MOST people are familiar with the aspect of an embroidery-frame, or have some idea of what it is like. It consists of two 'beams' or rollers (A) on which the textile is wound, or to which it is merely attached by being sewn to a piece of stout webbing nailed to the wood, and two cross-sticks (B) which complete the frame and do the stretching, transversely by threads passed through the material to be worked on, and lengthways by means of pegs or screws in the beams. This is the ancient loom, simple and primitive, and coeval with any sort of textile first woven by the sons of Adam : two upright posts stuck in the ground, and a beam above to hold the warp-threads, and weights below to keep all tight, or a second beam to hold the finished web. Instead of working the needle in and out of the woven stuff, the weaver works his shuttle in and out of the warp-threads, forming the web or woven stuff itself; or, when the simple machine is a little elaborated, shoots the shuttle between the two sets of threads, which are kept apart by a simple contrivance. The old hand-loom can be seen figured in many of the mediaeval manuscripts, where ladies are drawn carding, spinning, weaving, and embroidering, sitting in pretty gardens, the blue sky overhead, with garlands or jewels in their hair, and graceful gowns on their bodies - a different picture from that presented by our latter-day weaving-sheds, where every hour spent in the hot exhausted air among the clatter and crash of machinery is an undeserved penance to the work-girls.
Our embroidery-frame is either supported on a table or against a chair ; or, which is far more convenient, is set in a stand on the ground, an arrangement which steadies the work, and leaves both hands free to ply the needle. In preparing and stretching framework great neatness and precision should be observed from the outset. The first little piece of carelessness is demoralising, and leads to more; and, indeed, mistakes and disasters to the work may arise from not straining it carefully in the frame, quite straight and exact, the raw edges cut even and hemmed or sewn to a stout tape, through which to pass the strings that are used to stretch the work.
Everything must be kept very clean (it is impossible to be too particular in this respect), and a thin cheap lining-muslin should be procured to sew over the parts of the work which are finished or not yet started. The learner will soon notice that if she gets into a careful, precise method from the first, the difficulties of working will the more readily be minimised, Silks, too, must be carefully kept, the different shades of one colour arranged together, the colours being labelled for working at night, until the worker is well practised in recognising the different shades by artificial light. Gold and silver should be kept from the light as much as possible, and should be cut off in lengths not over long, as the metal thread easily spoils and breaks. Floss-silk will want much nicety in keeping, as well as in handling, for it gets rough in a little while, not being twisted, or only very slightly. Of such silks none should be left lying about but what is needed for present use, which must be wound neatly on cards, if not on nice little ivory or mother-of-pearl winders, which are certainly a luxury, but good to have, as they are smooth and clean, and keep the silk fresh.
These observations are not so trivial as perhaps they seem, and all tend towards the one general axiom, ' Cleanliness and neatness,' without which your work will be naught. I have sometimes seen work, which was allowed to lie about the room between-whiles, gathering all the impurities of smoke and dust; the general dimness of aspect of such work can be imagined, and shows in itself bad workmanship. True talent, like true genius, is never slovenly ; for the acquiring of this quality of order and care, on which I lay so much stress, is part of the apprenticeship that every worker with hand and eye must go through, be it in workshop or studio, or labouring alone and self-taught, towards excellence in any art.
A few words more about setting to work before we pass on to consider design and the nature of materials used in embroidery. I have said elsewhere that, in arranging and starting a piece of work, you must consider whether the stitches employed will necessitate the use of a frame, and also what stitches will look well in unison. Some stitches are more quickly and better done in the hand ; and as it is certainly-tiring to sit a long while bending over a frame, even to those who are used to it, it is well to avoid the use of one for work that can be done without it.
For instance, satin stitch is often worked in a frame ; but when worked on ordinary materials that are not very fine or likely to pucker, it is equally well done, and much more quickly, without stretching. For darning, and for chain-stitch and other looped stitches, I consider a frame out of the question. When chain-stitch is worked on a stretched material it is done with a hooked needle, and called tambour work. Tapestry, long and short, and featherstitches are practically all stitches for the frame; as also, it goes almost without saying, are couching, applique, and similar methods of work. The rough division of stitches into frame-work and non-framework is a kind of guide as to what stitches to use together. But the learner will do well to avoid a heterogeneous mixture of stitches and had best confine herself to the use of one or two. Variety and effect are more honestly produced by good design and careful colouring than by the skilfullest admixture of stitches.