Read an Excerpt
Embroidery Stitches, Including Crewel
By Marion Nichols
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1974 Marion Nichols
All rights reserved.
Embroidery stitches have long been used to enhance the beauty of fabric. Some stitches had a practical purpose in addition to being decorative. Much has been written on the subject of embroidery, and each writer has put forth a method to produce the desired effect. Having explored many of these methods, and being fundamentally lazy, I have decided that the best way is the easiest way for the individual to accomplish his or her purpose. Embroidery, as any hobby, should be fun. When we have to struggle for too long at any learning situation we become bored and go on to something else.
Like most little girls of my generation, I was required to do a bit of "fancy work" every day, and each stitch was laboriously taught to me. It was worked, ripped out and reworked, and many tears were shed until the required perfection was accomplished. Why, then, I ever picked up the embroidery needle again after I reached the age of reason, I shall never know. I truly believe that the reason few modern adults are passing this skill down to their daughters is that they too were exposed to embroidery in exactly the same manner. For a time the art of embroidery was rapidly becoming extinct in this country.
Then came a rebirth. Women found a need, in this pre-packaged, pre-frozen, pre-measured-mix age of ours, to express themselves creatively. With the help of modern printing methods, fabrics and yarns, and magazine exposure, embroidery became an available and exciting mode of self-expression. "I did it myself," became the happiest expression of the day. As more and more people found the joy of stitchery, the demand for more supplies and knowledge grew. Suddenly, everyone is doing it—or wants to try!
Why then write another book on stitchery? To sum up the complaints of my students, the problems seem to be these: "I'd love to do it but I don't know how"; "I know the stitch I want to use but I don't know the name of it"; "My needle never seems to be in the same position that the illustration shows"; "I can't hold my work in that position" and so forth.
The solution, then, seems to be a workbook that is specific enough to teach method to the novice and that can also serve the experienced as a reference.
These are the purposes of my book:
1. To arrange stitches in a logical order.
2. To identify embroidery stitches by their most logical and commonly used names.
3. To illustrate each stitch and step clearly, to avoid confusion. (As a further aid, the back of each stitch, shown in gray, is also illustrated. The back of a stitch is always represented as the mirror image of the stitch itself.)
4. To describe each step in sequence.
5. To suggest appropriate applications for the various stitches.
6. To relate easy stitches to more difficult ones, so that the learning process becomes a progressive expansion of skills.
7. To increase the "vocabulary" of stitches to the point where self-expression becomes a pleasure.
8. To encourage one's personal development of method.
I notice that as I work a step repeatedly, a rhythm develops, and I say a little phrase over and over to help me remember each step. It's just like dancing with your needle and thread! Wherever possible, I have drawn this rhythm and written the phrase. I must stress, however, that although the pattern fits me, you will have to adjust it to your own use. In the beginning the stitches you form will be uneven and your motions will be awkward. Keep at it; practice; form the stitches over and over until each movement is smooth. Pay attention to the length of each stitch, the direction in which you are working, the tension required to make the stitch compatible with the material, and the direction in which the pull comes to complete the stitch. It soon becomes automatic.
How To Use This Encyclopedia Workbook
Identification of Stitches. Stitches, like folk songs, have been handed down from generation to generation and, like some songs, have many variations in name and method. Of course, the name and way you were taught is the correct and only way! However, the "loop" stitch you learned and the loop stitch I learned may be two entirely different stitches. This had led to much confusion. Therefore, I have tried to identify each stitch by the name most commonly used, and have listed its other names as well. Each and every stitch name appears in the index at the end of this book.
There are ten basic groupings or "families," keyed A through J.
Each family has its own basic motion.
a. Straight stitches: an even up and down motion.
b. Back stitches: an encircling motion.
c. Chain stitches: a looping motion.
d. Buttonhole or blanket stitches: a cornering loop motion.
e. Fly or feather stitches: a swinging motion.
f. Cross stitches: a crossing motion.
g. Knotted stitches: a wrapping motion.
h. Composite stitches: a combination of two different motions.
i. Couched or laid stitches: a holding-down motion.
j. Woven stitches: an in-and-out motion.
Progression While Learning. The stitches in each family grouping are explained in order of progressive difficulty. I strongly suggest that novices begin with the first stitch in the family and master it before going on to the next. The more complicated stitches are sophisticated variations on more elementary stitches, and can only be fully appreciated if one has been exposed to the basic material.
The stitches within families are classified as follows:
Isolated: one stitch usually standing alone; the basic stitch.
Line: the basic stitch in various line arrangements.
Angled: the basic stitch worked at an angle.
Stacked: the basic stitch stacked up in a pile.
Grouped: a patterned arrangement.
Combined: further decoration of the basic stitch or its variations.
Refresher for Experienced Needlewomen. Working a stitch once or twice and mastering it does not necessarily imply remembering it forever. The simplest stitches, which are used over and over, will come to mind readily. However, it is handy to know where to find something special when you are feeling creative. For this reason I give a reminder of the basic rhythm, the direction of work, a list of appropriate uses and other miscellaneous remarks for each stitch.
Sampler Chart. A diagram of stitch placement is included at the beginning of each chapter. The diagram is in the shape of the area the stitch will cover—sometimes the actual line or lines to be covered; sometimes parallel lines which serve as a guide and sometimes geometric or natural shapes such as circles, squares or leaves. The name of each stitich is printed on the diagram.
Tips for Embroiderers
To Begin. Select a comfortable place to work with good over-the-shoulder light. Gather your supplies. Fabric will be preferably medium-weight linen or cotton. If you plan to make a sampler for each family, you will need ten pieces, each about 12" by 15". The design is based on an area roughly 8" by 11" (including borders) and the extra material allows for moving the hoople while work is in progress.
If, on the other hand, you plan to learn only a few stitches, these could be arranged on a long, narrow strip of material, as samplers were originally done. Stitches from many families can be arranged in a design suitable for framing or for making into a pillow.
Hoople. A 6- or 7-inch round wooden hoople (hoop or embroidery frame) with a screw adjustment is satisfactory for most embroidery situations. Hooples come in all sizes and shapes, and you may want others for different occasions. Place the smaller (inside) ring under the fabric at the area where you will be working. Force the larger ring over the linen and tighten the adjustable screw until fabric is held drum-tight. Remove the hoople when you are not working on the fabric, so it will not crease.
Needles. Purchase embroidery or crewel needles—short, sharp needles with long, slender eyes. Sizes 3, 4 or 5 are suitable for two-ply crewel wool. Tapestry needles or darners, sizes 17, 18 or 19 should be used for doubled or tripled two-ply wools, as well as for knitting or worsted yarns.
Threading is easy if you learn to do it properly. Double one end of the yarn over the eye of the needle and hold between thumb and forefinger of your left hand as if you were pinching salt. Withdraw the needle and, without releasing pressure, roll back thumb and forefinger just enough to see the yarn and push the eye of the needle down on the yarn, using a sawing motion. When you release your thumb and forefinger, enough yarn will protrude so that you can pull it through. To save time keep threaded needles in a cork.
Yarn. Collect scraps of knitting yarns of various weights. When learning, it is not advisable to use anything heavier than a four-ply worsted. The stitches indicated on the samplers in this book are meant to be done with two-ply crewel yarn. This may be purchased at yarn and needlework shops and comes in many shades. Persian yarn is three two-ply strands loosely bundled together. Separate these strands when working unless a heavy stitch is desired. Sport weight or fingering yarn is also available and satisfactory.
Organize your yarn on a piece of cardboard to keep it neat. Cut the yarn into 30-inch lengths and organize by color. Cut a slit at each end of the cardboard, then just slip the threads into the slit at the top, loosely stretch them across the length of the cardboard, and slip the other ends through the slit on the other end of the cardboard.
Scissors. You will need a pair of small, sharp embroidery (or needlepoint) scissors to snip threads. Do not use them for cutting paper or fabric. Get good quality scissors and respect them; keep them in a case when not in use.
Thimble. Your thimble should fit the middle finger of your sewing hand tightly enough to stay on without pinching. Do use it; it takes a little while to get used to, but is well worth the effort. After setting the needle in place, push it through the fabric with the thimble, while pulling the point out of the fabric with thumb and index finger.
To Embroider. Choose a stitch. Place hoople on a sampler. Choose appropriate yarn and thread through needle. Weave end into fabric or tie small knot in end. Bring thread up at A and pull through. Follow A to B, etc., through individual stitch. End off on back by weaving threads in or tying a clove hitch (see knotted stitches, G.19). Cut the thread about ½ inch from the knot.
To Finish. After embroidery is finished it must be pressed. If it is soiled, it should be washed (gently in cold-water soap if all the materials used are washable) or dry-cleaned.
To avoid flattening stitches when pressing, place a heavy pad on the ironing board. I use an old sheet folded many times. Place the dry embroidery face-down on the pad, cover with a damp pressing cloth (I use an old pillow case wrung out in cold water) and press until dry. Touch up around edges on front surface with point of iron, being careful not to flatten stitches.
Finished pieces may be made into pillows, framed as pictures, lined and mounted in a long strip as a bell-pull sampler, or inserted into a notebook encased in transparent acetate sheet protectors. These 8 ½" by 11" plastic envelopes are available at your local stationery store.
Excerpted from Embroidery Stitches, Including Crewel by Marion Nichols. Copyright © 1974 Marion Nichols. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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