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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Crewel Stitches

In my last post about crewel I mentioned that I was going to do some crewel work on a bag I am going to make. I thought I would try to find some resources for you to show you how some of the crewel stitches can be done. In my last post it was mentioned that some of the most common stitches used at this time were long and short stitch, stem stitch, French knots, satin stitch, and couching. These are all relatively simple stitches, most of which I have done on other projects. Once you have these mastered, I should think that there would be no pattern too hard to master as long as you have the time and patience!

It was actually rather difficult to find a good resource on the web that explained how these stitches are done. There are a lot of books out there that explain how to do crewelwork, so if you are interested in this, it should be relatively simple to find a book that will show you how to do the stitches. You may even want to pick up a sampler from Michael’s or AC Moore. The design you will make won’t be period correct by any means, but it will teach you how to do a lot of the basic stitches. You probably will learn more stitches that weren’t really used at this time though, so be careful about what you use when you actually do your 18th century project.

I was able to find one great website that had a whole host of stitches on it. The website is called if you click on that link you will be brought to her pretty comprehensive listing of different types of stitching. Here are the explanations of each of the types of stitches we are interested in direct from the website. If you click on the name of the stitch, you will be brought to her page where you can also see a picture of the stitch in action:

Stem Stitch:
Stem stitch is also known as crewel stitch, stalk stitch and South Kensington stitch. Stem stitch is often worked to outline a shape.

Work from left to right taking small regular stitches with a forwards and backwards motion along the line of the design. The thread is kept to the right of the needle after picking up a small piece of material. This means that it always emerges from the left side of the previous stitch.

If the thread is worked to the left of the needle, the stitch produced is slightly different, and is known as outline stitch.

French Knot:
A French knot is a little tricky but with some practice it can be mastered. Some people find it better to work the knot with the fabric stretched in an embroidery hoop using a chenille or straw needle.

French Knot is also known as French dot, knotted stitch, twisted knot stitch and wound stitch.

The weight of the thread will determine the size of the finished stitch

Step 1
Bring the needle out through the fabric and holding the thread taut and flat to the fabric with your left thumb. With your right hand twist the needle round the thread twice.

Step 2
Still holding the thread firmly take the needle back into the fabric one thread away from where the stitching thread emerges from the fabric and insert the needle.

Step 3
The completed french knot

At this point it is sometimes helpful to brush the knot down the shaft of the needle with the nail of your left thumb so that it is sitting firmly on the fabric. Pull the thread through to the back of the fabric. You have completed the knot!

Satin Stitch:
Satin stitch is also known as damask stitch.

As one of the oldest embroidery stitches to be found satin stitch is worked on traditional embroideries in practically every country. The traditional embroiderers of China and Japan excelled in the use of this stitch. It is formed by working straight stitches close together.

To use satin stitch to advantage stitches should lie evenly and closely together and some practice is needed to gain this effect. Stretch the fabric in an embroidery hoop or frame to prevent puckering. This stitch is only suitable for small areas as long satin stitches can become loose and untidy. If you need to cover a larger area divide the shape into more workable areas. The other alternative is to use long and short stitch or encroaching satin stitch.

To work the stitch bring the thread up through the fabric and make a single straight stitch. Bring the needle out very close to the stitch just made and continue to fill the shape. Stitches related to single satin or straight stitch in this dictionary are Satin stitch and Padded satin stitch.

Medieval embroiderers made full use of couching to be economical with expensive threads, such as gold thread, on the surface of the work. It is used, to this day, to attach threads which are too thick, or textured to pass through the foundation fabric. The term is from the French word 'coucher', which means to lay down.

Couching is extremely simple to work. Work with the fabric stretched in an embroidery hoop or frame.

To commence bring the heavy thread up from the back of the fabric with a large eyed needle. The surface thread is laid on the fabric, and then anchored by a second finer thread.

Small, straight stitches are taken over the thick thread and back through the fabric. Work along the thick thread until you have completed the line.

Take the heavy thread to the back of the fabric with a large needle and secure both ends of the heavy thread by using a few small stitches. Do not clip the heavy thread too close, otherwise it will pop up to the surface of the embroidery.

The second thread can be arranged in patterns - as in laid work. Other types of couching involve using embroidery stitches such as herringbone, fly stitch, arrowhead stitch, satin stitch, detached chain stitch, buttonhole and numerous other embroidery stitches over the thread to be couched. Metallic thread, ribbons, fine cord or groups of threads twisted together can all be couched.

And though the Chain stitch wasn’t mentioned before, it looks like it was definitely a widely used stitch at the time. Here is an example from that shows the chain stitch used on a 1790 skirt:

And here is an explanation of what the chain stitch is:
Chain stitch is also known as tambour stitch and point de chainette. Chain stitch is one of the oldest of the decorative stitches and is the basis of a large group of stitches.

Its use has a long history and is widespread, throughout the world. It is believed to have originated in Persia and India, where it is worked with the aid of a fine hook known as an 'ari'. In the west this tool which looks like a crochet hook, is known as a 'tambour' hook. The needlework produced using this method is known as tambour embroidery. To distinguish between chain stitch sewn by hand from that worked with a hook you need to examine the back of the embroidery. Needlework that is done with a hook has a continuous thread without any joins where as, chain stitch done with a needle, will display separate stitches.

Chain stitch is simple to work. Bring the needle up through the fabric and hold the thread with the left thumb. Insert the needle back into where it first came out. Take the needle through the fabric bringing the point of the needle out a short space along the line to be stitched. With the thread wrapped under the needle point pull the needle through the fabric.

A large variety of threads can be used from the finest silk to ribbon, the size of the stitch will depend on the weight of the thread used. it is an ideal beginners stitch and suitable to teach children as it is easy to sew.

Hopefully I can check out a few good books on 18th Century crewel from the library and I will see what other stitches were used at this time. And of course I will post pictures of my project as I have them.

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Rachel said...

This is great, thanks so much for posting it!!

I'm about to start white work on a set of sleeve flounces. I'll more than likely add them to my shop.

As a soldiers wife in the 78th, 84th Highlanders and Blacks Rangers I really don't have much of a chance to wear pretty things :( ahh well.


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