Reference has already been made in passing to the texture given by stitching, and to the variation in colour produced by it according to the direction of the stitch. In white embroidery upon white the contrast between work and ground is entirely a contrast of texture, which thus takes the place of colour. And when it is remembered that in linen damask the pattern is entirely the result of the different direction of the warp and weft threads, it is not surprising that the embroiderer, with the whole range of stitches at her command, can by texture alone, by difference of surface that is to say, produce pattern work of very great variety. The differences are subdued, of course; the worker plays in a minor key - but those who care for delicate work enjoy it none the less that it is played in undertones, " pianissimo," as it were.
White work gains something in effect when it is worked in thread of different material from the ground - in silk on linen, for example - as in some of the old Persian work, which is singularly beautiful. In Indian and Chinese work the difference of texture is accentuated by working in floss or in twisted silk upon crepe or " tabby." The contrast obtained in modern embroidery by working in cotton upon cambric is less satisfactory. There is something rather objectionable in ornamenting one material with another that is inferior to it; and cotton is a poor thread with which to decorate linen.
Nevertheless embroidery in white on white has been carried in our own time to a point of very considerable accomplishment, which is the more remarkable because it is practised not as an art but as an industry, and apparently a paying one. We have been able, with the assistance of Mr James Jeffrey, to explain the stitches and processes generally employed by the peasant women of Down and Donegal, and to illustrate them in a series of patterns which he has had worked for us at Belfast, chiefly from designs devised to illustrate the capabilities of the stitches generally in use. The bird pattern, however, in Illustration 90 (White Work By James Jeffrey) is by Mr Jeffrey himself, designed by him in the ordinary way of trade. The execution of these examples, by women working for a factory, speaks better for the ability of the needlewomen than for the public taste which they follow. Such work as theirs under existing conditions argues well for what even peasant women might do if only they were directed by some one whose first care and thought was for art.
There is nothing very new about the stitches employed in white work, but they need to be chosen with a view to the effect that can be got by texture - by the contrast, that is to say, of the
surface of one stitch with the surface of another, and of the work generally with the plain linen. It is by leaving ample surface of this last intact, and judiciously massing the ornament upon it, that the most refined and beautiful results are obtained.