Embroidery on canvas is one of the oldest forms of decorative needlework. It was known in the thirteenth century as opus pulvinarium, or cushion work, probably because this kind of work is specially suited to domestic uses, such as the coverings for cushions, chairs, and hangings.
Canvas embroidery is often spoken of as tapestry, but, strictly speaking, the latter is always a woven fabric. But the tent stitch pictures, which have been revived of late, have the appearance of tapestry, though, of course, on a small scale.
Canvas embroidery can be carried out either in the hand or on a frame. For large pieces of work a frame is advisable. The stitches in use are very numerous, a selection from which are described in the present article.
The commonest stitch, which has given its name to a whole class of canvas work, is the cross stitch. This, as its name implies, is a stitch crossing over two or more squares of canvas. It is usually worked on a double-ply canvas, as the crossing puts a strain on the material, which should therefore be a firm one.
Cross stitch is shown in Fig. a of Diagram 1, and the correct way to work it is to bring up the needle and thread at the upper left-hand hole of four spaces, inserting it diagonally into the lower right-hand hole, and then crossing the stitch by bringing out the needle at the upper right-hand hole, and inserting it at the lower left-hand one. Each stitch should be worked separately, except in grounding a design, when a row should be first worked along in one direction, and then crossed on the return journey.
Plait stitch is in appearance much like basket stitch, described in Article IV., p.
Diagram I. A. Cross stitch, each stitch worked separately. B. Plait stitch. A pretty variation for canvas work
3405. It is also best worked on double-ply canvas. The first stitch covers three holes in the canvas diagonally, and the needle is then made to take a perpendicular stitch behind the canvas, bringing it out three holes immediately below the point in which it was last inserted, as shown in Fig. b of the diagram.
The next three stitches, tent stitch, Gobelin, and Irish, Florentine or cushion stitch, are usually worked on single-ply canvas.
Tent stitch is the finest of all the canvas stitches, and is best suited to pictorial work showing a good deal of detail. The petit point pictures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were worked in this stitch.
A fine example, representing the story of Daphne, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and may be studied with advantage to show the best method of treating a needlework picture, and how to escape from the faults of much modern work of the same kind. It is embroidery of never-ending variety and interest, but is extremely slow in execution, and should only be attempted by an enthusiast.
A Hard Wearing Stitch
Tent stitch is a simple one, as may be seen in Fig. a of Diagram 2. a 1 shows the work on the right side, and a 2 on the reverse side. The stitch covers two rows of canvas diagonally. The needle is brought up, when working a row from left to right, at the upper right-hand bole, and taken diagonally to the lower left-hand hole, thus making, when the stitch is repeated, a longer stitch on the wrong side than on the right. On the return journey the needle is inserted at the lower left-hand hole and brought out at the upper right-hand hole. When the stitch is carried out correctly over the entire piece of embroidery, a very firm, almost woven substance results, which will stand a great deal of hard wear. Indeed, this lasting quality is one special advantage of canvas embroidery.
In this kind of work the canvas should be completely hidden by the wool, silk, or thread in which it is worked, and care should be taken to choose a suitable thickness of either material to exactly fill the holes of the canvas. As a rule, needlework pictures are carried out in wool, but small designs can be very beautifully worked out entirely in silks.
Gobelin stitch is a useful variety of tent stitch, worked as shown in Fig. b, Diagram 2, over two rows of canvas in height and one in width. It is often used as a raised stitch, over padding laid across the canvas. The Gobelin stitch is then worked over it, so as to show the padding through. This should be of some material like gold thread or braid, which gleams through with advantage to the appearance of the work.
Irish stitch, or Florentine stitch, also called cushion stitch, takes one of its names from much well-known work that may be found specially in Italy. In Florence, for example, is a famous set of chairs in the Borgello Museum showing the stitch worked in zigzags in bands of different colours. It is also effectively used on smaller articles, such as book-covers, card-cases, etc.
To work it, four holes of canvas are usually covered with perpendicular stitches, as shown in the diagram, Fig. c. To make a straight line at the top and bottom the stitches are shortened, where necessary, to cover three or two holes. The stitches are often also worked in sets of two, three, or four stitches side by side, of equal height. The method of working is sufficiently indicated in the diagram.
Besides canvas as groundwork, these stitches can also be worked on any material, such as coarse linen, where the threads are easily seen, crossing at right angles. Much of the sampler work so much in vogue in the eighteenth century was carried out on coarse linen, as well as fine canvas. It is often possible to work the stitches so as to pull the material slightly, and so form an openwork appearance over it.