Appliqué is the technique of placing one piece of fabric on top of another, larger piece of fabric, and then stitching around the edge of the smaller piece to secure it.
It is possible to use other, more decorative stitches than the ones listed below.
Ayrshire is a whitework technique from Ayrshire in Scotland, dating to the early 19th century. It is traditionally worked on fine muslin and is noted for its delicate eyelets, satin stitch and fine lace filling stitches.
Basic stitches are those which are most widely used, either as a stitch in their own right or as part of another, more complex, stitch.
Bead embroidery is the use of beads or other embellishments to enhance stitching.
Bead Embroidery Stitches
Berlin wool work is a canvaswork technique which originated in Berlin in the early 19th century. Pattern books with coloured symbols were published with various designs, from motifs of flora and fauna to copies of famous paintings.
Some of the early designs were stitched on fine silk canvas using silk thread, although later wool became more common and larger size canvases were used. Subsequent developments included the use of small seed beads, chenille thread and turkey work where the raised pile was cut to provide raised elements.
Berlin wool work is characterised by the use of bright coloured wool, often attributed to the advent of synthetic aniline dyes in the 1850s.
The formulaic nature and the bold colour choices of Berlin wool work led to it falling out of favour and the rise of the art needlework movement, and ultimately the creation of the Royal School of Needlework.
Berlin wool work Stitches
Blackwork is a form of monochrome embroidery generally using black thread, although other colours are also used on occasion. It can be worked as a counted thread technique which creates patterns on evenweave fabric or as freeform embroidery.
Traditionally, blackwork is stitched in silk thread on white or off-white linen or cotton fabric; sometimes metallic or coloured threads are used for accents. Some pieces are worked in another single colour, most commonly red but also blue or green; very occasionally multiple colours are used in a single piece, although individual motifs tend to be monochrome.
Chaucer, writing in the 14th century, references a blackwork collar embroidered on both sides, but it is impossible to know if this embroidery was the same as that worked in the 16th century when it was used to embellish linen collars and cuffs as seen in many Tudor portraits. Some authors credit Catherine of Aragon for introducing blackwork into England and it was certainly referred to as ‘Spanish work’ but there is no conclusive evidence that she was responsible for its introduction.
By the end of the 16th century, blackwork was being used to decorate linen coifs (a close-fitting head covering) and other garments, some of which feature gold and silver thread and spangles, as well as black thread. Extant garments, particularly those which feature the flora and fauna and curving stems (known as rinceaux) which epitomise Elizabethan embroidery are often freeform embroidery, rather than counted thread. Motifs are normally outlined in black and either filled with blackwork patterns, or embellished with stitches, especially seeding to give a more naturalistic effect. This style continued largely unchanged into the Jacobean era (although contemporary references still refer to it as Elizabethan). In the second half of the 17th century counted thread blackwork was being worked on samplers, but by the 18th century its popularity had waned.
The counted thread version of the technique was revived in the 20th century when blackwork patterns started to be documented.
The stitches listed below include those used in Elizabethan ‘freeform’ blackwork as well as those appropriate for the counted thread version.
Canvaswork is a form of counted thread embroidery in which yarn is stitched through a stiff open weave canvas.
Counted thread stitches are those which are worked on an evenweave fabric (where the warp threads are of a similar thickness and spacing to those of the weft). Stitches are counted over a set number of threads which creates very even stitches.
Counted Thread Stitches
Crewelwork is a style of surface embroidery using wool thread.
A wide variety of different embroidery stitches are used to follow a design outline applied to the fabric. Crewelwork was particularly popular in early seventeenth century Britain and it is often referred to as Jacobean work or Jacobean crewelwork. Designs from this period often featured stylised floral and animal designs with flowing vines and leaves.
Traditionally, crewelwork is embroidered on tightly woven linen twill stretched on a frame or hoop.
Cross stitch is a form of counted-thread embroidery in which X-shaped stitches are used to form a design on a piece of even-weave fabric.
Cross stitch Stitches
Cutwork is a form of whitework where small sections of the ground fabric are cut away. The open area is edged with stitches and, depending on the type of cutwork, may be filled with other stitches.
N.B. Cutwork should not be confused with Flat cutwork (goldwork).
Drawn thread is a form of whitework where threads (normally either warp or weft but occasionally both) are withdrawn (pulled out) from the fabric and the edges secured, normally by weaving the cut threads into the ground fabric. The aperture will normally be square or rectangular as it is dependent on the grain of the fabric. The remaining warp or weft threads are embellished with stitches.
Drawn thread stitches are normally stitched on a relatively open evenweave fabric.
N.B. Some authors use the term ‘drawn thread’ for what we would call pulled thread stitches (those where the threads are pulled into patterns, but not cut and withdrawn).
Some authors differentiate between removing either the warp or weft threads, and removing threads in both directions. The former is known as single open-work and the latter cut open-work. Confusingly, the latter is sometimes translated as Punto Tagliato, which is the normal translation for cutwork.
Drawn Thread Stitches
Elizabethan embroidery is characterised by the use of flora and fauna stitched in brightly coloured silks amongst curving stems (known as rinceaux) made from gold and silver threads. Motifs include flowers, plants, animals, insects and birds; the silks were in vibrant colours such as red, rose pink, mid greens and blues. The embroidery demonstrates different textures: motifs are often worked in needlelace stitches; the stems in braided ones and isolated spangles embellish the ground fabric.
Embroidery in this style was used to embellish clothing such as waistcoats, gloves, forehead cloths, coifs and sweet bags, and household items such as bookbindings and decorative panels.
N.B. The Elizabethan era covered the second half of the 17th century, but we are using the term to include any embroidery from the 17th or 18th centuries which is stylistically similar.
For Elizabethan embroidery worked predominantly in black thread, see Blackwork.
Image courtesy of https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/81132
Goldwork is the use of various types of metal threads and embellishments to adorn fabric. The majority of the metal thread remains on the surface of the fabric. Goldwork is historically associated with high-status embroidery due to the cost of the materials.
Goldwork techniques can be worked in silver or other metal threads.
Hardanger is a whitework technique which originates in Hardanger, Norway. It is done on evenweave linen, and is characterised by geometric motifs, the use of drawn threads and satin stitch blocks called Kloster blocks.
Mountmellick embroidery is a floral style of whitework embroidery originating from the town of Mountmellick in County Laois, Ireland in the early nineteenth century.
Needlelace is the method of working detached stitches to fill an area. The design area is outlined with stitching (e.g. backstitch) and then a series of stitches are worked into the outline to form the needlelace. The needlelace itself doesn’t pierce the fabric.
Needlepoint lace is the term we are using in the RSN Stitchbank to describe any lace made with a needle, rather than that made with a bobbin. Some needlepoint laces are undistinguishable from their bobbin counterparts to the untrained eye.
Needlepoint lace pieces include the following elements: buttonhole and woven bars, needlelace fillings, picots, filet lace and darned net work. Needlelace stitches are listed under the entry for needlelace.
N.B. Different authors use various terms used for this lace including needlelace and needle-made lace. We use the term needlelace for the technique of using detached stitches (usually a form of buttonhole stitch) to fill an area.
Needlepoint lace Stitches
Opus Anglicanum or English work is fine needlework from Medieval England done for ecclesiastical or secular use on clothing, hangings or other textiles, often using gold and silver threads on rich velvet or linen grounds. Such English embroidery was in great demand across Europe, particularly from the late 12th to mid-14th centuries and was a luxury product often used for diplomatic gifts.
Opus Anglicanum Stitches
Pulled thread embroidery is a form of whitework, where threads are pulled tightly together to form designs.
The stitches are normally worked on a relatively open evenweave fabric so that the stitches pull the fabric apart to create a pattern of holes (the holes can appear to have been punched into the fabric, hence the alternative name of punch work).
N.B. Some authors use the term drawn thread for what we call pulled thread stitches.
Pulled Thread Stitches
Ribbonwork is the use of narrow, traditionally silk, ribbon in place of embroidery thread.
Shadow work is worked on the reverse of sheer fabric; this means that the thread some of the thread is fully visible, and some of it is viewed through the fabric.
Shadow work Stitches
Silk shading, painting with a needle, long and short stitch embroidery, thread painting: this technique goes by many names but the basis is one stitch, known as long and short stitch. Most likely first practised in China, where it is more commonly known as needle painting. Archaeological excavations have found embroideries that date back to at least the 2nd century BC.
In England, silk shading was first used in Opus Anglicanum embroidery (also known as English work), a technique used in the Mediaeval period. Most surviving examples of Opus Anglicanum silk shading are seen on church work and comprise silk-shaded faces, angels and animals.
The art of silk shading is still alive and well today. It is worked extensively in China to very high standards, and The Royal School of Needlework continues to teach this beautiful technique in new and innovative ways.
Silk shading Stitches
Stumpwork, a term coined in the 19th century, was known as raised or embosted work in the 17th century. It reached the height of its popularity between 1650 and 1690 when embellished caskets, pictures and mirror frames were fashionable amongst the wealthy. With the influence of the European ‘broderie en relief’, a highly padded and naturalistic form of ecclesiastical embroidery which can be traced back to the 15th century, raised work gradually became popular for domestic and decorative embroidery.
Although it was not until the mid-17th century that stumpwork reached its peak, during the Elizabethan period many of the popular stumpwork elements were found: plants of the day were worked in detached buttonhole; padding and metal work could often be found in gauntlets and expensive gloves. Alongside these similarities in technique, many of the same motifs used in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods can be identified on stumpwork pieces.
Surface embroidery, also known as freestyle embroidery, is a catch-all term which refers to any technique which uses standard embroidery threads, is not a counted thread technique and does not alter the warp or weft of the fabric.
It can be worked on any fabric, although if worked on an evenweave fabric, the weave is ignored with regard to the placing of the needle. Designs are normally drawn onto the fabric, or they can be worked by eye.
This means that the following techniques would not be considered surface embroidery:
Tambour embroidery uses a hook (similar to a very fine, pointed crochet hook) and fabric tightly stretched in a frame to work a limited range of stitches. Chain stitch is by far the most common tambour stitch (either with or without beads), although it is possible to work other stitches such as satin stitch. The design is worked from the reverse of the fabric.
In India embroiderers use a form of tambour called ari which is similar but is worked from the front of the fabric and when beading the beads are loaded onto the ari hook, rather than strung onto the thread.
Designed by Mrs Margaret M. Foster in the 19th century, Wessex stitchery is a counted thread technique that uses a set of simple stitches. These stitches are used more freely than in other counted thread techniques to form a range of stitch patterns. Samplers form a large body of surviving Wessex stitchery which, as well as incorporating stitched patterns, includes lettering surrounded by borders and motifs.
Wessex Stitchery Stitches
Whitework is a traditional hand embroidery technique that features white thread on a white background. Often used on bridal and christening gowns, Whitework has a timeless elegance and requires a range of skills.