Early Period Needlework

(Transcribed by Ceara ní Néill. Read the rest here.)

Documenting needlework techniques for Arts competitions can be a problem for early period pieces. Here are some references gleaned from various sources which may help.

Cross stitch is probably the oldest decorative stitch in the world and is used by every ethnic group in some way or another. (Clabburn) While the origins of the stitch are unknown, it was in use in the Middle East by the 8th Century AD. (Gostelow 2) It should be noted that this refers to individual cross stitches, not to counted cross-stitch work.

Chain stitch is one of the oldest and most universal stitches after the cross stitch. It appears all over the~ world but seems to have spread from India and Persia. A silk example from China from the 6th Century BC is shown in this publication.(Clabburn) According to Gostelow (2), the oldest surviving example is from the Pazyryk excavations (Scythian, 500 BC). It had long been in use by the Copts and was being used by Islamic embroiderers in many areas.

The button hole or blanket stitch was used in Bronze Age Denmark (1400 BC) to finish raw fabric edges including the neckline and sleeve openings. It was sometimes interlocked and other threads were woven thru the stitches. (Hald and Brunholm).

The Kensington or outline stitch was also used in Bronze Age Denmark. Sometimes it was pulled tightly to form ridges on the fabric. (Hald and Brunholm)

Simple couching can be traced back to the Scythian embroideries of the 1st century BC. (Clabburn). One of the earliest examples is a fragment from an Altaian-Scythian saddle cover from Pazyryk. (Gostelow 2.)

The Coptic peoples used chain, cross, whipped running stitch, satin stitch, stem stitch and split stitch. First to ninth centuries BC. (Gostelow)

The Bayeaux Tapestry used laid and couched work, stem stitch and outline stitch. (Clabburn)

The Hayland ‘Tapestry’ (approx. 1200 AD) used the double running or Holbein stitch to form large geometric patterns. (Clabburn)

Calligraphic embroidery can be traced back to at least the 10th Century. One example is embroidered in silk chain stitch on a silk ground and gives the name of a vizer and calligrapher who served at the Abbasid court from 928 to 930. A European example is the Stole of St. Cuthbert, done in split stitch, which mentions Bishop Frithestan who held a see at Winchester from 909 to 931. (Gostelow 2)

Appliqué can be traced back to the Altaian-Scythian burials, dating from about the 4th century BC. The Copts also used appliqué. Gostelow (2) feels that appliqué many have been introduced into western Europe by the crusaders.

When replicating early period work, care should be taken to replicate not only the stitch types, but also the needle size and thread type and thickness.

If you have documentation for stitches or stitching techniques, please send them in and we will print them in following issues and send you a free issue.


 

Sources:
Clabburn, Pamela The Needleworker’s Dictionary. William Morrow and Company, 1976.
Gostelow, Mary The Complete International Book of Embroidery. Simon and Schuster, 1977.
Gostelow, Mary Mary Gostelow’s Embroidery Book. E.P. Dutton, New York, 1978.
Hald, Margrethe and Bronholm, H.C. Costumes of the Bronze Age in Denmark. Oxford University Press, 1940.

 

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