THE foregoing slight sketch of the history of embroidery will give some idea of what can be done and what has been done with the needle alone, or with the needle and a few tools of the simplest description. There are two sides to the art of embroidery. It may be considered as a pictorial art in which the material used serves merely as a surface or ground to be entirely covered with work, like the canvas of a picture. It may also be considered as a decorative art by means of which a woven stuff is ornamented with borders and designs more or less elaborate, but the textile used not playing so entirely subordinate a part as in the former case. The more important and pictorial side is usually left in the hands of professional workers of experience and skill, but the decorative and more popular work is quite within the scope of amateurs, and is indeed often more beautiful as mere ornament, though its intellectual value may not be so great.
Embroidery can be worked loose in the hand, or stretched in a simple frame, the stitches for the two methods sometimes varying. Fine and elaborate work, especially where gold thread is used and much moulding or relief required, should always be put in a frame, a smooth and evenly tight surface being very necessary to this class of work, as well as greater freedom of hand. Some stitches, on the other hand, are only suitable for work done loose in the hand, such as chain-stitch (when done with a simple needle) and several other looped stitches, also darning, stitching, and so forth.
Before setting to work, the learner has a few technicalities to master, and in the course of her work will encounter many difficulties, to be gradually overcome by practice and carefully corrected errors. For instance, there are certain definite stitches or sets of stitches to be learnt. These are learnt far more easily by word of mouth than by book, of course, and it will not be found advisable to burthen the memory at the outset with a long list of apparently fantastic names of stitches. To take them easily and quietly, I will devote a few pages to chain and other ' looped ' stitches, and the various purposes to which they have been and may be put.
Chain-stitch has been so called because it imitates, more or less, the links of a simple chain. It is the foremost and most familiar of all similar stitches. It has a very definite character of its own, and though apt to become a little monotonous, is from its laborious and enduring- nature well suited to work that may be subjected to much wear and tear. In the accompanying diagram it will be seen that each little loop grows out of the last; the needle
Fig. 1. - Chain Stitch.
follows the exact direction in which the line of stitches is to lie. Some of the most famous work in the world has been wrought in this stitch, and many important pieces remain to show us what can be done in the way of minute and laborious work combined with good design and beautiful colour.
The best way of using chain-stitch when the design is required to be filled with solid
work is to start round the outline and work from without inwards, the result when finished being a series of curved lines, as indicated by the dotted lines in the diagram.
A good look at a piece of Eastern chain-stitch embroidery will teach more than any descriptive writing; and, supposing that you have such a piece before you, in the showcase of a museum, or, better still, in your own hands for closer inspection, you will note with what certainty and regularity the little flowers are worked, and how suitable this stitch is for long stems and lines. A great deal of the Eastern work on fine muslin that we see in such abundance in all shops now, is worked in some kind of tambour-frame ; that is, worked on a rather open stuff stretched tight, the thread being passed through and back with a hook or tambour-needle. It is not difficult to tell this work from the slower needle chain-stitch, as the former has a certain unmis-takeable evenness and flatness, which the other has not. The great cope of Syon that I have referred to already, is principally worked in chain-stitch, but worked with the most inconceivable minuteness, and here and there displaying a daring and originality never ventured on now-a-days. The little figures of saints and angels, for instance, have the faces worked in a peculiar manner, starting from the high light on the cheek-bone, and thence round and round outwards from this point to nose, chin, and throat, the features being outlined with a fine dark thread. This method of using chain-stitch for figure-work requires to be seen to be understood, and I would not recommend a student to attempt to apply it to her own work, as it is not adaptable to any modern style, and needs both the verve and simplicity of mediaeval design to carry it off.
I have in my mind, too, as an example of chain-stitch, certain work done in India in the XVI. and XVII. centuries for European buyers. It is very different in style and character, and has not, as it were, the intellectual qualities of the ecclesiastical work spoken of above. It usually consists of large hangings and quilts for beds of state, worked on a fine cotton ground entirely in chain-stitch of one colour. Very rich and effective does this work look in a brilliant yellow with an irregularly stitched background pattern also in yellow. These hangings and bed-coverings were ordered for state gifts or marriage gifts, the centres being sometimes occupied by the arms and device of the prince or lord for whom they were intended, elaborately interwoven with the design.
Of other stitches looped on the surface we have button-hole stitch, sometimes prettily used for the outlining of flowers and leaves. This stitch does not allow of much variety, and being rather hard and unpli-able, looks best in combination with other stitches. The same may be said of different lace stitches, which look well in moderation, and add variety to the work, but, having a rather mechanical surface, are a little wearisome if too much used.
Fig. 3. - Button-hole Stitch.
Feather-stitch, familiar to the seamstress, is sometimes used for edgings and borders, and sometimes as a light filling of stems.
Fig. 4.- Feather Stitch.
It bears no resemblance to the ' feather stitch' of the old writers, which is another thing altogether. The diagram will, I should think, sufficiently explain its nature.