Early decoration in many cases was actually adopted to increase the usefulness of the object ; the savage, by the notching of his paddle, not only ornamented it but ensured a firmer grip as well ; also, by the roughening of the sword-hilt with a relief pattern, the same result is obtained. We should seize upon points of construction and heighten their interest by suitable decoration. The ornament must not be an encumbrance to the object it is supposed to adorn. For example, a design in raised bullion on a cushion is essentially out of place; one could not rest against it with any degree of comfort. The aim of the embroideress should be to make a decoration that does not in any way take away from the usefulness of the cushion.
A good example of utility in decoration is the use of the herring-bone stitch, by which over an ugly seam the adding of this stitch renders the junction of the two edges of cloth more secure and less unsightly. The use of the buttonhole stitch likewise serves a practical and an ornamental purpose as well. Fringes arose out of the ravelling of the edge of fabrics. At first the frayed ends were tied into bunches, and by degrees these regular tyings became elaborated into handsome patterns, and now these fringes are considered indispensable as decoration. They are very useful in finishing an edge. The worker can either fray the edge of the material and knot the ends, or make the fringe separately and attach it to the material. The first duty of quilting is to keep the padding in its place; and the simplest, and perhaps the most serviceable pattern is the one employed on the subject which forms the frontispiece to this book. Many beautiful quilted patterns are to be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The ornamenting of book covers by clasps and corner plates was done to strengthen and protect them. They are now successfully used purely as ornaments suggested in the tooling of leather, and in embroidered book covers.
When we speak of applied ornament, it is often misunderstood, for this reason : it suggests to some people that one person makes it, and another sticks it on, and, to some extent, that is what happens in the production of much of the modern embroidery. Unfortunately, a great deal of it gets stuck on in the wrong place. There are many examples of mis-applied ornament. Our "best" pillow cases and table cloths, intended to be used on high-days and holidays, are all, at least, serviceable; they are not of the drawing-room class of needlework, which is considered too good to use ; made only to show, and then to fold up and put away. The fact is, most of this work is so ornamented that it is quite impossible to use. One thing we do know, it cost a lot, and that is why it is prized.
Salesmen are occasionally heard to advance this argument as a reason for the high price of some over-decorated article he is trying to sell: that, on account of the difficulties which arose in producing it, they are compelled to ask such an unusual price for the article. In many cases the difficulties referred to, are caused by the maker trying to imitate some other material, and frequently something not suitable for the functions of the article. We must always bear in mind it is the material, so to speak, which gives us the lead in decoration, and it is only right for us to follow that lead.