- Oriental couching
- Oriental stitch
- Laid oriental stitch
- Antique couching
- Antique stitch
- Figure stitch
- Roumanian couching
- New England economy stitch
This stitch is a form of self-couching - where the same thread is used to stitch a long, laid stitch which is then held down with one or more couching stitches before the next laid stitch is worked. (Conventional couching uses separate threads, often of different types, for the laid and couching threads.)
There are broadly three self-couching stitches: Romanian couching, Bokhara couching and Romanian couching stitch, but the distinction between them is not always clear. The majority view amongst needlework sources is that Romanian couching uses multiple long diagonal couching stitches to hold each laid thread; Bokhara couching uses multiple short diagonal couching stitches (possibly in a bricked or diagonal pattern) and Romanian couching stitch uses a single short diagonal couching stitch to hold each laid thread and the couching stitches are in a line so that they form a ‘spine’ down the centre of the area. However, not all sources are in agreement on a variety of points: the length of couching stitches is sometimes transposed between Romanian couching and Bokhara couching; sometimes Romanian couching uses only a single long couching stitch (potentially in a line, so making Romanian couching more similar to Romanian couching stitch); for Bokhara couching the short couching stitches are sometimes perpendicular to the laid thread rather than diagonal. Historical references frequently refer to ‘self-couching’ without specifying which stitch was used.
This stitch is shown here as a canvaswork stitch but it is also often worked as a surface stitch.
The many names by which this stitch is known are testament to its varied history. It has been widely used for centuries: in the Middle Ages it was used in central Europe to portray biblical figures, animals and birds, hence the name ‘figure stitch’. In China, during the Ming dynasty, self-couching was used on mandarin squares to fill areas of the designs (although it is possible this was Bokhara couching rather than Romanian).
By the 18th century in New England this stitch had become popular as an alternative to the traditional long and short stitch for crewelwork, as it allowed for more thread to be shown on the surface of the fabric (hence the name ‘New England economy stitch’).
Romanian couching is also still used in Jebel Haraz embroidery from Yemen where it is used to embellish festive garments.
Bring the needle up two canvas threads from the left of the end of the first stitch.
Make a diagonal stitch from the bottom right to the top left, to couch down the long stitch. It should cross a single horizontal canvas thread.
Next, skip three vertical canvas threads then make the second diagonal stitch. This should be at the angle to the previous diagonal thread.
Continue across the width of the first stitch holding it down at these intervals.
For the next row, make a second long stitch under the first and work back across it, placing diagonal stitches directly beneath and one across from those of the first row.
Structure of stitch
Rachel Doyle, RSN Essential Stitch Guides: Canvaswork (2013) , p.83
Mary Thomas, Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (1934) , p.176
Anchor Embroidery, 100 Embroidery Stitches
Kate Haxell, The Stitch Bible (2012)
Sarah Whittle, The Needlecraft Stitch Directory (2012)
Mrs Archibald Christie, Samplers and Stitches (1921) , p.133
Ann Pollard Rowe, 'Crewel Embroidered Bed Hangings in Old and New England', JSTOR (1973). Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4171589 (Accessed: 15 December 2021)
Schuyler Cammann. (1962) 'Embroidery Techniques in Old China', Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America pp.16-40. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20067040
Gertrude Townsend. (1942) 'A Set of Eighteenth Century Embroidered Bed Curtains', Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts pp.111-115. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4170862
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Jebel Haraz embroidery', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/middle-east-and-north-africa/pre-modern-middle-east-and-north-africa/jebel-haraz-embroidered-dresses-yemen (Accessed: 20 August 2012)
Mairead Reynolds. (1985) 'Suzani Embroideries', Irish Arts Review (1984-1987) pp.62 (1 page). Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20491769