A selection of craft information for artisans of the HFS.


    Cross Stitch Embroidery

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    Join date : 2011-05-30

    Cross Stitch Embroidery

    Post  Admin on Wed Jun 01, 2011 10:23 pm

    Many of the ladies in my
    local area enjoy working embroidery, and cross stitch is undoubtedly one of the
    most popular stitches. Nearly all the work done at the Needlework Nights I host is cross stitch. Despite its popularity, it is often
    mistakenly considered to be out of period when, in fact, there are many
    examples of cross stitch dating from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.



    One of the oldest examples
    of cross stitch embroidery is a fragment of cloth, found in a Coptic cemetery
    in upper Egypt. It is estimated that this piece may date back to the sixth or
    seventh centuries AD. The fragment -- featuring a roundel with an outer floral
    border encircling a depiction of the Visitation -- includes cross stitches, as
    well as satin stitch, split stitch, and couched work.1 Cross stitch embroidery
    flourished during the T'ang dynasty in China (618-906 AD), and it is thought
    that cross stitch may have spread westward along trade routes during this time.



    It is rare to see cross
    stitch done as the sole stitch on any pre-Renaissance embroidery in western
    Europe. Generally, cross stitch was used in addition to other work, as split
    stitch, satin stitch, and so forth. One such example is seen on an English seal
    bag dating back to 1319. It features the arms of the city of London -- an
    escutcheon with St. Paul holding a sword and book. St. Paul (as well as the
    sword and book) are worked in split stitch and underside couching, but the
    field of the escutcheon is worked entirely in cross stitch. Another example,
    the Syon Cope, worked in the first twenty years of the fourteenth century,
    features cross stitch in addition to underside couching and split stitch on the
    heraldic orphreys, which were added to the cope when it was converted from a
    chasuble. Staniland writes that



    Cross stitch and
    counted-thread embroidery are both quickly mastered. Their repetitious nature
    meant that they produced effective ornament in a fairly short period of time,
    covering the ground of the work much more rapidly than the finer, more
    painstaking, needlepainting techniques.




    Cross stitch and long-armed
    cross stitch are seen on quite a few medieval German pieces. A mid-thirteenth
    century altar frontal from the Convent of Heiningen, depicting Christ in glory
    flanked by five saints, features a great deal of cross stitch. A twelfth
    century chasuble worked entirely in long-armed cross stitch in silk on a linen
    ground, from the Benedictine monastery of St. Blasien in the Black Forest, has
    38 compartments enclosing portraits of saints and scenes from the Old and New
    Testaments; in the border are medallions with half-length figures of prophets,
    evangelists, apostles, and princes. A fifteenth century German embroidered band
    from the Cathedral of Halberstadt is done entirely in long-armed cross stitch,
    and features a floral motif flanked by the words "SANCTA ODILIA SANCTUS
    KYLANUS AVE REGINA CELO MATER REGIS"; interspersed among the words are small
    human figures wearing crowns.3 Abstract geometric patterns are also often seen
    in medieval German long-armed cross stitch embroidery. Examples include a
    Westphalian box cover4 and several colorful pouches done in long-armed cross
    stitch.



    In the sixteenth century,
    embroidery evolved from an art form intended to decorate the church to a
    domestic pastime. The amount of altar frontals and vestments made in this
    period declines, and more embroidered garments, home furnishings, and samplers
    are produced. The popularity of embroidery was partially fueled by the new
    printing presses, and as the quality of printing and book production escalated,
    so too did the amount of books available to the aspiring embroiderer. It is
    thought that single pattern-sheets were being printed in Germany as early as
    the late fifteenth century; the earliest printed pattern book, Johannes
    Schˆnsperger's Ein New Modelbuch, was published in 1524.



    Patterns for cross stitch
    were often among the embroidery patterns offered in such books, along with other
    forms, such as blackwork, strapwork, lacis, and counted satin stitch. These
    patterns did not have a series of colors on the graph and a key, as modern
    patterns do; rather, areas to be cross-stitched were either blacked out or
    marked with a dot on the grid, and the stitcher could choose the colors for the
    marked areas as well as for the background. These patterns could either be
    counted onto the cloth (as Epstein indicates in her introduction to Nicholas
    BassÈe's New Modelbuch -- in fact, she refers to all 80+ of the cross stitch
    patterns in the Modelbuch as "counted cross stitch") or could be
    detached from the pattern book, holes punched through the pattern, and charcoal
    dust pounced through the holes and onto the linen.






    One can see the end result
    of such pattern-books on Jane Bostocke's sampler of 1598, the earliest known
    signed and dated sampler. On the top portion of the sampler, there are several
    cross-stitched figures in various stages of completion. One can even see
    evidence of unembroidered portions -- among the cross-stitched sections there
    are an elephant, a bird, and a rabbit which have been carefully marked onto the
    fabric (either via the punch-and-pounce method, or perhaps just pricked though
    the pattern and onto the cloth). Clearly, these motifs were from a pattern book
    or broadsheet, although there is no evident link between the motifs on the
    sampler and surviving examples of contemporary books or broadsheets.



    It is interesting to
    compare the cross stitched motifs on the Bostocke sampler, done in England, to
    an unfinished and unsigned German spot sampler of the early sixteenth century,
    done in cross stitch, long-armed cross stitch, double-sided Italian cross
    stitch, and double running stitches, pictured in Staniland's Embroiderers. Spot
    samplers featured individual motifs, or spots, arranged haphazardly; they were
    generally unsigned, and served as practice pieces of experienced embroiderers
    testing new designs, trial designs made before working a final piece, designs
    which later could be cut out of the linen and appliquÈd to a final piece, or
    simply records of designs.5 One motif that the two samplers have in common is
    the pelican in her piety, an image known to us in the SCA as the badge of the
    Order of the Pelican. Both the Bostocke sampler and the earlier anonymous
    German sampler have very nearly the same version of the motif -- of the bird
    piercing her breast to feed three young chicks, in a very geometrically
    rendered and symmetrical oak tree (although Bostocke adds a squirrel and and
    unfinished bird to hers as well). In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the image
    of the pelican in her piety had symbolic religious connotations, a graphic
    metaphor for the Crucifixion; it is a rather common image in art and embroidery
    in period. Period embroidery books routinely plagiarized patterns from earlier
    books;6 it would not be shocking to discover that the Bostocke sampler and the
    German sampler have their origins in related pattern-books.



    While embroidery-books were
    being printed all over Europe, these were not the only books which were
    responsible for the inspiration of Renaissance-era cross stitch. The Oxburgh
    hangings -- a series of cross-stitched panels worked in silk on linen, and then
    applied to velvet -- feature colorful pictures of plants and animals. The
    designs were drawn up by professional embroiderers in the household of
    Elizabeth of Hardwick, the Countess of Shrewsbury; these drawings were in turn
    based on books such as Conrad Gesner's Icones Animalium (1560) and Pierre
    Pelon's La Nature et DiversitÈ des Poissons (1555), as well as Mattioli's
    Comentarii (editions from 1568 and 1572). On some panels, such as "BYRD OF
    AMERICA," one can even see where the pattern has been drawn directly onto
    the linen. These embroideries were worked by Elizabeth and professional
    embroiderers under her own employ, as well as Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a
    prisoner in the custody of the Earl and Countess from 1569 to her execution in
    1587. Elizabeth of Hardwick also commissioned or worked several other cross stitch
    pieces, including a folding screen with thirty octagonal cross stitched panels.



    Slips, embroideries
    worked onto canvas and then cut out and appliquÈd to the background fabric
    (which was often velvet), were most often done in tent stitch, but there are a
    few examples of slips worked in cross stitch.7 Slips generally depicted flowers
    and plants, although some featured insects, animals, heraldic monsters, people,
    and even coats of arms. As with other embroidery, slips could be inspired by
    designs in pattern books or illustrations in books like the herbals and
    bestiaries which inspired the Oxburgh Hangings. The slips were applied to bed
    hangings, cushions, and other household furnishings; while clothing might be
    embroidered with similar patterns, it was easier to embroider directly onto the
    cloth, instead of embroidering a separate appliquÈ.



    Several seventeenth century
    band samplers -- portable records of favorite patterns and stitches worked
    across long strips of linen8 -- also feature cross stitched patterns. Since
    band samplers were generally unsigned, it is near useless to define which
    samplers feature cross stitch; it would simply be easier to look for pictures
    of band samplers, and to determine which bands were in fact cross-stitched.
    Many of these samplers feature bands which would be easy to adapt to create
    your own seventeenth century-style band sampler. Indeed, many period cross
    stitch designs, with some creativity (and a little bit of graph paper), could
    be adapted for use on any number of projects -- garb trim, pouches, table
    linens -- the list is limited only by your imagination!

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