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past glories of the art. They have proved to us that designers can
design and that women can execute fine embroidery, but their productions
are but as a drop in the ocean of inferior and valueless work.



[1] But cf. "Of Materials," p. 365.


Almost every fabric that is good of its kind is suitable for a ground
for needlework, and any thread of silk, linen, cotton, or wool, is
suitable for laying on a web, with the purpose of decorating it. Yet
these materials should not be wedded indiscriminately, every surface
requiring its peculiar treatment; a loose woollen fabric, for example,
being best covered with wool-work rather than with silk. Not that it is
necessary to work in linen thread on linen ground, in silk on silk
ground, and so forth; silk upon linen, silk on canvas, wool on linen,
are legitimate, because suitable combinations; it being scarcely
necessary to note that linen or wool threads should not be used on silk
surface, as to place the poorer on the richer material would be an error
in taste. Gold thread and precious stones will of course be reserved for
the richer grounds, and the more elaborate kinds of work.

A plain or a figured (damask) silk can be employed as a ground for
needlework, the broken surface of a good damask sometimes enriching and
helping out the design. If work is to be laid directly on silk ground,
it should be rather open and light in character; if closer stitches are
wanted, the principal forms are usually done on a canvas or linen
backing, which is then cut out and "applied" to the final silk ground,
the design being carried on and completed by lighter work of lines and
curves, and by the enrichment of gold thread, and sometimes even
precious stones. These two methods are a serious and dignified form of
embroidery, and were often used by the great mediæval embroiderers on a
rich figured or damask silk, and sometimes on plain silk, and sometimes
on a silky velvet. It is not easy to procure absolutely pure "undressed"
silk now, and pliable silk velvet of a suitable nature is still more
difficult to obtain. Satin is, to my thinking, almost too shiny a
surface for a ground, but it may, occasionally, be useful for small
work. A sort of imitation called "Roman satin" is sometimes employed on
account of its cheapness and effectiveness, I suppose, as it cannot be
for its beauty; the texture, when much handled, being woolly and
unpleasant. No one taking trouble to procure choice materials will think
of making use of it.

Floss silk lends itself particularly to the kind of needlework we are
speaking of; there is no twist on it, the silk is pure and untouched, if
properly dyed has a soft gloss, and a yielding surface that renders it
quite the foremost of embroidery silks, though its delicate texture
requires skilful handling. But avoid silks that profess to be floss with
the difficulty in handling removed. If the old workers could use a pure
untwisted floss, surely we can take the trouble to conquer this
difficulty and do the same. Twisted silk, if used on a silk ground,
should, I think, be rather fine; if thick and much twisted, it stands
out in relief against the ground and gives a hard and ropy appearance. I
am, in fact, assuming that work on so costly a material as pure thick
silk is to be rather fine than coarse. Gold and silver thread is much
used with silk, but it is almost impossible to keep the silver from
tarnishing. Ordinary "gold passing," which consists of a gilt silver
thread wound round silk, is also apt to tarnish, and should always be
lacquered before using - a rather troublesome process to do at home, as
the gold has to be unwound and brushed over with the lacquer, and should
be dried in a warm room free from damp, or on a hot sunny day. Japanese
paper-gold is useful, for the reason that it does not tarnish, though in
some ways it is more troublesome to manage than the gold that can be
threaded in a needle and passed through the material. It consists, like
much of the ancient gold thread, of a gilded strip of paper wound round
silk, the old gold being gilded vellum, when not the flat gold beaten
out thin (as, by the bye, in many of the Eastern towels made to-day
where the flat tinsel is very cleverly used).

For needlework for more ordinary uses, linen is by far the most pleasing
and enduring web. Unlike silk on the one side, and wool on the other, it
has scarcely any limitations in treatment, or in material suitable to be
used on it. For hangings it can be chosen of a loose large texture, and
covered with bold work executed in silk, linen thread, or wool, or it
can be chosen of the finest thread, and covered with minute delicate
stitches; it can be worked equally well in the hand, or in a frame, and
usually the more it is handled the better it looks. A thick twisted silk
is excellent for big and coarse work on linen, the stitches used being
on the same scale, big and bold, and finer silk used sparingly if
needed. White linen thread is often the material employed for linen
altar cloths, coverlets, etc., and some extremely choice examples of
such work are to be seen in our museums, some worked roughly with a
large linen thread and big stitches, some with patient minuteness. It is
hardly necessary to say how important the design of such work is.

Different qualities of this material will be suggested to the
embroideress by her needs; but, before passing to other things, I should
not omit mention of the charming linen woven at Langdale. For some
purposes it is very useful, as good linen for embroidering on is not
easy to obtain. We have, however, yet to find a web which will resemble
the rougher and coarser linens used for old embroideries, rather loosely
woven, with a thick glossy thread, and of a heavy yet yielding
substance, quite unlike the hard paper-like surfaces of machine-made
linens. The Langdale linen is, of course, hand-spun and hand-made, and
the flat silky thread gives a very pleasant surface; but, owing to its
price and fine texture, it is not always suitable for the purposes of
large hangings. Many fine examples of Persian work, such as quilts and
so forth, are executed on a white cotton ground, neither very fine nor
very coarse, entirely in floss silk, a variety of stitches being used,
and the brightest possible colours chosen. The cool silky surface of
linen, however, commends itself more to us than cotton, each country
rightly choosing the materials nearest to hand, in this as in other
decorative arts. Both linen and cotton are good grounds for wool-work,
of which the most satisfactory kind is that done on a large scale, with
a variety of close and curious stitches within bold curves and outlines.

Canvas and net are open textures of linen or cotton, and can be used
either as a ground-work covered entirely with some stitch like the
old-fashioned cross-stitch or tent-stitch, or some kindred mechanical
stitch, or it can stand as the ground, to be decorated with bright
silks. The texture of canvas being coarse, the design for it should be
chosen on a large scale, and thick silk used; floss preferably as the
glossiest, but a thick twisted silk is almost equally effective, and
rather easier to handle. This canvas is used frequently in
seventeenth-century Italian room-hangings, either in the natural
brownish colour, or dyed blue or green, the dye on it giving a dusky
neutral colour which well shows up the richness of the silk.

Of woollen materials, cloth is the king; though as a ground for
needle-decoration it has its limitations. It forms a good basis for
appliqué, the groups of ornament being worked separately, and laid on
the cloth with threads and cords of silk, gold, or wool, according to
the treatment decided on. Rough serge gives a good surface for large
open wool-work. Such work is quickly done, and could be made a very
pleasing decoration for walls. See the delightful inventories of the
worldly goods of Sir John Fastolf in the notes to the Paston Letters,
where the description of green and blue worsted hangings, and "bankers"
worked over with roses and boughs, and hunting scenes, make one long to
emulate the rich fancies of forgotten arts, and try to plan out similar
work, much of which was quite unambitious and simple, both in design and
execution. "Slack," a slightly twisted wool, worsted and crewel are
usually the forms of work used; of these slack wool is the pleasantest
for large work, worsted being too harsh; crewel is very fine and much
twisted,[1] often met with in old work of a fine kind. The advantage of
wool over silk in cost is obvious, and renders it suitable for the
commoner uses of life, where lavishness would be out of place.



[1] Crewel, crull, curly: -

"His locks were crull as they were laid in press,"

says Chaucer of the Squire in _The Canterbury Tales_.


It is not unusual to hear said of textiles and embroideries, "I like
soft quiet colouring; such and such is too bright." This assertion is
both right and wrong; it shows an instinctive pleasure in harmony
combined with ignorance of technique. To begin with, colour cannot be
too bright in itself; if it appears so, it is the skill of the craftsman
that is at fault. It will be noted in a fine piece of work that far from
blazing with colour in a way to disturb the eye, its general effect is
that of a subdued glow; and yet, on considering the different shades of
the colours used, they are found to be in themselves of the brightest
the dyer can produce. Thus I have seen in an old Persian rug light and
dark blue flowers and orange leaves outlined with turquoise blue on a
strong red ground, a combination that sounds daring, and yet nothing
could be more peaceful in tone than the beautiful and complicated groups
of colours here displayed. Harmony, then, produces this repose, which is
demanded instinctively, purity and crispness being further obtained by
the quality of the colours used.

Thus in blues, use the shades that are only obtained satisfactorily by
indigo dye, with such modifications as slightly "greening" with yellow
when a green-blue is wanted, and so forth. The pure blue of indigo,[1]
neither slaty nor too hot and red on the one hand, nor tending to a
coarse "peacock" green-blue on the other, is perfect in all its tones,
and of all colours the safest to use in masses. Its modifications to
purple on one side and green-blue on the other are also useful, though
to be employed with moderation. There are endless varieties of useful
reds, from pink, salmon, orange, and scarlet, to blood-red and deep
purple-red, obtained by different dyes and by different processes of
dyeing. Kermes, an insect dye, gives a very beautiful and permanent
colour, rather scarlet. Cochineal, also an insect dye, gives a red,
rather inferior, but useful for mixed shades, and much used on silk, of
which madder and kermes are apt to destroy the gloss, the former a good
deal, the latter slightly. Madder, a vegetable dye, "yields on wool a
deep-toned blood-red, somewhat bricky and tending to scarlet. On cotton
and linen all imaginable shades of red, according to the process."[2] Of
the shades into which red enters, avoid over-abundant use of warm orange
or scarlet, which are the more valuable (especially the latter) the more
sparingly used; there is a dusky orange and a faint clear bricky
scarlet, sometimes met with in old work, that do not need this
reservation, being quiet colours of impure yet beautiful tone. Clear,
full yellow, fine in itself, also loses its value if too plentifully
used, or lacking due relief by other colours. The pure colour is neither
reddish and hot in tone, nor greenish and sickly. It is very abundant,
for example, in Persian silk embroidery, also in Chinese, and again in
Spanish and Italian work of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The
best and most permanent yellow dye, especially valuable on silk, is
weld or "wild mignonette."

Next to blue, green seems the most natural colour to live with, and the
most restful to the eye and brain; yet it is curious to those not
familiar with the ins and outs of dyeing that it should be so difficult
to obtain through ordinary commercial channels a full, rich, permanent
green, neither muddy yellow nor coarse bluish. A dyer who employed
old-fashioned dye-stuffs and methods would, however, tell us that the
greens of commerce are obtained by _messes_, and not by dyes, the only
method for obtaining good shades being that of dyeing a blue of the
depth required in the indigo-vat, and afterwards "greening" it with
yellow, with whatever modifications are needed. Three sets of greens
will be found useful for needlework, full yellow-greens of two or three
shades, grayish-greens, and blue-greens. Of these, the shades tending to
grayish-green are the most manageable in large masses. There is also an
olive-green that is good, if not too dark and brown, when it becomes a
nondescript, and as such to be condemned.

Walnut (the roots or the husks or the nut) and catechu (the juice of a
plant) are the most reliable brown dye-stuffs, giving good rich colour.
The best black, by the bye, formerly used, consisted of the darkest
indigo shade the material would take, dipped afterwards in the walnut
root dye.

This hasty enumeration of dye-stuffs gives an idea of those principally
used until this century, but now very rarely, since the reign of
Aniline. Yet they give the only really pure and permanent colours known,
not losing their value by artificial light, and very little and
gradually fading through centuries of exposure to sunlight. It would be
pleasant if in purchasing silk or cloth one had not to pause and
consider "will it fade?" meaning not "will it fade in a hundred, or ten,
or three years?" but "will it fade and be an unsightly rag this time
next month?" I cannot see that Aniline has done more for us than this.

Colour can be treated in several different ways: by distinctly light
shades, whether few or many, on a dark ground, which treatment lends
itself to great variety and effect; or by dark on a light ground, not so
rich or satisfying in effect; or again, by colour placed on colour of
equal tone, as it were a mosaic or piecing together of colours united,
or "jointed," by outlining round the various members of the design.
Black on white, or white on white, a mere drawing of a design on the
material, scarcely comes under the head of Colour, though, as aforesaid,
some very beautiful work has been done in this way.

As regards method of colouring, it is not very possible to give much
indication of what to use and what to avoid, it being greatly a matter
of practice, and somewhat of instinct, how to unite colour into
beautiful and complex groups. A few hints for and against certain
combinations may perhaps be given: for instance, avoid placing a blue
immediately against a green of nearly the same tone; an outline of a
different colour disposes of this difficulty, but even so, blue and
green for equally leading colours should be avoided. Again, red and
yellow, if both of a vivid tone, will need a softening outline; also, I
think, red and green if at all strong; avoid cold green in contact with
misty blue-green, which in itself is rather a pretty colour: the warning
seems futile, but I have seen these colours used persistently together,
and do not like the resulting undecided gray tone. A cold strong green
renders service sometimes, notably for placing against a clear brilliant
yellow, which is apt to deaden certain softer greens. Brown, when used,
should be chosen carefully, warm in tint, but not _hot_; avoid the
mixture of brown and yellow, often seen in "Art Depôts," but not in
nature, an unfortunate groping after the picturesque, as brown wants
cooling down, and to marry it to a flaming yellow is not the way to do
it. Black should be used very sparingly indeed, though by no means
banished from the palette. Blue and pink, blue and red, with a little
tender green for relief, are perfectly safe combinations for the
leading colours in a piece of work; again, yellow and green, or yellow,
pink, and green, make a delightfully fresh and joyous show. There is a
large coverlet to be seen at the South Kensington Museum (in the Persian
gallery) which is worked in these colours, all very much the same bright
tone, the centre being green and yellow and pink, and the several
borders the same, with the order and proportion altered to make a
variety. In recalling bright colouring like this, one is reminded of
Chaucer and his unfailing delight in gay colours, which he constantly
brings before us in describing garden, woodland, or beflowered gown.
As -

"Everich tree well from his fellow grewe
With branches broad laden with leaves newe
That sprongen out against the sonne sheene
Some golden red and some a glad bright grene."

Or, again, the Squire's dress in the Prologue to _The Canterbury
Tales_ -

"Embrouded was he, as it were a mede
Alle ful of freshe floures, white and rede."



[1] For notes on the dyer's art and the nature of dye stuffs, see
William Morris's essay on "Dyeing as an Art," p. 196.

[2] William Morris, "Dyeing as an Art."


As a guiding classification of methods of embroidery considered from the
technical point of view, I have set down the following heads: -

(a) Embroidery of materials in frames.

(b) Embroidery of materials held in the hand.

(c) Positions of the needle in making stitches.

(d) Varieties of stitches.

(e) Effects of stitches in relation to materials into which they
are worked.

(f) Methods of stitching different materials together.

(g) Embroidery in relief.

(h) Embroidery on open grounds like net, etc.

(i) Drawn thread work; needlepoint lace.

(j) Embroidery allied to tapestry weaving.

In the first place, I define embroidery as the ornamental enrichment by
needlework of a given material. Such material is usually a closely-woven
stuff; but skins of animals, leather, etc., also serve as foundations
for embroidery, and so do nets.

(a) Materials to be embroidered may be either stretched out in a
frame, or held loosely (b) in the hand. Experience decides when either
way is the better. For embroidery upon nets, frames are indispensable.
The use of frames is also necessary when a particular aim of the
embroiderer is to secure an even tension of stitch throughout his work.
There are various frames, some large and standing on trestles; in these
many feet of material can be stretched out. Then there are small handy
frames in which a square foot or two of material is stretched; and again
there are smaller frames, usually circular, in which a few inches of
materials of delicate texture, like muslin and cambric, may be

Oriental embroiderers, like those of China, Japan, Persia, and India,
are great users of frames for their work.

(c) Stitches having peculiar or individual characteristics are
comparatively few. Almost all are in use for plain needlework. It is
through the employment of them to render or express ornament or pattern
that they become embroidery stitches. Some embroiderers and some
schools of embroidery contend that the number of embroidery stitches is
almost infinite. This, however, is probably one of the myths of the
craft. To begin with, there are barely more than two different positions
in which the needle is held for making a stitch - one when the needle is
passed more or less horizontally through the material, the other when
the needle is worked more or less vertically. In respect of the
first-named way, the point of the needle enters the material usually in
two places, and one pull takes the embroidery thread into the material
more or less horizontally, or along or behind its surface (Fig. 1). In
the second, the needle is passed upwards from beneath the material,
pulled right through it, and then returned downwards, so that there are
two pulls instead of one to complete a single stitch.

[Illustration: Fig. 1. - Stem Stitch - a peculiar use of short stitches.]

A hooked or crochet needle with a handle is held more or less vertically
for working a chain stitch upon the surface of a material stretched in a
frame, but this is a method of embroidery involving the use of an
implement distinct from that done with the ordinary and freely-plied
needle. Still, including this last-named method, which comes into the
class of embroidery done with the needle in a more or less vertical
position, we do not get more than two distinctive positions for holding
the embroidery needle.

[Illustration: Fig. 2. - Chain Stitch.]

(d) Varieties of stitches may be classified under two sections: one of
stitches in which the thread is looped, as in chain stitch, knotted
stitches, and button-hole stitch; the other of stitches in which the
thread is not looped, but lies flatly, as in short and long
stitches - crewel or feather stitches as they are sometimes
called, - darning stitches, tent and cross stitches, and satin stitch.

[Illustration: Fig. 3. - Satin Stitch.]

Almost all of these stitches produce different sorts of surface or
texture in the embroidery done with them. Chain stitches, for instance,
give a broken or granular-looking surface (Fig. 2). This effect in
surface is more strongly marked when knotted stitches are used. Satin
stitches give a flat surface (Fig. 3), and are generally used for
embroidery or details which are to be of an even tint of colour. Crewel
or long and short stitches combined (Fig. 4) give a slightly less even
texture than satin stitches. Crewel stitch is specially adapted to the
rendering of coloured surfaces of work in which different tints are to
modulate into one another.

[Illustration: Fig. 4. - Feather or Crewel Stitch - a mixture of long and
short stitches.]

(e) The effects of stitches in relation to the materials into which
they are worked can be considered under two broadly-marked divisions.
The one is in regard to embroidery which is to produce an effect on one
side only of a material; the other to embroidery which shall produce
similar effects equally on both the back and front of the material. A
darning and a satin stitch may be worked so that the embroidery has
almost the same effect on both sides of the material. Chain stitch and
crewel stitch can only be used with regard to effect on one side of a

(f) But these suggestions for a simple classification of embroidery do
not by any means apply to many methods of so-called embroidery, the
effects of which depend upon something more than stitches. In these
other methods cutting materials into shapes, stitching materials
together, or on to one another, and drawing certain threads out of a
woven material and then working over the undrawn threads, are involved.
Applied or appliqué work is generally used in connection with ornament
of bold forms. The larger and principal forms are cut out of one
material and then stitched down to another - the junctures of the edges
of the cut-out forms being usually concealed and the shapes of the forms
emphasised by cord stitched along them. Patchwork depends for successful
effect upon skill in cutting out the several pieces which are to be
stitched together. Patchwork is a sort of mosaic work in textile
materials; and, far beyond the homely patchwork quilt of country
cottages, patchwork lends itself to the production of ingenious
counterchanges of form and colour in complex patterns. These methods of
appliqué and patchwork are peculiarly adapted to ornamental needlework
which is to lie, or hang, stretched out flatly, and are not suited
therefore to work in which is involved a calculated beauty of effect
from folds.

(g) There are two or three classes of embroidery in relief which are
not well adapted to embroideries on lissome materials in which folds are
to be considered. Quilting is one of these classes. It may be
artistically employed for rendering low-relief ornament, by means of a
stout cord or padding placed between two bits of stuff, which are then
ornamentally stitched together so that the cord or padding may fill out
and give slight relief to the ornamental portions defined by and
enclosed between the lines of stitching. There is also padded
embroidery or work consisting of a number of details separately wrought
in relief over padding of hanks of thread, wadding, and such like.
Effects of high relief are obtainable by this method. Another class, but
of lower relief embroidery, is couching (Fig. 5), in which cords and

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