The simplest, as it is most likely the earliest used, stitch-group is what might best be called CANVAS stitch - of which cross-stitch is perhaps the most familiar type, the class of stitches which come of following, as it is only natural to do, the mesh of a coarse linen, net, or open web upon which the work is done.
A stitch bears always by rights some relation to the material on which it is worked ; but canvas or very coarse linen almost compels a stitch based upon the cross lines of its woof. At all events it suggests designs of typically rigid construction, which we find in embroidery no matter where it was done. In ancient Byzantine or Coptic work, in modern Cretan work, and in peasant embroidery all the world over, pattern work on coarse linen has run persistently into angular lines - in which, because of that very angularity, the plain outcome of a way of working, we find artistic character. Artistic design is always expressive of the mode of workmanship.
Work of this kind is not too lightly to be dismissed. There is art in the rendering of form by means of angular outlines, art in the choice of forms which can be expressed by such lines. It is not uncharitable to surmise that one reason why such work (once so universal and now quite out of fashion) is not popular with needlewomen may be, the demand it makes upon the designer's draughtsmanship : it is much easier, for example, to draw a stag than to render the creature satisfactorily within jagged lines determined by a linen mesh.
The piquancy about natural or other forms thus reduced to angularity argues, of course, no affectation of quaintness on the part of the worker, but was the unavoidable outcome of her way of work. There is a pronounced and early limit to art of this rather naive kind, but that there is art in some of the very simplest and most modest peasant work built up on those lines no artist will deny. The art in it is usually in proportion to its modesty. Nothing is more futile than to put it to anything like pictorial purpose. The wonderfully wrought pictures in tent-stitch, for example, bequeathed to us by the seventeenth century, are painful object-lessons in what not to do.
To Work Cross-Stitch
The origin of the term cross-stitch is not far to seek : the stitches worked upon the square mesh do cross. But, falling naturally into the lines of the mesh which governs them, they present not so much the appearance of crosses as of squares, reminding one of the tesserae employed in mosaic.
To explain the process of working cross-stitch would be teaching one's grandmother indeed. It is simply, as its name implies, crossing one stitch by another, following always the lines of the canvas. But the important thing about it is that the stitches must cross always in the same way ; and, more than that, they must be worked in the same direction, or the mere fact that the stitches at the back of the work do not run in the same way will disturb the evenness of the surface. What looks like a seam on the sampler opposite is the result of filling up a gap in the ground with stitches necessarily worked in vertical, whereas the ground generally is in horizontal, lines. On the face of the work the stitches cross all in the same way.
The common use of cross-stitch and the somewhat geometric kind of pattern to which it lends itself are shown in the sampler, Illustration 5 (Cross-Stitch Sampler).
The broad and simple leafage, worked solid (A) or left in the plain canvas upon a groundwork of
solid stitching (B), and the fretted diaper on vertical and horizontal lines (C), show the most straightforward ways of using it.
The criss-cross of alternating cross-stitches and open canvas framed by the key pattern (C) shows a means of getting something like a tint half-way between solid work and plain ground. The mere line work - or " stroke-stitch," not crossed (D), is a perfectly fair way of getting a delicate effect; but design in that stitch has a way of working out rather less happily than it promised.
The addition of such stroke-stitching to solid cross-stitch (E) is not at best a very happy device. It seems rather like a confession of dissatisfaction on the part of the worker with the simple means of her choice. As a device for, as it were, correcting the stepped outline it is at its worst. Timid workers are always afraid of the stepped outline which a coarse mesh gives. In that they are wrong. One should employ canvas stitch only where there is no objection to a line which keeps step with the canvas; there is then a positive charm (for frank people at least) in the frank confession of the way the work is done.
There are many degrees in the frankness with which this convention has been accepted, according perhaps to the coarseness of the canvas ground, perhaps to the personality of the worker. The animal forms at the top of Illustration 6 (Canvas-Stitch) are uncompromisingly square; the floral devices on
the same page, though they fall, as it were inevitably, into square lines, are less rigidly formal. The inevitableness of the square line is apparent in the sprig below (7). It was evidently meant to be freely drawn, but the influence of the mesh betrays itself; and the design, if it loses something in grace, gains also thereby in character.
There is literally no end to the variety of stitches, as they are called, belonging to this group, and their names are a babel of confusion. Florentine, Parisian, Hungarian, Spanish, Moorish, Cashmere, Milanese, Gobelin, are only a few of them ; but they stand, as a rule, rather for stitch arrangements than for stitches. A small selection of them is given in Illustration 8 (Canvas-Stitch Sampler).
What is known as tent-stitch (A in the sampler opposite) is a sort of half cross-stitch; its peculiarity is that it covers only one thread of the canvas at a stroke, and is therefore on a more minute scale than stitches which are two or three threads of the canvas wide, as cross-stitch may, and cushion-stitch must, be. It derives its name from the old word tenture, or tenter (tendere, to stretch), the frame on which the embroidress distended her canvas. The word has gone out of use, but we still speak of tenter-hooks. The stitch is serviceable enough in its way, but is discredited by the monstrous abuse of it referred to already. A picture in tent-stitch is even more foolish than a picture in mosaic. It cannot come anywhere near to pictorial effect; the tesserae will pronounce themselves, and spoil it.
This kind of half cross-stitch worked on the larger scale of ordinary cross-stitch would look meagre. It is rilled out, therefore (B), by horizontal lines of the thread laid across the canvas, and over these the stitch is worked.