The first thing to be settled with regard to the choice of stitch is whether to employ one stitch throughout, or a variety of stitches. Much will depend upon the effect desired. Good work has been done in either way ; but one may safely say, in the first place, that it is as well not to introduce variety of stitch without good cause - there is safety in simplicity - and in the second, that stitches should be chosen to go together, in order that the work may look all of a piece. When the various stitches are well chosen, it is difficult at a glance to distinguish one from another.
A great variety of stitches in one piece of work is worrying, if not bewildering. It is as well not to use too many, to keep in the main to one or two, but not to be afraid of using a third, or a fourth to do what the stitch or stitches mainly relied upon cannot do.
It tends also towards simplicity of effect if you use your stitches with some system, not haphazard, and in subordination one to the other ; there must be no quarrelling among them for superiority. You should determine, that is to say, at the outset,
which stitch shall be employed for filling, which for outline; or which for stalks, which for leaves, and which for flowers. Or, supposing you adopt one general stitch throughout, and introduce others, you should know why, and make up your mind to employ your second perhaps for emphasis of form, your third for contrast of texture - each for some quite definite purpose.
It is not possible here to point out in detail the system on which the various examples illustrated have been worked ; the reader must worry that out for herself. But one may just point out in passing how well the various stitches go together in some few instances.
Nothing could be more harmonious, for example, than the combination of knot, chain, and buttonhole stitches in Illustration 24 (Buttonhole, Chain, And Knot Stitches); or of ladder, Oriental, herring-bone, and other stitches in Illustration 72 (Stitches In Combination). Again, in Illustration 85 (Satin And Plumage Stitches) the contrast between satin-stitch in the bird and couched cord for the clouding is most judicious, as is the knotting of the bird's crest. Laid floss contrasts, again, admirably with couched gold in Illustrations 47, 48, 49, and satin-stitch with couching in Illustration 99 (Renaissance Ornament), where the gold, reserved mainly for outline, serves on occasion to emphasise a detail.
Couched gold and surface satin-stitch are used together again in Illustration 58 (Couched Gold Not Quite Solid), each for its specific purpose. The harmony between applique
work and couching or chain-stitch outline has been alluded to already.
A danger to be kept in view when working in one stitch only is, lest it should look like a woven textile, as it might if very evenly worked. Some kinds of embroidery seem hardly worth doing nowadays, because they suggest the loom. This may be a reason for some complexity of stitch, in which lurks that other danger of losing simplicity and breadth. The lace-like appearance of the needlework upon fine linen in Illustration 73 (Fine Needlework Upon Linen), results chiefly from the extraordinary delicacy with which it is done, but it owes something also to the variety of stitch and of stitch-pattern employed in it.
In complaining of needlework that it looks like weaving, we are apt to overlook the fact that embroidery is after all the needlewoman's way of doing for herself what she cannot get done, or cannot afford to have done for her. The peasant woman may be doing quite right in embroidering what could just as well be woven.