front of the work. There is a method of carrying out the stitch by which this waste of material at the back is avoided; the thread is returned to the front close to where it went through instead of crossing over and coming up on the other side. The effect on the right side, however, is not so good, so this method cannot be recommended.

One of the technical difficulties with satin stitch is to get a neat firm line at the edges of the filled space; this is excellently attained by the Chinese and Japanese, who use this satin stitch a great deal. They frequently work each petal of a complicated flower separately, leaving as a division, between each one and the next, a fine line of material firmly and clearly drawn.

The stitch is much used for raised work, and also lends itself well to gradation of colour. Fig. 40 is an example of shading in satin stitch. In this case each new row of stitches fits in just between those of the last row; this is a bold but very effective method of expressing gradation. A variation upon this is shown in fig. 42; the bands of different colour are here necessarily worked in a chevron pattern which makes the shading rather more gradual. An example of the same thing can be seen in fig. 44 in the leaf upon which the squirrel sits. Apart from gradation of colour, the surface to be covered by satin stitch has often to be partitioned up in some way in order to make the satin stitches of a practical length.

Long and short stitch is a very slight variation, if any, from satin stitch. The name describes the method of working, for it is carried out by working alternately a long and a short stitch, the stitches being picked up just as in satin stitch. It is useful for close fillings and shaded work, and also as a solid outline for any kind of open filling. The working of the stitch can be seen in fig. 41, where the band of lightest colour on the upper part of the leaf is worked in long and short stitch. The advantage of this way of working can be seen at once, it makes a firm outline on the one edge and a nicely broken-up one on the other, just ready for another shade to be worked in. In order to carry out the rest of the shading on the leaf in the same way the stitches can be all of the same length; this will always ensure a broken line at the edge, which is a necessity for this method of gradation. Long and short stitch used as an outline for a leaf with an open filling can be seen on page 209. The opus plumarium or feather stitch that we read of in the descriptions of the old embroideries was a similar stitch to this, and so called, some say, because it resembled the plumage of a bird.

Stem stitch, well known and frequently in use for various purposes, such as for lines, outlines, gradated and flat fillings, and so on, is usually done in the hand, and is quite simple; fig. 43 explains the working. If a broad line is required the needle is put in more obliquely, and a raised effect can be obtained by working over a laid thread. The thread must be kept to the same side of the needle, either to the left or to the right as better suits the purpose in hand; the effect is more line-like when it is kept to the right. Occasionally, when just a double line is to be worked, it is deliberately done in the two ways, and then the line resembles a narrow plait. A solid filling in stem stitch should be worked in lines as illustrated in the squirrel in fig. 44. This little beast is taken from the curtain shown in Plate VII., and is a good example of the life and interest that the introduction of such things adds to embroideries.

The stitches just described were largely used in crewel work. This is a rather vague name that denotes a decorative kind of needlework carried out with coloured wools upon a plain white linen ground. The design is usually composed of conventionally treated leaves and flowers, often growing from boldly curved stems. These were partly shaded in solid stitches, partly worked with geometrical open fillings; ornamental birds and beasts of all kinds were introduced, and the effect of the whole was very beautiful. The work is characteristically English, and a great deal of it was executed in the XVIIth century. Plates VII. and VIII. are illustrative of the type of work, and fig. 45 represents a detail. The various stitches which occur in this drawing are stem, herring-bone, long and short, knot, basket, buttonhole, single chain and satin stitches.

Overcast stitch in embroidery is practically a very short raised satin stitch. It requires neat workmanship, and then makes a bold clear line or outline. To work it (fig. 46)—Run or couch down a thread on the traced line, then with fine thread cover this over with close upright stitches, picking up as little material as possible each time in order to make the line clear and round. The stitch is worked most perfectly in a frame.

Back stitch sometimes makes a good line or outline. To work it (fig. 47)—Bring the needle through one-sixteenth of an inch from the end of the traced line, insert it at the commencement and bring it through again one-sixteenth of an inch beyond where it first came out. Each stitch, it will be seen, commences at the point where the last one finished.


Buttonhole stitch, which is well known in plain needlework, is very useful also in embroidery, besides being an important stitch in needlepoint lace. Owing to its construction it is well suited for the covering of raw edges, but it is also adaptable to a variety of other purposes, such as are open or close fillings of leaves and flowers, cut work, and the outlining of applied work.

There are two ways of forming the stitch, the common buttonhole and what is called tailor's buttonhole.

To work the ordinary buttonhole stitch (fig. 48)—Bring the needle through at the left-hand end of the traced line, hold the thread down to the left with the thumb and insert the needle as shown in the diagram, draw it through over the held thread to complete the stitch. It is worked openly in the diagram, but it may, as required, be either more or less open or quite closed.

The tailor's buttonhole is for some purposes more satisfactory; the stitch is firmer than the other kind owing to the heading having an extra knot in it; this makes it also more ornamental. To work it (fig. 49)—Commence in the same way as the last stitch until the needle and thread are in the position shown in fig. 48 then, with the right hand take hold of the thread near the eye of the needle, bring it down and loop it under the point from right to left, draw the needle and thread through over these two loops, and the first stitch is made.

Buttonhole stitch can be varied in many ways, dependent mainly upon the spacing of the stitch and the direction that the needle takes when picking up the material. Fig. 50 shows four simple varieties; the first is the open buttonhole spaced slightly irregularly and with a thread slipped underneath it; any variety of spacing can be arranged, and the thread shown running underneath, which sometimes forms a pretty addition, is usually of a contrasting colour or material. The second shows the stitches taken slanting-wise, so that they cross each other. In the third the stitches are at different angles and of unequal length. The fourth example shows two lines of spaced buttonhole stitch fitting neatly the one into the other and forming a solid line. One row is worked first, leaving just sufficient space between each stitch for the second row to fill up, which can be carried out by reversing the position of the material and exactly repeating the first line in the same or in a different colour.

A flower filled in with open buttonhole stitch is shown at fig. 51. The centre consists of a mass of French knots, and the outside line is in satin stitch. The innermost circle of buttonholing is worked first, the next row is worked over the heading of the first row as well as into the material; the succeeding rows are worked in the same way until the outside limit is reached, and there the satin stitch just covers the heading of the last row of buttonhole stitching. Gradation of colour can easily be introduced by using a different shade for each circle of stitches, and this produces a very pretty effect. An open method of filling a space, whether flower, leaf, drapery, or background, is sometimes preferable to a solid filling, and the two methods can very well be used together as each shows off the other. These light fillings give opportunity for further variety and ingenuity in the stitching, and prevent the work from looking heavy. A butterfly, carried out partly in open stitches, is illustrated in fig. 52.

Fig. 53 is, in the original, a gay little flower carried out in orange and yellow. The stitch employed here is a close buttonhole.

Another example of the use of close buttonhole is shown in the ivy leaf in fig. 54. The stitch is worked in two rows, back to back, in each lobe of the leaf, and the resulting ridge down the centre rather happily suggests the veining. This method of filling in might be just reversed for a rose leaf; the heading of the stitch would then suggest the serrated edge, and the meeting of the two rows down the centre the line of the vein.

A cluster of berries can be very prettily worked in buttonhole stitch in the way shown in fig. 55. The stitches are so arranged that the heading outlines each berry, and the needle enters the material at the same point, always in the centre. A bullion stitch in a darker colour marks the eye of the berry.

A good method of filling a space with solid buttonhole stitching is shown in fig. 56. Each row is worked into the heading of the preceding row, and the stitches do not pierce the material except in the first row and at the extremities of succeeding rows. They are placed rather close together in order to completely cover the ground. The stitch is worked, first, from left to right, then for the next row from right to left; this is quite easy and enables the work to be continuously carried out. Sometimes, when the first row is done, the thread is thrown across to the side where the row began, and there made fast; then the second row is worked with stitches which take up the thrown thread as well as the heading of the first row. By using a more open buttonhole and thus partly exposing the laid thread, a filling, both quick and effective, is obtained. This is a useful method to employ when the work is done over a padding of threads, for there is no necessity to pierce the material except at the edges.



Knots and Knot Stitches—Herring-bone Stitch—Feather Stitch—Basket Stitch—Fishbone Stitch—Cretan Stitch—Roumanian Stitch—Various Insertion Stitches—Picots.


It would be difficult to go far in embroidery without requiring knots for one purpose or another. They are useful in all sorts of ways, and make a pleasant contrast to the other stitches. For the enrichment of border lines and various parts of the work, both pattern and background, they are most serviceable, and also for solid fillings; for such places as centres of flowers or parts of leaves, they are again valuable. They have been used to form a continuous outline, but owing to their tendency to make a weak line, not frequently; indeed they usually show to better advantage when slightly separated.

Examples are to be seen of English knotted line work in which the knotting was executed in the thread previously to embroidering with it. The knotting of thread was a pastime with ladies in the XVIIth century. The thread, usually a linen one and as a rule home spun, was wound upon a netting-needle, and by the aid of this a close series of knots was made upon it; when finished it somewhat resembled a string of beads. Balls of this prepared knotted thread may still be found, treasured up in old work receptacles. When prepared it was couched on to the material with fine thread, like a cord or braid, and made to follow out some prearranged pattern. In white linen work it was used for carrying out ornamental borderings on infants' robes and other dainty articles.

French knots can be worked in the hand or in a frame. They are easier to manage in the latter, and to look well they must be neatly and firmly made. Completed they should resemble beads lying end upwards on the material. To work the French knot (fig. 57)—Bring the thread through the material at the required point, take hold of it with the left finger and thumb near the starting-point (A on plan), then let the point of the needle encircle the held thread twice, twist the needle round and insert it at point B on plan, draw the thread through to the back, not letting go the held thread until necessary. Fig. 58 shows some French knots decorating a leaf spray, and various other examples of their use can be found in the book.

Bullion knots resemble tight curls of thread laid on the material. They can be used as a variation from French knots, and even for the representation of petals and small leaves. To be satisfactory they must be firm, stout, and tightly coiled; some knack is required to make them properly. To work the bullion knot (fig. 59)—Bring the thread through at the required place, insert the needle one-eighth of an inch from this point and bring it through again exactly at it. Take hold of the thread about two inches from where it came through and twist it several times round the point of the needle, the number of times being dependent on the required length of the knot. Place the left thumb upon the tight coil on the needle, in order to keep it in place, and draw the needle and thread through it, then pass the thread through to the back at the point where the needle was last inserted (point A on plan). The thumb must not be removed until it is in the way. Fig. 60 represents a flower, of which the centre is formed of bullion together with French knots.

Fig. 61 shows a knotted stitch that is similar in result to the knotted threads discussed earlier in the chapter. In this case the knotting of the thread and the fixing to the material is done at the same time. It is a useful stitch when a jagged line is wanted, and can be seen used, for instance, for the branching veins in open work leaves, as in fig. 62. The diagram explains the working of the stitch; at point A on the plan the left thumb holds the thread down whilst the stitch is in progress.


The stitch illustrated at fig. 63 is very similar to the common herring-bone. The only practical difference is that in the plain needlework stitch there is usually a smaller piece of material picked up by the needle each time. To work it as in the diagram—Trace two parallel lines on the material and bring the thread through at the commencement of the lower line, insert it on the opposite line rather farther along and there pick up a stitch, as the needle is doing in the figure. Then on the opposite line pick up a similar stitch a little in advance of the one just finished. After this work the stitches on either line alternately, commencing each one at the point where the last one ended; this forms on the underside a double row of back stitches. It is quite easy to work this stitch with the back stitches on the working side, and when they are required to be on the surface it is advisable to do it in that way. When embroidering upon a semi-transparent material this stitch is a satisfactory one to use, the back stitching follows out the outline on either side of the form, and the crossing of the threads on the under side shows through prettily. This stitch sometimes goes by the name of double back stitch. It is useful in many ways, making a light stitch for stems, leaves, or flowers; it can be sometimes found in Eastern work used for an entire embroidery. When used for flowers or leaves the width and the closeness of the stitch are varied to suit the shape to be filled. An example of its use as a flower filling is shown in the carnation at fig. 64, which is carried out in four shades of colour. Considerable use is made of this stitch in embroidered curtain shown in Plate VII.; it is there employed for all the stems and various flowers upon the hanging.

The feather stitch, often used to decorate plain needlework, is now to be discussed; although similar in name it must not be confused with the feather or plumage stitch that has already been mentioned. The stitch is so simple and so much in use as hardly to need description; fig. 65 explains the working. There can be many slight variations of the stitch, the worker perhaps devising them needle in hand. Two are shown in fig. 66. The one to the left is worked very like the ordinary stitch; the needle picks up the material in a straight line instead of slightly obliquely, and each stitch touches the one immediately above; it is here made use of as a couching stitch, a bunch of threads of a contrasting colour is laid on the material, and the stitch worked over it from side to side. The right-hand example shows the ordinary feather stitch worked more closely and in a broader line; carried out in this way, it can be used for a leaf filling.

Basket stitch, useful for a solid line, shows up very clearly when worked with a stout twisted thread. This stitch would be appropriately used when applied to some representation of basket work. To carry out the diagram (fig. 67)—Trace two parallel lines on the material, and to commence, bring the thread through on the left-hand line, then insert the needle on the right-hand line about one-eighth of an inch lower down and bring it through on the left-hand line exactly opposite (see needle in fig.); the next stitch is worked by inserting the needle on the right-hand line but above the last stitch, that is at point A on diagram, and bringing it through at B. To continue, repeat from the beginning.

A particularly good line for a border is made by fishbone stitch. It can be worked in one colour, or as easily in a chequering of two or three, as shown in the diagram (fig. 68); to carry it out in this way the worker must have two threads in use, bringing through each as required. For such purposes as the fillings of small leaves, this stitch is very useful (see fig. 58). The meeting of the stitches in the centre suggest the veining line, also the change in direction of the thread gives, to the two sides of the leaf, pleasant variation in tone. To work it—Trace three parallel lines upon the material and bring the thread through on the upper line at the left-hand end. Insert the needle and bring it through as in process in the diagram, then repeat the same stitch on the other side the reverse way, that is, insert the needle just over the central line and bring it through on the upper one close to the last stitch. Care must be taken that the stitches cross well over each other at the centre, or the material will show through.

The stitch shown in fig. 69, known as plait or Cretan, is commonly seen on Cretan and other Eastern embroideries. It can be used as a solid border stitch or as a filling, varying in width as required. To work it—Bring the thread through on the lower central line, then insert the needle on the uppermost line and bring it through on the next below as in process in the diagram; then, still keeping the thread to the right, insert the needle immediately underneath on the lowest line and bring it through on the line next above, in fashion similar to the last stitch, but in reverse direction. To continue, work the stitch alternately on one side and the other, always keeping the thread to the right of the needle. In order to make the central plait broader take up rather less material with the needle; this will decrease the outer and increase the inner lines. Fig. 70 is taken from a Cretan embroidery, in which this stitch is mainly used.

Another similar but more simple stitch, often seen in Eastern work, is shown in fig. 71. It can also frequently be found employed on XVIIth century English wool work hangings. It is sometimes called Roumanian stitch, and is composed of one long stitch crossed by a short one in the centre. To work it—Trace two parallel lines on the material and bring the thread through on the left-hand line at the top. Insert the needle on the opposite line and bring it through near the centre, as shown in process in the diagram. For the next half of the stitch the needle enters the material at point A on plan, and is brought through again on the left-hand line close to the last stitch, and so in position to commence again. An illustration of this stitch in use as a filling can be seen at fig. 72. It is worked in four shades of green wool, and each line of stitches is so arranged as to encroach slightly on the line before by means of setting each stitch just between two of the last row. This method of working has two advantages; the shading is thus made more gradual, and a pleasant undulating effect is given to the surface of the leaf. This can be most easily understood by a practical trial of the stitch and method.


There is occasion sometimes in embroidery to join edges together visibly. This gives an opportunity for some additional pretty stitching—the addition of something like this, that is perhaps not absolutely necessary, has extra value from the evidence it gives of the worker's interest and delight in her work, a quality always appreciated; on the other hand, work done from the motive of getting a result with as little labour as possible is valued at just its worth.

These insertion stitches are useful for joining together edges of cushion covers, bags, detached bands, also for the ornamentation of dress, and for embroideries upon which drawn thread work is not possible. A stout thread is usually suitable for the purpose. The raw edges must first be turned in and flattened, and the parts to be joined can if necessary be tacked in place on a temporary ground such as toile ciree.

Fig. 73 illustrates a twisted insertion stitch that is quickly executed and very frequently used. The diagram sufficiently explains the working without further description.

Buttonhole stitch can be turned to account for this purpose. Fig. 74 shows the tailor's buttonhole used as an insertion stitch; for this purpose it is the better of the two kinds of buttonhole. The stitches could be arranged in various ways; in the present example three are worked closely together on either side in turn. The only difficulty with this buttonhole insertion is that on one side the stitch has to be worked in direction contrary to that usual, that is from right to left instead of from left to right. In the diagram the needle is shown working in this reverse way.

Fig. 75 is a knotted insertion stitch; the knot at each side makes the stitch a very rigid one. To work it—Bring the thread through at the lower left-hand side, insert the needle on the upper side a little towards the right, draw the thread through, and then tie the knot on it as in process in the diagram.

A rather more complicated joining stitch is shown in fig. 76. It could be carried out with different coloured threads. The two sides must be first worked with the edging, which is practically the braid stitch described on page 88. Commence the stitch in exactly the same way as when carrying out braid stitch, but work on the edge of the material as in buttonholing, the working edge in this case being away from the worker. Let the worker, having reached the point of pulling the thread through to complete the stitch, draw it out in the direction away from her. This will draw the stitch towards the edge, where it will form a knot. In the diagram one of the stitches has been partly undone in order to show the working more clearly. When the two sides are bound with the stitch, they can be laced together with another thread as in the illustration.


Picots are commonly in use in lace work and they are sometimes required for embroidery purposes, especially in the kinds of work nearly allied to lace, such as cut work, or for an added ornament to an edging stitch.

Fig. 77 shows too small picots added to a buttonhole bar, and on the lower bar is shown the method of working the left-hand picot. The pin that passes into the material behind the bar can be fixed in the bar itself if there happens to be no material underneath. After reaching the point illustrated in the diagram, the needle draws the thread through, thus making a firm knot round the loop. This completes the picot, the bar is then buttonholed to the end. The second picot is made in much the same way; instead, however, of putting the needle as the diagram shows, bring the thread up through the centre of the loop, then round under the pin from left to right, and it will be in position to make three buttonhole stitches along the loop, which completes the second example.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse