Embroidery, crewel, cross stitch, and needlepoint are a form of embroidery – decorative stitches on cloth.
Decorative stitches on fabric have been used since the invention of fabric. Heavily decorated fabric has been found with the skeletons of the Cro-Magnon. Cross stitch has been found dating back to 6th century B.C. The stitching started in China and moved to Egypt. Traders brought the fabrics and techniques with them. With the rise of the Christian church, decorative embroidery spread. The adornment on church items is still evident today. Embroidery has been found on the clothing of the upper classes from the Americas, all of Europe, and the Middle East. Embroidery was done by the wealthy initially because they had the time. It was a teaching tool for the young women of privilege. Since linen fabrics have always been expensive, fabric for embroidery and cross stitch was used with very little wasted space. Cross stitch, embroidery, and sewing in general were skills needed before weaving and sewing machines were invented. The embroidery was used to teach bible verses, reading, and the many stitches available. Samplers of stitches used the fabric well and taught many different things to the young girls.
Want more history?
Say It With Stitches - History of Embroidery
All of the above are done using evenweave fabric or woven canvas. Cross stitch is just that a cross stitch or X on cloth. Hand embroidery and crewel are a variety of decorative stitches on cloth. Crewel is embroidery using single strand wool floss. Needlepoint is a limited number of types of stitches done over threads of an open weave canvas. Needlepoint completely covers the canvas, while the others may or may not depending on the design or period in history. The number of threads per inch is the count of the fabric. The more the thread count, the higher the fabric count. Threads come in a variety of materials and textures.
Cross stitch, needlepoint, and embroidery floss can be wool, linen threads, rayons, perlé cottons, assorted metallic, silk, silk ribbon. They are usually stranded, several strands together (usually 6). You pull out the number you want to use at a time for the project. Perle cotton is not stranded. Metallics may come on a spool or card. There are also fuzzy threads used to add texture for such things as hair, beards, or clothing decorations in the project. Catherine of Aragon used the wool from black sheep – black work. She brought this technique to England. Red work is to believed to have been started in Assisi Italy.
Embroidery fabric in the past was wool, cotton, or linen. Today there are many fabrics available for cross-stitch and embroidery. Synthetics are mixed with linen, wool, and cotton. Aida cloth is woven with small spaces left between threads for cross stitch. Aida is done over one set of threads using two strands of floss/thread. These usually are your lower count fabrics, i.e. 14, 16, 18 threads per inch. Evenweave fabrics are usually your higher count fabrics. i.e. 26, 30, 32, 36, 40. Evenweave is usually done over two threads using one strand of floss. The number of strands can vary for the project and the look you want at the end.
Embroidery designs were used to repair clothing initially. Tapestries were used to tell the stories of the bible and history when a majority of people could not read. The Bayeux Tapestry was done to tell the story of Norman the Conquer. In the 18th century, embroidery (all of these techniques) was used to help teach the sewing skills young women would need when they became heads of their own households. Reading, bible verses, clothing decorations were a few of the skills taught using embroidery. There are many stitches for embroidery, for example: running stitch, back stitch, chain stitch, couching.
Counted cross-stitch is a transfer of a paper pattern on to the fabric. You count your threads to transfer the pattern as you sew. Each set of threads represents a square on the pattern. Stamped cross-stitch is cross stitch designs stamped on a tight-weave fabric. It can be seen on napkins, pillowcases, bedspreads, and tablecloths. Patterns were scarce until recent history due to the cost of printing.
Learn more about cross-stitch:
Julie's X Stitch - History of Cross Stitch
The Cross Stitch Guild - cross stitch basics
Needlepoint began as utilitarian stitches to sew tent pieces together. Example of a slanted “tent” stitch has been found in King Tut’s tomb. This dates needlepoint back to 1500 B.C. These stitches were also used over time to sew pieces of cloth together for clothing. In the 16th century, needlepoint became a status of wealth. Needlepoint was used to make large tapestries depicting things that happened to the family. Think of the tapestries that adorn the walls of ancient churches, castles, and government building of the time. Bargello was first designed during this period. It was a form of a zig-zag needlepoint pattern used to make chairs for the Bargello family in Florence. During this time, embroiderers/needlepointers were attached to a court, guild, or wealthy household. It was too expensive and time-consuming for the populace to be able to do for their own use. In the mid-18th century, the number of embroiders grew and some set up shop to sell tools or completed goods. This began the spread of needlepoint beyond function only items. Handbags, belts, shoes, and pillows were some of the items that began being sold. Themes were not only showing was the family had done. Beginning the middle of the 20th century canvases were painted by artists and still are today. The first lady of needlepoint is considered to be Erica Wilson. She came from London to teach all over the United Stated. She opened a shop in Nantucket that is still open today. Her daughter now runs the shop. Check out her shop’s website.
Get a little more history from:
Thorn Alexander Style - needlepoint
And some localish shops:
Jermies - https://www.jermiestoo.com/
Poppypointe - https://poppypointe.com/
The Stitching Studio - https://www.thestitchingstudiova.com/
No discussion of needlework would be complete without the mention of the Royal School of Needlework in London. This was started in the mid-18th century and is still THE place to go for needlework classes. Erica Wilson is a graduate of this school. They also did the embroidery for Kate’s wedding dress when she married Prince William. This year is their 150th anniversary. Check them out. You can do online courses too.
So with all this history, some practical things. We carry several brands of cotton embroidery floss. Some vat dyed, many hand dyed. We also have embroidery/cross stitch cloth. Bonus, many of our fabrics are wonderful for embroidering and we have linen/cotton blend fabrics by the yard.
All on sale this week - 15% off.
New in the shop this week:
Happy sewing everyone and stay cool,
Phyllis and the QA staff