At first glance it may seem strange - if one has not thought about the matter - to say that our needlework will, to some extent, reveal our aims in life. Yet it is true; and whether we know it or not, our hand-work, and the way we do it, gives a wonderfully accurate indication of some of our chief characteristics, be they good or bad. More than this, the style of needlework that we do as a recreation, in our spare time, will to a very large extent help to mould our taste and influence us in a way we little imagine.
Speaking broadly, all needlework, whether it be plain or fancy stitchery, crochet or knitting, can be placed under one or two heads: good art and bad art. Of course there are many grades, and a multiplicity of degrees of excellence; but in the main it is not at all difficult to decide to which category a piece of work belongs; as a rule it falls easily into its proper division: there is no halfway house.
Is the work exactly what it pretends to be? Does it serve some definite purpose? Is it a type of work suited to the purpose for which it is to be used? Is it executed as well as the worker knows how? Is it done thoroughly? Is it done in such a way that it will wear well, and last long by reason of its careful workmanship? If so, the probability is that it will be good art.
On the other hand : Is the work a base, flimsy imitation of some superior form of the craft ? Is it executed with the definite intention of deceiving the eye? Is it shoddy work, or a sham? Is it carelessly done, with no attention to finish? Is it unsuited to the purpose for which it is to be used? Is it all surface show, with no body in it that will stand legitimate wear? Is it the type of work that demands neither thought nor mechanical skill from the worker? Then there is no question but that it will be bad art.
Consider a concrete case and you will see more clearly what I mean. I saw a girl doing a piece of so-called embroidery the other day - wild roses on white satin it purported to be. But when one got close to it, the satin was of the commonest kind (not worth ornamenting in any case, and impossible to beautify by reason of its own inherent cheapness), and the roses were being carelessly worked in coarse, straggling stitches, each made to cover as much space as possible. Neither the material nor the work had any durable quality - though perhaps it was just as well that it would not last; it certainly wasn't worth preserving! It was merely a bit of showy surface work that was a fraud through and through. The flowers were given a raised appearance by being loosely worked with a very thick, coloured cotton; and at close quarters the shallowness of it all was only too apparent: one knew instinctively what an impossible rag the whole thing would be after the first cleaning!
I asked the girl what she was making? "Qh, I don't quite know" she said; "I'm just doing it to fill up my time - one must do something at the seaside, you know. Perhaps I shall make it up as a table centre . . . No, I don't suppose there will be any wear in it, but then, I shall be sure to throw it away the moment I am tired of it."
Now here was bad art from every point of view. It was bad work on poor material; it was being done for no definite purpose, the worker merely wanted to kill time; she did not consider it worth her while to put good work into it, because she meant to discard it almost immediately.
Just think what mo r a 1 harm all that was doing the girl! Think h o w i t indicated a lack of purpose and stability of ch arac-ter, an absence of any desire to attain to the best, a feeble mental outlook, an inartistic temperament, a disregard of the value of time, and a blunted sense of honesty!
A Dutch Interior, showing how artistically Cross-Stitch can be applied to Household Linen.
How much better it would have been if that girl had taken a small piece of linen, coarse dowlais if she could afford nothing finer, and have hemstitched the border, or drawn some threads and done a narrow simple piece of drawn-thread work round it, or feather-stitched along a hem and added a piece of crochet, and in this way made a tray -cloth that would have been of d e fi n i t e use when done, that would have stood a f a i r amount of wear, and would havebeen good art so far as it went, even though that was not very far.
By so doing, that girl would have been be nefiting the community, instead of injuring it; she would have been employing her time in producing work that was some use, instead of killing time by producing something worthless and adding yet one more inartistic item to a world that is over-stocked in that direction already, and doesn' t need its eyesight harassed any further.
Take your needle, my child, and work at your pattern; it will come out a rose by-and-by. Life is like that - one stitch at a time taken patiently and the pattern will come out all right like the embroidery.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
The lace makers, and embroiderers, and needle-workers of past ages set about their tasks in a very different manner. As individuals, they may often have been lacking in general learning, they may have known but little beyond that particular pattern they worked, but what they did, they did well - as well as ever they knew how; and they did it in such a way that their work was not only worth preserving, but it possessed lasting qualities that have withstood in some cases, generations of handling and use.