The treatment of the human figure in embroidery has always been the highest and most difficult achievement of the craft, and the methods of working employed are a somewhat vexed question. First and foremost, the designer must be a good draughtsman, able to treat the figure and its draperies in such a way as to lend them most easily to execution in silken or woollen thread and texture. Any slavish copying of a painting is undesirable; needlework does not make good paint, nor is it needful to torture one material into ineffectual imitation of another. If the effect of painting is desired, paint is the medium which most quickly arrives at that effect. Embroidery has characteristics so exclusively and beautifully its own that it should be the aim of its designer to make use of these to their fullest extent, without straining the material beyond the limits to which its texture confines it.
Therefore it is not needful to treat flesh tints in difficult and intricate shading of tone. Better it is to treat the face, for instance, by means of simple and dignified outlines in suitable neutral tint, while if the figure be on a small scale the folds of garments can be worked simply as masses of colour formed by satin stitching carefully and regularly between the lines of drawing. This demands that the width of each fold must be designed so that it is not too wide to be crossed by a single stitch. Shading of colour in this method is very successfully managed by gradually working one tone or tint into another. Such embroidered drapery has a very rich effect. If the work be on large scale it may consist of masses of darning defined by outlines, or by applied material with the drapery lines defined by couching of silk or braid, and added ornament of borders or powdered pattern may be shown in enrichments of stitchery.
The treatment of hair is good if drawn in separate locks, sewn across with satin stitch, always taking the stitch directly across the lock, as in embroidering folds. The curving of the folds gives wonderful play of light to the glossy silks.
Another more tedious but very beautiful method of making hair in large figures is to couch it in single threads of gold tinsel or silk.
For small figure panels no material lends itself so kindly as good satin of some pale colour. It is so firm and smooth, the intricacies of the drawing may be so accurately marked and so easily followed by the stitchery. Such material can with ease be worked on the hand, but for larger panels, where elaborate couching is needful on applied material, it is best to paste the applique into place and sew on a large frame till all outlines are complete. Masses of gold stitchery, couching, or the radiations of a nimbus, are best done on tight material on the frame, while enrichments of satin stitch, etc., may be more expeditiously executed on the hand. In fact, for almost all ordinary work a frame is quite unnecessary if the material be firm (Frontispiece and Diag. 231).