- Petit point
This is the simplest and most common stitch in canvaswork and the foundation for many other stitches. Tent stitch is a diagonal stitch, usually worked across a single intersection of canvas from bottom left to top right.
Tent stitch has various names, some reflect the size of the stitch (petit point, gros point) and some reflect the different ways of travelling between the stitches and the amount of thread used on the back of the canvas (basketweave tent stitch, half cross tent stitch, continental tent stitch). This latter group are indistinguishable from the front of the canvas.
Petit point can be used as a synonym for tent stitch, but where it is used on double canvas it has a specific meaning: double canvas is woven with pairs of warp and weft threads so that the holes between the threads are not even. This allows tent stitch to be worked over a single thread (which is called petit point) or over two warp and two weft threads (gros point, as it is considerably larger than the petit point - a single gros point thread covers the same area as four petit point threads). Double canvas is also known as ‘Penelope’ or duo canvas.
If tent stitch is described as ‘trammed’, this means it has a long thread laid along the top of the canvas and the tent stitches cover this thread to provide slightly padded coverage. Tramming would normally be used with half cross tent stitch (which has the smallest amount of thread on the reverse).
The origins of the name ‘tent stitch’ are not clear, but it is possibly derived from the term ‘tent’ for an embroidery frame (most probably with similar etymological roots as tenter-hooks, the means for stretching cloth in the textile production process). By the early 17th century in England, ‘tent stitch’ had replaced the French ‘petit point’.
The earliest evidence of tent stitch is on a late 4th/early 5th century tunic, excavated in Dush, Egypt. Since then it has certainly been used around the world: Chefchaouen in Morocco has a long embroidery technique influenced by the 15th century arrival of Jewish and Muslim exiles from Spain; Chinese late 19th century Mandarin squares used it on gauze fabric, in Kohistan (north-western Pakistan) stitchers used it to embellish garments; 19th century Iranian Kerman embroiderers used it (possibly influenced by Kashmiri stitchers); in Arras, northern France, it was used with chenille thread in the late 19th century; 20th century Aleppo women used it as embellishment on their future bridegroom’s apparel.
In Britain it was employed in 13th century Opus Anglicanum, and by the 16th century Mary Queen of Scots (possibly influenced by her time at the French court) was using it in much of her needlework. Examination of the contemporaneous Hardwick Hall embroideries has found that both basketweave and (trammed) half cross tent stitches were used. The use of tent stitch continued through Queen Anne’s reign and was revived as a key part of 19th century Berlin wool work.
Structure of stitch
Identifying Tent stitch
This variant is worked in horizontal or vertical rows and makes a diagonal stitch in the back, larger than that on the front. It is a fairly hardwearing stitch.
This is the most hardwearing of the three variants and the least likely to warp the canvas. It should always be used in large areas of tent stitch. It is worked in diagonal rows, either from the top right-hand corner down, or from the bottom left-hand corner up.
This variant is worked in horizontal or vertical rows and uses the least amount of thread. It is also the least hardwearing variant and can warp the canvas if worked over a large area.
Letitia Higgin, RSN Handbook of Embroidery (1880) , p.45–6
S. F. A. Caulfield, Blanche C. Saward, The Dictionary of Needlework (1882) , p.194
Mrs Archibald Christie, Samplers and Stitches (1921) , p.87–8
Jennifer Campbell, Ann-Marie Bakewell, Guide to Embroidery Stitches (2004) , p.125
Anchor Embroidery, 100 Embroidery Stitches
Kate Haxell, The Stitch Bible (2012)
Jennifer Campbell, Ann-Marie Bakewell, Guide to Embroidery Stitches (2004)
Sarah Whittle, The Needlecraft Stitch Directory (2012)
Santina M. Levey, The Embroideries at Hardwick Hall: a catalogue (2007) , p.268, p.270-1
Sheila Paine, Embroidered Textiles - Traditional Patterns from Five Continents (1990) , p.26
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Willem Vogelsang, 'Kerman embroidery', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/textile/regional-traditions/iranian-plateau/kerman-embroidery (Accessed: 26 August 2021)
Willem Vogelsang, 'Arrasene embroidery', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/europe-and-north-america/embroideries/arrasene-embroidery (Accessed: 26 August 2021)
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Aleppo embroidery', TRC Leiden. Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/middle-east-and-north-africa/pre-modern-middle-east-and-north-africa/aleppo-embroidery-syria (Accessed: 25 August 2021)
Santina M. Levey, The Embroideries at Hardwick Hall: a catalogue (2007)
Margaret Jeffery. (1945) 'Early American Embroidery ', The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin New Series pp.120-125. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3257170