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Also known as Freestyle

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:
Counted thread
Drawn thread
Pulled thread
Ribbon work

Surface Stitches