THE laying down of one stuff on another for decorative purposes brings me to the mention of patchwork, a time-honoured kind of stitchery, familiar by name at least to all of us. More time-honoured, indeed, than one would think, for the patchwork quilts which form a charming and pathetic record of our grandmothers' girlhood and courtship, where we affectionately admire the little scraps of brocade ' worn the first night I danced with your dear grandfather,' are but a survival of, or speaking more strictly, a variation from, a different sort of patchwork done in very far-off times in distant Egypt, that land where the arts of life were flourishing exuberantly long before history even begins for us of the Western world. Patchwork is formed by piecing together bits of stuff of chosen texture and colour, cut in various shapes and neatly stitched together ; if the shapes are at all complex, the fitting has to be most precisely and accurately managed, and forms the only really troublesome process of this sort of needlework.
In its simple form such work is easy enough, but in the East it has been, and is still, elaborately carried out, with intricate design and beautiful colour. It is rather difficult to give a clear idea of this curious embroidery by mere description. You must imagine a mosaic, as it were, but instead of being made up of bits of marble or of coloured glass, this mosaic is formed of pieces of stuff of different colours, fitted together into certain ornamental shapes and finished with touches of colour in embroidery stitches. Such patchwork distinctly comes into the category of things artistic: while the quilts and such-like of the last and the present centuries are only pretty pieces of neat stitchery, in which an elementary sense of geometric design and colour yet remains in the sometimes-clever arrangement of the different scraps of dress stuff of which they are composed.
Quilting is done in different ways, but generally speaking, it consists of placing a thin layer of some soft yielding material, such as cotton-wool, between the ground to be worked on (be it thin silk, or fine cotton, or linen) and a thin lining ; the design is then worked in firm stitches, taken right through to the reverse side. The result is a slight relief, which gives a pleasant effect. A cord is sometimes laid between the two surfaces, and stitched down either side, making a higher relief. Quilting can be varied considerably, but this description will, I think, be enough to enable the student to identify any different forms of quilting that she may come across among old or modern work introduce metal threads in the more elaborate kinds of needlework ; some work, indeed, consisting entirely of gold. But solid gold-work requires careful treatment lest it become vulgarised, as it does notably in some bad work of a late period. I have said enough about it in Chapter IV (Couching and Applique). to intimate that its use requires a special knowledge and dexterity, as it is difficult to handle, owing to its want of flexibility. For all practical purposes there are two kinds of thread now in general use, (1) paper-gold and (2) tinsel-gold. (1.) The paper-gold, which comes to us principally, if not entirely, from Japan, and is a great favourite now, consists of gilded strips of very fine tough paper, such as the Japanese have the great art of making, wound round a silken thread. It does not tarnish, which is, of course, a great advantage. (2) Tinsel-gold is very much more brilliant and is made by the metal being wire-drawn into a fine thread, which is wound round coloured silk. Being really silver, gilded more or less thickly, it tarnishes readily in proportion to the quality of the gilding, which determines the value of the thread produced. Otherwise it is pleasant to use, and is a good firm material for solid work, with its brilliance a little softened by appropriate colours. I give its technical name, not knowing how else to call it; but the word 'tinsel,' gives a false impression of the quality of this beautiful material, which must by no means be classed along with the tin-foil splendours which delight our eyes at the pantomime on Boxing Night. However, much beautiful and fine work can be done with the paper-gold ; and the ancient form of it, gilded vellum, namely, very thin and finely cut into strips, and wound round a thread, was universally used in the most flourishing times of the arts of figured stuff-weaving and embroidery. This, and the flat beaten gold, forming a sort of gold ribbon, were certainly the forms of gold most used in ancient times ; but ' it were enquiring too curiously' to enter here into the history of the use of gold and silver in textiles and embroideries, although it is so interesting a subject of research that one is almost tempted to do so. The first development of wire-drawn gold would certainly be from the delicate manipulation of flat gold ribbon, rolling it with the hand into a fragile wire, a lengthy and difficult operation, but surprisingly finely done in the earliest times when machinery was not. For indeed, though people talk about the wonders of machinery, the patience and dexterity of man's handiwork without the help of any machine is far more wonderful.
I must repeat that gold and silver are usually treated in some firm and stiff manner in various couching stitches. It is at once the most effective and the easiest way of using these beautiful materials, but skilful workers will introduce gold into lighter needlework, threading and passing it back and forth like a thread of silk, Gold and silver so treated can be seen in the muslin towels and cloths that come over here from India, and from Turkey and Bulgaria. The gold is passed through the thin stuff, of sometimes gossamer texture, with wonderful smoothness and precision, and in its way, nothing daintier can be imagined than this rich and heavy decoration shining among the floating folds of a light and delicate muslin. In couched gold the metal is usually threaded in a large-eyed needle, and occasionally passed through the ground, but it has to be very carefully laid down with minute stitches of fine silk of different colours. Silver thread is sometimes used also, but the rapidity with which it tarnishes proves a great drawback ; which is a pity, as it is almost as beautiful as the gold. The reader can refer to what I have written about couching, which equally applies to gold-work when used in this way; though with all the difference between a pliable and a stubborn material. I should always advise learners, ambitious of excelling herein, to get some special instruction in gold and silver needlework, as a little teaching by word of mouth would soon dispel difficulties that appear to be very discouraging at first.