While the fascination has resulted in many ornamental art forms, artistic creations, none has had the same impact as needlework.
The embroidered tale is the story of the planet. Embroidery has existed in a different forms in every culture throughout the world. It's a timeless craft intrinsic to our material culture, whether portrayed on clothing, home items, or as artwork.
Embroidery has become one of the world's most popular crafts, being practiced in cultures all across the globe. Many contemporary creatives still use the age-old method today, making it a popular choice for seasoned crafters and aspiring artists.
Even if you didn't realize it, you're already familiar with needlework. We describe embroidery as the skill of adding decorative motifs to fabric with a needle. These designs depict in the thread made up of several stitches.
Beads, sequins, and pearls can also be utilized as embellishments in the composition, commonly circular due to the unique hoops needed to keep the fabric taut. Some artists, however, go beyond the ring to embroider in unexpected areas, such as metal surfaces or even tennis rackets.
It is not an exaggeration that embroidery has been around for a long. You can thank the Greek goddess Athena for the tradition of needlework. In addition to weaving, she is credited with handing it along. With such a powerful character associated with embroidery, it's no surprise that this associated the activity with the wealthy. Professional workshops and guilds in medieval England, for example, manufactured clothes made of excellent silks for high society families. They weren't all for the upper crust, though; there were folk art movements in Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, East Asia, and South America that catered to nonprofessionals.
The history of embroidery is as diverse as the craft's aesthetic capabilities. It's an ancient craft that began with the practical aim of mending clothing. Because clothing was so expensive to create, people rarely threw it away; instead, they patched it. This pragmatism grew into more of an expression through decorative arts over time. We trace its evolution here by delving into many of the cultures that have shaped it.
Archaeologists discovered the fossilized bones of a hunter dressed in embroidered robes in Sungir, a late Paleolithic burial site in Russia, in 1964. The huntsman's fur outfit and boots embellished with hand-stitched rows of ivory beads are the technique's first known example.
The artistic practice was also widespread in ancient Egypt around the 14th century BCE. King Tutankhamun's hand-stitched treasures are the most well-known examples of embroidery from this period. Decorative leopard skin, ceremonial tunics, and a well-preserved floral collar with "alternating rows of flower petals and flowers, leaves, berries, and blue faience beads sewed to a papyrus background" were buried alongside the pharaoh.
They discovered embroidered fabrics in graves dating from the 4th century BCE in China. They found the earliest instances of this period's embroidery in a burial chamber in Mashan, Hubei province.
They described the site as a "silk treasure house." It included well-preserved ritual garments covered with bright, embroidered patterns and mythical motifs such as dragons and phoenixes.
Embroidery first appeared in Japan in the 7th century. Adopted from its Chinese counterpart, Nihon Shishu (Japanese needlework) was once employed mainly for religious images, namely to depict Buddha. However, they utilized embroidery skills to decorate daily textiles, including traditional Bugaku dancing outfits and other secular clothes, beginning in the 14th century.
The Bayeux Tapestry, constructed in the 11th century and renowned for its size and skill, is arguably the world's most famous work of embroidered art. The 230-foot-long linen tapestry shows the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the Norman conquest of England in vivid detail.
In India, throughout the 16th century, needlework thrived. Ari, or "hook," embroidery was especially popular because Mughal royalty admired its delicate aesthetic. They initially employed this form of needlework to beautify leather but later adopted it for wall hangings and clothes, especially saris.
As the hook-stitch method (known in Europe as "tambour stitching") gained popularity in the 18th century in Britain and France, the artwork was "regarded as among the most expensive commodities for sale."
The 18th to early 19th centuries saw the Industrial Revolution, which altered the face of embroidery. Textiles, including needlework, could now be mass-produced thanks to machine automation. France opened the path for machine-made embroidery in the mid-1800s. As a result, the technology became less expensive and easier to create. This breakthrough drastically revolutionized the craft by lowering production costs and, as a result, making it more accessible to the general public.
Embroidery has had a renaissance in the last ten years. In her book The Subversive Stitch, some, such as author Rozsika Parker, argue that its rise correlates with the Great Recession of the late aughts.
The economic downturn fueled the impulse to return to handmade items. Making do with what you couldn't afford was a popular trend, and it still is today. Individual artists make very collectible pieces that people love to show in their homes, and the practicality of embroidering as decoration.
Although more machine-driven embroidery methods are available, hand stitching continues to provide a world of creative possibilities. With so many different stitches, fabric, and thread combinations, each hand-embroidered product has its charm and the opportunity to represent your distinctive style.
With so many different hand embroidery styles available, distinguishing between them might not be easy. But don't get your stitches twisted—we're here to explain how each approach differs from the next.
Here are a few popular methods:
Cross-stitching is an effortless style to learn if you're new to embroidery because of its simplex-shaped stitches. Cross-stitch designs, one of the earliest embroidery techniques, are frequently applied on woven, grid-patterned textiles (such as Aida cloth, Jobelan, and jute-style linen), acting as a guide for even stitches. You can count the threads on the fabric in each direction to ensure that the stitches are uniform in size. As a result, designs are frequently less flowing and boxier than typical embroidery. On the other hand, Cross-stitch has an angular character that makes it ideal for embroidering words and phrases.
Crewel embroidery, also known as crewelwork, is a style of surface embroidery that employs two wool threads simultaneously. This technique is typically used to follow the outline of a pattern and portrayed using several stitches.
Crewel needlework has a lengthy history dating back to the Medieval period, with one of the first examples being The Bayeux Tapestry (made in the 11th century). The 230-foot-long embroidered linen cloth depicts England's historical war, which ended with the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Crewelwork was popular in 17th century England for embellishing Jacobean-style domestic fabrics like curtains and bed coverings. Because of the robust wool (called crewel wool) used for its stitching, the technique was well suited for beautiful upholstered products.
While early crewel designs inspire many contemporary embroidery artists, it is not uncommon for them to utilize a variety of yarns. Crewel embroidery threads come in a wide range of colors and textures, ranging from wool blends to hand-spun ropes. Surface stitches commonly used include stem, chain, split stitches, classic satin stitch, and french knots. If you want to go for a more traditional style, we recommend selecting a linen twill fabric.
Don't be misled by the name; blackwork embroidery is not devoid of color! The phrase derives from its historical usage when artisans would stitch their designs using black thread. The style gained popularity in England during the time of King Henry VIII, whose first wife, Catherine of Aragon, imported blackwork attire from Spain with her. It is why the same technique refers to as Spanish blackwork.
The counted-thread technique is most suited for individuals seeking a traditional aesthetic, as it allows embroiderers to fill delineated designs with intricate, geometric patterns. Blackwork, like cross-stitch, may be done on almost any sort of fabric but does work better on an even-weave cloth where you can follow a grid. Backstitch and Holbein stitch, often known as the double running stitch, are significant stitches used in blackwork embroidery instead of cross-shaped stitches.
Unlike other conventional surface stitching methods that employ sharp ends, blackwork requires a tapestry needle with a blunt tip, making back-stitches and double-running stitches easier to construct.
Stumpwork, sometimes known as elevated embroidery, began in the mid-1600s in England. Hand stitching takes to the next level (literally) with this method, which builds on fundamental stitches to create three-dimensional images. Stumpwork embroidery artists produce their work by layering stitching, adding 3D embellishments such as beads, or stitching around shapes, wires, and padding on top of the fabric.
Nature is a favorite subject for stumpwork painters. Stitch and Bone, an Instagram craftswoman, creates gorgeous textile insects out of beads and thick fabrics, while En Avril, a French artist, transforms her animal designs into stunning tactile brooches.
Thread painting, also known as needle painting, is a type of needlework in which pictures resembling textile paintings are created by combining long and short stitches with various colors. Each stitch is like a brushstroke that blends into the next, made with many hues and tones of embroidery thread. Thread painting pieces can resemble Impressionist paintings or photorealistic works of art, depending on the fabric and thread utilized.
Several modern artists have adopted this incredibly expressive method. For example, Danielle Clough, a Cape Town-based artist, utilizes thick, vibrant yarns to create astonishingly lifelike portraits. When asked what motivates her to "paint with thread," she tells My Modern Met: "Embroidery came to me through failures and opportunities." I almost missed it by sketching on a piece of felt with thread and gradually adding colors. It is, along with photographs, resulted in my technique, which some refer to as thread painting or freestyle stitching. It's even referred to as chicken scratch! I never had an inspirational moment, but rather a process of doing, loving, and making that blossomed into what it is now."
This style includes needlework that does not fit into any other categories. It is the most general approach for modern stitchers—they are not bound to one type. Instead, they can choose which stitches to utilize.
One of the advantages of hand stitching is that the materials required to begin the craft are modest. It implies it's simple to get your feet wet without investing a lot of money. And, with time, you can broaden the scope of your work.
Many beginners begin using embroidery kits, including all the supplies necessary to get started. However, if you're new to embroidery, whether thread painting, counted cross-stitch, or needlepoint, you'll need to stock up on supplies.
Fabric: Depending on your embroidery, you'll choose a fabric with loose or tight threads. And once you've mastered the technique, there's no end to the materials you can embroider on. Because the weave is open and on a grid pattern, many individuals begin with Aida cloth while working with counted cross-stitch or needlepoint. Cotton is a low-cost beginning material that works well for freehand methods like thread painting. Linen explicitly designed for embroidery will also be offered in specialty shops. Silk is also a popular alternative if a sharp needle and short threads are employed.
Thread: Threads come in various weights and colors depending on hand embroidery. Many individuals start with embroidery floss, which is stranded cotton thread. They come in skeins, and you can divide them into six fine lines. DMC is the most widely used brand, offering various colors coded with numbers. Most threads are colorfast, which means they won't bleed underwater but check the packaging to make sure. Other lines used in needlework include pearl cotton, rayon floss, metallic thread, crewel yarn, Persian yarn, and silk thread. Use the same type of thread from the same manufacturer for a single project to provide a consistent aesthetic, as finish and thickness vary.
Needle: Depending on the weight of the thread and the weave of the cloth, different hands will be necessary. Embroidery needles, also known as crewel needles, are frequently sold in packs of various widths to be utilized according to the fabric of the project. They have a sharp point to glide through the fabric smoothly and a large eye to make threading easier. They do needlepoint and cross-stitch with blunt-pointed tapestry needles.
Scissors: A sharp pair of scissors is essential for cutting threads without fraying them.
Hoop: This is where you will position the fabric to keep it taut so that the final pattern does not stretch or warp. Both plastic and wood hoops come in a variety of sizes. Other alternatives for working on your design include clip frames and scroll frames. Just don't leave the unfinished project stretched when you're not working on it, or you'll leave marks that will be tough to remove when you're done.
Good lighting and magnification: You'll need a good lighting source and magnification to see all of the details of your work and where you're laying the thread. Sitting beside a sunny window can help if you don't have anything else.