The Art of Embroidery

Embroidery is a very old art. It is the art of sewing decorative stitches on clothes. For hundreds of years people in many parts of the world have made their belongings beautiful by embroidering them. Evidences of embroidered clothing have been found by archeologists digging among ancient Assyrian and Persian ruins. The Old Testament describes the beauty of the embroidery done by the Jews in Biblical times.

In The Middle Ages embroidery reached a high point. Great Italian and Dutch painters designed needlework tapestries illustrating religious subjects. Noblewomen spent many hours in their castles embroidering gowns to be worn on state occasions, or altar cloths and hangings for the church.

One remarkable medieval embroidery is the Bayeux Tapestry, representing the battle of Hastings. Its warriors and horses, griffins, phoenixes, and monsters are worked in eight shades of wool on a linen strip measuring 230 feet long and nearly 20 inches wide.

Drawn work, a link between embroidery and lace, was a favorite of Medieval Spain and Sicily. Embroideries were so enriched in the 18th century that they were valued beyond their weight in gold. Much embroidery was done in England in the Elizabethan, Jacobean, Georgian periods.

In the 1700's and 1800's, little girls in America had to spend a certain amount of time each day learning to embroider. They practiced different stitches on a piece of linen that was called a sampler. Houses, animals, numbers, the letters of alphabet, and sometimes verses were embroidered on the sampler. When the stitching was finished, the little girl added her name, her age, and the date, and the sampler was complete.

Each country has its own style of embroidery. The Chinese and Japanese, using silk and gold threads on fine damask, embroider dragons, birds, flowers, and landscape. The warm countries Spain and Italy produce embroideries that are gay in color and pattern. Needlework in Greece is more formal. It is of geometric design and usually done in black and white only. In the Balkan countries embroidery of fine stitches in vivid colors decorates clothing and linens that are used for generations. France and Switzerland are noted for the most delicate kind of needle work, often embroidered in plain white. American embroidery, like the American people, reflects many cultures, European, Oriental, and native Indian. American needlework not only borrows from the riches of the past, but continues to show new designs in keeping with the present.

There is a renewed interest in needle work in this century. It is part of a strong movement to raise crafts to the high level of the arts. All forms of art have their effects on needlework. Old techniques are adapted to new, materials are simpler, forms are free and sweeping, ideas are sparkling and adventurous.

Embroidery Equipment
In order to embroider, you will need cloth or a piece of clothing on which to work, a selection of long-eyed needles of different thickness, a thimble, and pair of small scissors. A pair of wooden or metal embroidery hoops will help keep your fabric flat and smooth as you work. The portion of the fabric on which you are working is centered over the smaller hoop, right side up, and the larger hoop is then placed over both the fabric and the smaller hoop.

You will also need embroidery yarns. A number of different yarns may be used. A favorite embroidery yarn is six-strand mercerized cotton. This may be used in its entire thickness, or a length of it may be cut off and the strands divided into two or three-strand thickness for finer work. Knitting yarns, crochet cotton, silk and mercerized cotton twist, and raffia straw yarn are also used. If you are unable to find exact color you need in embroidery floss, you may even use several strands of ordinary mercerized sewing cotton.

Needlework has become a subject for textbooks and manuals, for workshops, studios, and clubs. Your enthusiasm will grow with every basic stitch you learn. Once these are learned, you can put your imagination to work, vary the stitches, combine them, invent your own. You'll find many interesting surprises.

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