The effect of any stitch is vastly varied, according to the use made of it. Satin-stitch, it was shown (38), worked in twisted silk, ceases to have any appearance of satin; and it makes all the difference whether the stitches are long or short, close together or wide apart. More important than all is the direction of the stitch. By that alone you can recognise the artist in needlework.
The DIRECTION of the stitch deserves consideration from two points of view - that of colour and that of form. First as to colour. It is not sufficiently realised that every alteration in the direction of the stitch means variety of tone, if not of tint. Take a feather in your hand, and turn it about, so that now one side of the quill now the other catches the light; or notice the alternate stripes of brighter and greyer green on a fresh-trimmed lawn, where the garden roller has bent the blades of grass first this way and then that. So it is with the colour of silken stitches. The pattern opposite (82) looks as if it had been embroidered in two shades of silk; in the work itself it has still more that appearance; but
it is all in one shade of brownish gold: the difference which you see is merely the effect of light upon it. The horizontal stitches, as it happens, catch the light; the vertical ones do not. Had the light come from a different point, the effect might have been reversed. If there had been diagonal stitches from right to left, they would have given a third tint; and, if there had been others from left to right, they would have given a fourth.
Suppose a pattern in which the leaves were worked horizontally, the flowers vertically, and the stalks in the direction of their growth, all in one stitch and in one colour, there would be a very appreciable difference in tone between leaves, flowers, and stalks. In gold, the difference would be yet more striking. And that is one reason why gold backgrounds are worked in diapers; not so much for the sake of pattern as to get variety of broken tint.
In the famous Syon Cope the direction of the stitching is frankly independent of the design. That is to say, while the pattern radiates naturally from the neck, the stitches do not follow suit, but go all one way - the way of the stuff. This, though rather a brutal solution of the difficulty, saves all after-thought as to what direction the stitches shall take; but it has very much the effect of weaving. The embroiderer of the thirteenth century was not afraid of that (aimed at it, perhaps ?), and was, apparently, afraid of letting go the leading strings of warp and weft.
When stitches follow the direction of the form embroidered, accommodating themselves to it, all manner of subtle change of tone results. You get, not only variety of colour, but more than a suggestion of form.
That is the second point to be considered.
The direction taken by the stitch always helps to explain the drawing; or, if the needlewoman cannot draw, to show that she cannot - as, for example, in the tulip herewith (83). A less intelligent management of the stitch it would be hard to find. The needle-strokes, far from helping in the very slightest degree to explain the folding over of the petals, directly contradict the drawing. The flower might almost have been designed to show how not to do it; but it is a piece of old work, quite seriously done, only, without knowing. The embroidress is free, of course, to work her stitches in a direction which does not express
form at all, so as to give a flat tint, in which is no hint of modelling; but the intention is here quite obviously naturalistic. The rendering below (84) shows the direction the stitches should have taken. The turn-over of the petals is even there not very clearly expressed, but that is the fault of the drawing (very much on a par with the workmanship), from which it would not have been fair to depart.
A more clever fulfilment of the naturalistic intention is to be seen in Illustration 76 (Shading In Short Stitches). The drawing of the doves is in the rather loose manner of the period of Marie Antoinette; but the treatment of the stitch is clever in its way - the way, as I have said, rather of painting than of embroidery, giving as it does the roundness of the birds' bodies but no hint of actual feathering, such as you find in the bird opposite (85). There, every stitch helps to explain the feathering. By a discreet use of what I must persist in calling the same stitch (that is, satin-stitch and the variety of it known as
plumage-stitch) the embroiderer has rendered with equal perfection the sweep of the broad wing feathers and the fluffy feathering of the breast. It is by means of the direction of the stitch, too, that the drawing of the neck is so perfectly expressed.
The direction of the stitch is varied to some purpose in the head in Illustration 80 (Sixteenth-Century Italian Figure Work,), where the flesh is all in straight upright stitches, whilst the hair is stitched in the direction of its growth.
The five petals on the satin-stitch sampler (Illustration 36 (Satin-Stitch Sampler)) - to descend from the masterly to the elementary - show something of the difference it makes in what direction the stitch is worked. It matters more, of course, in some stitches than in others; but in most cases the direction of the stitch suggests form, and has accordingly to be considered.
It scarcely needs further pointing out how the direction of the stitch may help to explain the construction of the form, as in the case of leaves, for example, where the veining may be suggested ; or of stalks, where the fibre may be indicated. There is no law as to the direction of stitch, except that it should be considered. You may follow the direction of the forms, you may cross them, you may deliberately lay your stitches in the most arbitrary manner; but, whatever you do, you must do it with intelligent purpose. An artist or a workwoman can tell at once whether your stitch was laid just so because you meant it or because you knew no better.
Having laid your stitches deliberately, it is best to leave them, and not to work over them with other stitching. Stitching over stitching was resorted to whenever elaboration was the fashion ; but the simpler and more direct method is the best. The way the veins are laid in cord over the satin-stitch in the lotus leaves in Illustration 40 (Chinese Satin-Stitch) is the one fault to be found with an all but perfect piece of workmanship.
The stitching over the laid silver mid-rib in Illustration 100 (Leaf Treatment In Applique) is better judged. It may be said, generally speaking, that except where, as in the case of laid-work, the first stitching was done in anticipation of a second, and the work would be incomplete without it, stitching over stitches should be indulged in only with moderation.
Stitching is sometimes done not merely over stitches, but upon the surface of them, not penetrating the ground-stuff. Unless, in such a case the first stitching is of such compact character as to want no strengthening, it amounts almost to a sin against practicality not to take advantage of the second stitching to make it firmer.