This section is from the "The Ladies' Work-Table Book: Domestic Needlework in Nineteenth-Century America" book, by Margaret Vincent. Also available from Amazon: The Ladies' Work Table: Domestic Needlework in Nineteenth-Century America.
Care must be taken in grounding to make the effect of contrast very conspicuous. Thus, if you ground in dark colors, your pattern should be worked in shades of a light and lively tint; for those in which dark shades predominate, a light ground is indispensible. The canvas for white grounding should be white; and if for dark grounding, a striped fabric is employed. The stripes will sometimes appear through the wool. To prevent this it will be necessary to rub over the surface with a little Indian ink water previous to commencing working, but care must be taken not to let the mixture run into the edges of the work, and it must be quite dry before you commence grounding. A camel's hair brush is best for this purpose. In working in cross stitch, it is best to do so on the slant, working from right to left across the canvas, and then back again. This is preferable to crossing each stitch as you proceed, and gives an improved appearance to the work.
If you work in tent stitch, work straight, or your performance will be uneven when taken out of the frame. In all cases begin to go round from the centre, and work outwards, taking care to fasten off as you finish with each needleful, which should not be too long, as the wool is liable to get rough and soiled. It is also necessary to have them irregular as to length, to prevent the fastenings coming together which they will he apt to do if this suggestion is not attended to. For working in tent stitch with single wool, the canvas must not have more than fourteen threads to an inch; for cross stitch you must have a canvas not coarser than twenty-two threads to an inch; for the former, you will for every two and a half square inches require a skein of wool; in the latter case a skein will cover two inches. Following this calculation, you can easily ascertain the quantity of wool required for any piece of work; and it is advisable to purchase all your wool at the same time, otherwise you will have much trouble in matching the shades. An attention to these instructions will soon make you a proficient in the grounding department of the art.
This is at once one of the most difficult, and at the same time one of the most pleasing tasks which the votary of fancy needlework will have to perform; they generally produce the best effect when worked in wool and silk, with a judicious mixture of gold and silver beads. The hair and drapery should be worked in cross stitch; and the face, neck, and hands, in tent stitch; working four of the latter for one of the former. To obtain the proper tints for the face, etc., is no easy task; but it must be carefully attended to, as almost the whole beauty of the work depends upon it. The shades in these parts of the figure must be extremely close; indeed upon shading of the features the perfection of the performance mainly depends. The drapery also demands considerable care : the shades must be very distinct, particularly the lighter ones in the folds of the dress; and the back ground should be subdued as much as possible, that a proper prominence may be given to the figure: this object will be aided considerably by working in the lighter shades in silk : any representation of water or of painted glass, should be worked in the same material. The intention of the fair worker should be to give to her performance as near an approximation to oil painting as possible.
This should be done with German wool, as it more nearly resembles velvet. For working flowers, you must have two meshes, one-seventh of an inch in width, and the pattern must be worked in gobelin stitch. Be careful not to take one mesh out, until you have completed the next row. You work across the flowers; and in order to save an unnecessary waste of time, as well as to facilitate your work, it will be best to thread as many needles as you require shades, taking care not to get the various shades mixed together. This is more needful, as you cannot, as in cross stitch, finish one shade before commencing another. When the pattern is worked, cut straight across each row, with a pair of scissors suitable to the purpose, and shear the flower into its proper form.
For working animals or birds, you must have three meshes ; the, first, one quarter ; and the third, one seventh of an inch : the second must be a medium between these two. You will require the largest for the breast, and the upper parts of the wings. Cross stitch may be employed in working the beak, or feet, and is indeed preferable. You may work leaves, either in cross stitch or in gobelin stitch, as taste or fancy may direct. You may work either from a drawing on canvas, or from Berlin pattern ; but the latter is decidedly to be preferred.
For these patterns, it will be necessary to work in canvas, of eighteen or ten threads to the inch, according as you may desire the work to be a larger, or of the same size as the pattern: and, it must be borne in mind, that all the patterns are drawn for tent stitch, so that if you work in cross stitch, and wish to have it the same size as the pattern, you must count twenty stitches on the canvas, for ten on the paper. The choice of colors, for these patterns, is a matter of essential importance as the transition from shade to shade, if sudden and abrupt, will entirely destroy the beauty of the design. A natural succession of tints, softly blending into each other, can, alone produce the desired effect. In working flowers, five or six shades will be required : in a rose, or other large flower, six shades are almost in-dispensible ; of these, the darkest should form the perfect centre, then the next (not prominently, though perceptibly) differing from it, and the next four to the lightest tint; the whole, to be so managed, as to give to the flower that fulness, and distinctness, which its position in the design demands. For small flowers, so many shades are rarely necessary. The two darkest shades should be strong, the others soft; this secures sufficiency of contrast, without impairing that harmony of tints, which is so indispensible. You must recollect, that for work done in tent stitch, a greater contrast of shade is required, than for that done in cross stitch. This remark should never be lost sight of. A proper attention to the shading of leaves, is indispensible ; the kinds of green required, for this purpose, are bright grass green, for a rose ; Saxon green, for lilies, convolvolus, peonies, etc; French green, for iris, marigold, narcissus, etc; and for poppies, tulips, etc.; a willow green, which has a rather bluer tint than French green is generally ; and for leaves which stand up above the flowers, or near them, it is proper to work the tips in a very light green, as reflecting the rays of light : the next shade should be four times darker, or three at the least; the next two ; then the fourth shade, two darker than the third; and the filth, two darker than the fourth: take care that the veins of leaves be distinctly marked, and those which are in the shade should be darker than those upon which the light falls ; and if of a color having a bluish tint, a few worked in olive green will have a fine effect. The stalks of roses, etc., should be worked in olive brown or a very dark green. White flowers are often spoilt, by being worked of too dark a shade ; if you do not work with silk, you may obtain two distinct shades of white, by using Moravian cotton and white wool ; these combined with three shades of light stone color - the second two shades darker than the first, and the third darker than the second, in the same proportions - will produce a beautiful white flower, which if properly shaded, by leaves of the proper tints, will have a most beautiful appearance. The lighter parts of all flowers, in Berlin patterns, may be worked in silk; and in many cases that is a decided improvement; but it should never be introduced in the leaves ; here it would be out of place. We again repeat, beware of senile copying: try to engage your own judgment in this work, and, remember, that to become used to think and to discriminate, is one of the most valuable acquisitions that a young lady can attain.