THESE names are somewhat vague, the stitches being merely varieties of the same, but I quote them as the student will constantly hear them spoken of, or come across them in descriptions of old work. Tapestry-stitch, in effect, bears a slight resemblance to woven tapestry (hence its name, I suppose). We must not, however, fall into the common error of calling the art of decorative needlework ' tapestry '; tapestry is a definite technical term for a textile wrought in a loom in a special manner ; and a very ancient art it is too, and a most interesting one.
This stitch is, like darning, used for filling-in broad spaces; but, unlike darning, it is solid back and front (though not identical), and instead of being rather frail and loose, is close and extremely durable. The
Fig. 11 worker aims at laying the stitches upright in rows (see Fig. II), and when one row is done the next is laid with the stitches fitting close into those of the last row. This forms a laborious building-up of surface, simple enough where only a little shading or gradation of colour is wanted. Such a method of work was formerly, and is still, a very favourite one for embroidering figures, and here it becomes difficult as well as laborious.
A faithful study of ancient figure-work, however (and early artists excelled in this branch of the art), will show that the mediaeval needleworker depended greatly on his design, and that he displayed his skill every bit as much in leaving out as in putting in. We find drapery depicted by harmoniously flowing, strongly-marked lines enclosing broad masses of colour ; flesh-tints, which are almost too beautiful and varied for a great painter to reproduce, are frankly and gracefully given up, and our needle artist gives us instead, wellmarked features outlined with a brown or black line, the flesh itself being executed in a sort of monochrome in pinky-brown, with a very little brown shading used where absolutely necessary to mark the expression. Hair, also, is frankly conventionalised, and yet the warm masses and sunlit ringlets of nature are pleasantly interpreted by noble and simple lines and one or two gleams of bright colour. The very simplicity and harmony of such a design give what can never be attained by ill-advised attempts at needle-painting with a hundred different colours, an image of beauty, namely, not marred in the interpretation. It is an.old story - this wisdom of the true artist in thoroughly understanding the capabilities of his materials and tools, and asking no more of his art than it can easily and truthfully give.
It is as well to put down here what I want to say somewhere in these pages with regard to early figure-design: those who are not familiar with the early form of art are apt to laugh at what they consider the childish simplicity with which men and women were portrayed; and, if they are accustomed to ponder over what their eyes see, they will wonder the more, comparing this rude drawing of the figure with the grace and delicacy with which rose and vine tendril, or any such natural growth were drawn.
It is only when the eye becomes accustomed to look for certain qualities in certain arts (not expecting, for instance, to find in an embroidered face transparency of tone or warm depths and shadows as in a picture) that it accepts and appreciates those same qualities, and rejects work that looks more ' real' because it is full of over-confident attempts to realise what is beyond its limited power.
This may sound pedantic; and the student may say that he objects on principle, and as a thinking individual living in the holy nineteenth century, to accepting an oblong with a dot in the middle of it as a drawing of an eye in any art, except that of the child and mud-pie period. He may be right so far as regards modern work -though even here I am not sure; for, as aforesaid, simplicity is one of the first principles of this art. But, although the mediaeval artist's conception of the human figure, characteristic of early times and early beliefs, would certainly be out of keeping with the temper of latter-day design, I still hope that the simplicity and wonderful power of expression of such work will appeal to many, and that few students will turn aside from a genuine admiration of what is admirable herein to jeer at any archaism in feature-drawing. It is one of the great and serious defects of modern criticism in art, not to accept the good faith and beliefs of the period under observation, but to subject every work of past times to a modern test of excellence, which is in itself too often defective.
I have not forgotten that we are considering a certain group of stitches, the first of which is peculiarly adapted for hangings and panels of a lasting nature, into which figures may be beautifully and effectively introduced. Long-and-short stitch and feather-stitch are merely variants
of the same. A glance at the diagram will show that the former is well adapted to filling a broad space, starting from the outline, the stitches radiating slightly from a centre. Another row within this may be added of a different shade, but for the sake of clearness it is not shown here.
In Fig. 13 feather-stitch is shown, the stitches starting from the centre and working outwards. This form of the stitch is constantly employed in old English work of the Jacobean period, and later on into
the early eighteenth century. The stitches are built up from a centre line or stem, in close and compact rows, different gradations of colour being used where needed. These 42 slightly varying methods of employing the long-and-short stitches produce extremely thick and enduring work ; I will not say as firm and close in surface as Arras tapestry, but certainly at its finest not far off. The work is usually executed in wool; and, indeed, in silk would necessitate a quite extravagant use of this costly material, which could be better displayed in other ways.
In the old work mentioned above, these stitches are sometimes used alone, throughout the whole of an ample hanging; in other specimens they are employed together with other and lighter stitches, often for the sake of filling the surface more rapidly. For instance, in one old hanging that I know, a great bold leaf, about a foot long, is outlined with long-and-short stitch, and the veins done in the kindred feather-stitch ; but the body of the leaf is filled with a crabbed, loose stitch, similar to the looped feather-stitch mentioned in the first chapter. The whole piece of work is a wildly eccentric assembly of different stitches, and has an interesting individuality of its own, for whoever worked it must have taxed her invention to produce variety in a passing spirit of impatience at the monotony or at the dimensions of her work.