NEEDLEWORK. This subject may be considered under the two headings of (i) Plain Needlework, used for purely utilitarian purposes, and (2) Art Needlework for decorative purposes. Plain needlework requires no such further explanation as may be given in the case of art needlework, under which title are included (a) embroidery, and (b) other methods of decorative needlework, such as applied or applique work, ornamental quilting, patchwork and couching. In these last-mentioned methods the needlework is subservient to the decorative effect, which depends almost wholly upon the materials selected for the purpose; whereas in embroidery the needlework itsejf constitutes and is the visible decoration. The aim of this article is to indicate briefly different stitches of plain needlework and then to show that these stitches are also used in the domain of art needlework.
The more necessary stitche^ in plain needlework for making clothes are tacking, running, hemming, feather-stitching or herring-boning (all of which are practically of the same type), and button-holing in which the thread is looped as each stitch is made. Button-holing is allied to another looped stitch, namely chain-stitching, which though frequently used in embroidery is rarely if ever used in plain needlework. For repairs of clothes and household linen, etc., the principal stitch is darning; grafting, however, is a substitute for it, and varies with the character of the stuff to be repaired, e.g. knitted stockings, damask linen, cloth, etc. Darning is allied to running, and grafting to patchwork. Patchwork as a form of decorative needlework is exemplified in sumptuous canopies and seat covers made several centuries B.C. by Egyptians, and rich hangings made by Italian and French workers in the 16th century.
Long and short stitches, kindred in principle to the running stitch in plain needlework, are perhaps the more frequent of any stitches used in embroidery, and are especially appropriate when the blending of tints with a flat even surface is the effect to be aimed at. Much medieval work of this character, as well as that done with chain stitch and its allied split stitch, is regarded as typical of opus anglicanum. Chain stitch produces a comparatively broken surface in decided contrast with the smooth one of long and short stitch, split stitch and satin stitch embroidery. Satin stitch is well adapted to express, with even flat surface in designs for colour effects, each mass which is to be of one tint. In this respect, therefore, satin stitch serves a purpose in contrast to that of long and short stitch. A characteristic of satin-stitching is the sheeny effect produced, on both sides of the material embroidered, by parallel stitches taken closely together. Buttonhole stitch in relation to art needlework prevails to a great extent in cut linen and drawn-thread work (often called Greek lace), and predominates in the making of needlepoint lace (see LACE). In much of the Persian drawn-thread work, however, it is superseded by whipping or tightly and closely twisting a thread round the undrawn threads of the linen. Whipping has been put to another use in certain 16th-century art needlework for ecclesiastical purposes, where round the gold threads employed as the ground of a design coloured silks are dexterously whipped, closely and openly, producing gradations of tint suffused with a corresponding variation of golden shimmer. Another important branch of art needlework with gold and silver threads is couching. When the metallic threads, arranged so as to lie closely together, are simply stitched flatly to the foundation material, the work is called flat couching or laying, a kind of treatment more frequent in Chinese and Japanese than in European art needlework. Flat couching is also carried out with floss silks. When a design for couching includes effects in relief, stout strings or cords as required by the design are first fastened to the foundation materials, and over them the metallic threads or in some cases coloured gimps are laid, and so stitched as to have an appearance in miniature of varieties of willow-twisting or basket work.
The principle of relief couching is carried much further in certain English art needlework, having cumbersome and grotesque peculiarities, which was done during the reigns of the Stuarts. Crude compositions were wrought in partial relief with padded work, of costumed figures of kings and queens and scriptural persons with a medley of disproportionate animals, insects and trees, etc., in whichfoliage, wings, etc., wereof coloured silk needlepoint lace the whole being set as often as not in a background of tent or cross-stitch work on canvas. But tent and cross-stitch work (in French point compte) was also used by itself for cushion covers and later for upholstery. In its earlier phases it seems to come under the medieval classification of opus pulvinarum. The reticulations of the canvas or those apparent in finer material governed the stitching and imparted a stiff formal effect to the designs so carried out, a characteristic equally strong in the lacis work, or darning on square mesh net (see LACE).
Applique or applied work belongs as much as patchwork to the medieval category of opus consutum, or stitching stuffs together according to a decorative design, the greater part of which was cut out of material different in colour, and generally in texture, from that of the ground to which it was applied and stitched. Irish art needlework, called Carrickmacross lace, is for the most part of cambric applied or applique to net.
Quilting is also a branch of art needlework rather than embroidery. Indians and Persians using a short running stitch have excelled in it in past times. Some good quilting was done in England in the 18th century with chain-stitching which lay on the inner side of the stuff, the outer displaying the design in 'short stitches. In the account of his voyage to the East Indies, published in 1655, Edward Terry (1590-1665) writes of the Indians " making excellent quilts of satin lined with taffeta betwixt which they put cotton wool and worked them together with silk." For less bulky quilting, cords have been used; and elaborate designs for quilted linen waistcoats were well done in the 18th century, with fine short stitches that held the cords between the inner and outer materials.
A large number of names have been given to the many modifications of the limited number of essentially different stitches used in plain and art needlework, and on the whole are fanciful rather than really valuable from a technical point of view. Much descriptive information about them, with an abundance of capital illustrations, is given in the Dictionary of Needlework, by J. F. Caulfield and Blanche Saward (London, 1903).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)