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Full text of "Decorative needlework"

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DECORATIVE 



NEEDLEWORK, 



MAY MORRIS 



LONDON : 

JOSEPH HUGHES & CO, 

PILGRIM STREET, LUDGATE HILL, LONDON, E.G. 

1893. 

\_All rights reserved^ 



I'KINTED BY 

W. P. GRIFFITH & SONS, LIMITKD, 

TKUJEAN SQUAHE, OLD IIMLEV, 
LONDON, E.G. 



DEDICATORY NOTE. 



THESE pages are written for and dedi- 
cated to those who, without much previous 
knowledge of the art of embroidery, have 
a love for it and a wish to devote a little 
time and patience to its practice. The 

Vx^,^!,!,^*. A^^ n ., .. ~C !_ i 



DECORATIVE NEEDLEWORK, 

BY 

MAY MORRIS, 

Edition de Luxe, consisting of 1 25 copies only, 
of which this copy is No ._..<2. 

oi all other brancfies ot art, and tftat no 
one of these elements can the embroideress 
neglect or overlook if her work is to have 
life and meaning. If she pursues her craft 
with due care, and one might even say 
with enthusiasm, however, she will not 



2040f)71 



PRINTED BY 



DEDICATORY NOTE. 



THESE pages are written for and dedi- 
cated to those who, without much previous 
knowledge of the art of embroidery, have 
a love for it and a wish to devote a little 
time and patience to its practice. The 
booklet does not profess in any way to be 
exhaustive, but should be useful as a key- 
note to further study, having been written 
from practical knowledge of the subject. 

I have tried to show that executive skill 
and the desire of and feeling for beauty, 
realized in a work of definite utility, are 
the vital and essential elements of this as 
of all other branches of art, and that no 
one of these elements can the embroideress 
neglect or overlook if her work is to have 
life and meaning. If she pursues her craft 
with due care, and one might even say 
with enthusiasm, however, she will not 



2040071 



Dedicatory Note. 

only taste that keen pleasure which every 
one feels in creative work, however unpre- 
tending, but the product will be such as 
others will be careful to preserve : this in 
itself being an incentive to good work. 
For work done at the demand of fashion 
or caprice and that done inevitably, that is, 
for its own sake, are as widely dissimilar 
as can be : the first being discarded in a 
month or so as ridiculous and out of date, 
and the other remaining with us in all its 
dignity of beauty and fitness, to be guarded 
as long as may be against the unavoidable 
wear and tear of time. 

MAY MORRIS. 



DECORATIVE NEEDLEWORK. 

CHAPTER I. 
HISTORICAL GLANCE. 

IT is only of recent years that the art 
of needlework has come to be divided 
by a hard and fast line into plain 
sewing and. embroidery. The two branches 
of the art are to my mind, and indeed used 
to be in practice, so nearly akin that the 
one merges into the other, and it is surely 
equally desirable to teach both. For it 
has become inevitable now-a-days to set 
about leaching this art as well as many 
another more important ; the training for- 
merly obtained by patient practice and 
watching a good method of work in a studio 
or ' workshop ' (as they did not mind calling 
it then) being beyond the reach of most 
young people in these days, when appren- 
ticeship is confined to mechanical trades, 

B 



Decorative Needlework. 

and is almost entirely discarded by artists. 
In past times it was natural and instinctive 
to decorate one's stitchery ; a seam or hem 
would have some little touches of the needle 
beyond the mere piecing together or turn- 
ing in of raw edges : from this stage grew 
the enrichment of hanging or robe for 
avowedly decorative purposes, but it should 
be noted that all the decoration had mean- 
ing in its beauty. I will not stop here to 
consider this phrase, which will be referred 
to later on in discussing the suitability of 
embroidery to various objects. Well, now- 
a-days, almost the only article of stitchery 
in which the two branches of the art, 
namely, plain sewing and embroidery, are 
wedded, is in the body-linen of a very fine 
lady, who loves to accumulate dainty linen 
round her, fine as gossamer, wrought by 
what under-paid work-girl she does not 
know or care. The following lines from a 
popular fashion-paper describe with unction 
the beauties of such garments : ' The 
night-gowns are remarkable for their ex- 
2 



Decorative Needlework. 

quisite work, the dotting all hand-wrought, 
the tiny a jour veining appearing between 
the pleats ' . . . and so forth ad nauseam. 
But the hurry of modern life and the 
advent of cheap machine-work have, be- 
tween them, done away with any leisurely 
decorating of garments except for the very 
rich ; and, as aforesaid, plain-sewing is 
taught apart from decorative embroidery. 
The instinctive desire of man to ornament 
whatever article he makes with his own 
hand, to place his mark upon his handi- 
work, leads him to decorate his clothes and 
other possessions as soon as his primitive 
wants are assured, and he leaves the first 
stage of almost unreasoning savagedom. 
The early Eastern civilisations availed 
themselves abundantly of this art, and their 
chronicles record many instances of the 
skill of Babylonian and Egyptian workers, 
and of the beauty and costliness of em- 
broidered stuffs made in those countries. 
Egyptian textiles and needlework were 
eagerly sought after by other peoples, 



Decorative Needlework. 

especially by the Jews and Tyrians. The 
great merchant-city of Tyre, capital of 
Phoenicia, ' the renowned city strong in 
the sea/ was indeed a centre of all the 
arts, whither treasures and produce of all 
sorts poured in from every imaginable 
land. She is threatened with destruction 
in the height of her prosperity by the 
prophet Ezekiel, who describes graphically 
her trade development, and the perfection 
to which it is brought. With that versa- 
tility of a travelled people which made them 
their renown, the Tyrians assimilated the 
arts borrowed from Egypt and Babylon, 
and, among others, the art of embroidery, 
which was much in demand, being most 
rich and beautiful, we are told. I must 
refer, too, to that already often-quoted 
passage in Exodus about the building of 
the temple ; where the Jewish tribes doubt- 
less placed, as an offering to their Jehovah, 
all the precious things they had brought 
away from that wonderful land, wise in all 
the arts of life, where they had lived so 
4 



Decorative Needlework. 

long. Among these treasures there are 
beautiful embroideries and cloths of gold, 
either brought with them or fashioned by 
themselves through their acquired know- 
ledge ; rich hangings for the tabernacle, a 
veil for the ark, and robes for the high 
priest, all wrought with the splendour of 
colour and wealth of work which Eastern 
nations still cling to. 

Greece and Rome, too, made abundant 
use of needlework, and hundreds of quota- 
tions bearing on the subject could be 
made from their authors were it within the 
scope of these pages. But between the 
poetry of the ancient, and, frankly speaking, 
conjectural art, and the tangible reality of 
the mediaeval, classical times lose their 
interest to a certain extent, and one is glad 
to turn to a period of that art which repays 
all thought and search and fills one with 
joy, to the art of the middle ages, namely, 
the XII. to XIV. centuries, where every- 
thing is instinct with life and originality in 
the handiwork of man. From these times 



Decorative Needlework. 

(say from the XIV. century until now), the 
progression is also downwards, with refer- 
ence to this art at least ; and though for a 
long, long while later professional skill is 
so well-rooted as to become greenly tradi- 
tional, design and invention are less 
markedly beautiful, and the early simplicity 
slowly gives place to a luxuriance and 
lavishness that marks the beginning of all 
decay. 

For any one anxious to follow up this 
line of study in detail, it can be done to a 
certain extent by merely walking through 
our South Kensington Museum, to go no 
further, carefully noting and comparing 
the fine examples of early work displayed 
there. The great Syon cope is in itself 
a master-piece of design and workmanship, 
and is worked in a peculiar manner, to 
which I may have occasion to refer in 
speaking of methods of work. This cope 
is an often-quoted example, whose history 
in brief is that it was given by Henry V. 
to a convent at Isleworth at about the year 

6 



Decorative Needlework. 

1414, though a piece of XIII. century 
work. The nuns of Syon led a wandering 
life, and, in Elizabeth's reign, travelling 
far and wide, finally reached Portugal, 
where they settled themselves. It is not 
long since that this their great treasure 
came back from Lisbon to England, to be 
wondered at in a dusky corner behind a 
glass case in a great museum. 

It will be noticed that most of the fine 
early embroideries preserved to us are 
ecclesiastical, but it is not to be inferred 
from this that the houses and clothes of our 
forefathers were as bare of such decoration 
as our own. They naturally lavished their 
most costly and effective work on the 
buildings and vestments dedicated to their 
religion, but did not themselves, therefore, 
go without rich ornament. There are 
existing certain inventories and descrip- 
tions of the hangings of hall and bower, 
cushion coverings and so forth, that give 
us a delightful glimpse into the interior of 
a well-to-do house of the middle ages, and 

7 



Decorative Needlework. 

of later times also. Loom tapestry was of 
course often employed for such things, but 
being essentially laborious and therefore 
costly, worsted or linen hangings, rather 
roughly worked, often took its place, and 
in old inventories we often see such work 
minutely described. Very gay and plea- 
sant an old hall must have looked on a 
festival day (and holidays were very many 
and more generally kept in those days), 
the rough stone walls hidden nearly roof- 
high by the warm coloured folds of stuff 
embroidered with fair roses, or 'portrayed 
full of woodland trees,' with perhaps a 
bordering of scrolls and shields with the 
possessor's device displayed upon them. 
Window seats and chairs would be fitted 
with embroidered cushions, screens and 
settles hung with gay cloths, and even the 
' napery ' or table-linen would not escape 
the busily plied needle. 

As aforesaid, later work gradually degen- 
erates ; even the splendour of embroidered 
apparel at the French and English courts 

8 



Decorative Needlework. 

under Henry II. and Francis I. and Henry 
VIII., respectively, verges perilously upon 
the vulgar in its extravagance. Coats and 
robes are loaded with work and jewels 
wherever it is possible to display either, 
until the unlucky bearers of these stiffly 
built-up garments look ridiculous far more 
than magnificent. Very handsome work 
is, of course, often to be met with at this 
time, but the tendency, on the whole, is 
towards display and grandeur, and leaves 
far distant the repose and gravity of the 
best times. Thence our glance travels 
onward until it comes to actual ugliness and 
vulgarity in the latter half of the XVIII. 
century 'the great century/ as people 
were fond of calling it. But though the 
rich and important work is displeasing, we 
find a great deal of modest art that is 
delightful ; flowery cloths and aprons 
worked by ladies at their leisure, or great 
bed-quilts and hangings, ingenuous and 
simple as regards design, but really prettily 
coloured, and stitched with some art. 

9 



Decorative Needlework. 

So much for a brief glance at the growth 
of decorative needlework. It may seem at 
first sight unnecessary, but indeed could not 
be dispensed with. Even the slight guid- 
ance thus afforded as to the periods wherein 
to look for the best style, in order to study 
it, is a great help to the student while taste 
is being formed. Moreover, I find that in 
most people's minds there exists great con- 
fusion as to what is definitely the best work 
artistically. Few go back beyond the 
queer jumble of traditional design of the 
early XVIII. century, or the handsome 
florid renaissance styles of the XVI. and 
XVII. centuries, to the simple dignity and 
graciousness of mediaeval work. It is here, 
to the Middle Ages, I repeat, the student 
must go for example and inspiration towards 
serious work : modern embroidery does not 
compare favourably with that of any period, 
but it is the very antithesis to the early 
art, and it is indeed time that something 
was done to raise it to a higher level. 



10 



Decorative Needlework. 



CHAPTER II. 



EMBROIDERY STITCHES. 
CIIAIN-STITCII, &c. 

THE foregoing slight sketch of the 
history of embroidery will give 
some idea of what can be done and 
what has been done with the needle alone, 
or with the needle and a few tools of the 
simplest description. There are two sides 
to the art of embroidery. It may be con- 
sidered as a pictorial art in which the 
material used serves merely as a surface or 
ground to be entirely covered with work, 
like the canvas of a picture. It may also 
be considered as a decorative art by means 
of which a woven stuff is ornamented with 
borders and designs more or less elaborate, 
but the textile used not playing so entirely 

1 1 



Decorative Needlework. 

subordinate a part as in the former case. 
The more important and pictorial side is 
usually left in the hands of professional 
workers of experience and skill, but the 
decorative and more popular work is quite 
within the scope of amateurs, and is indeed 
often more beautiful as mere ornament, 
though its intellectual value may not be so 
great. 

Embroidery can be worked loose in the 
hand, or stretched in a simple frame, the 
stitches for the two methods sometimes 
varying. Fine and elaborate work, espe- 
cially where gold thread is used and much 
moulding or relief required, should always 
be put in a frame, a smooth and evenly 
tight surface being very necessary to this 
class of work, as well as greater freedom of 
hand. Some stitches, on the other hand, 
are only suitable for work done loose in the 
hand, such as chain-stitch (when done with 
a simple needle) and several other looped 
stitches, also darning, stitching, and so 
forth. 

12 



Decorative Needlework. 

Before setting to work, the learner has a 
few technicalities to master, and in the 
course of her work will encounter many 
difficulties, to be gradually overcome by 
practice and carefully corrected errors. 
For instance, there are certain definite 
stitches or sets of stitches to be learnt. 
These are learnt far more easily by word 
of mouth than by book, of course, and it 
will not be found advisable to burthen the 
memory at the outset with a long list of 
apparently fantastic names of stitches. To 
take them easily and quietly, I will devote 
a few pages to chain and other ' looped ' 
stitches, and the various purposes to which 
they have been and may be put. 

Chain-stitch has been so called because 
it imitates, more or less, the links of a 
simple chain. It is the foremost and most 
familiar of all similar stitches. It has a 
very definite character of its own, and 
though apt to become a little monotonous, 
is from its laborious and enduring nature 
well suited to work that may be subjected 

'3 



Decorative Needlework. 

to much wear and tear. In the accom- 
panying diagram it will be seen that each 
little loop grows out of the last ; the needle 




Fig. i. CHAIN STITCH. 

follows the exact direction in which the line 
of stitches is to lie. Some of the most 
14 



Decorative Needlework. 

famous work in the world has been wrought 
in this stitch, and many important pieces 
remain to show us what can be done in the 
way of minute and laborious work com- 
bined with good design and beautiful 
colour. 

The best way of using chain-stitch when 
the design is required to be filled with solid 




Fig. 2. 



Decorative Needlework. 

work is to start round the outline and 
work from without inwards, the result when 
finished being a series of curved lines, 
as indicated by the dotted lines in the 
diagram. 

A good look at a piece of Eastern chain- 
stitch embroidery will teach more than any 
descriptive writing ; and, supposing that you 
have such a piece before you, in the show- 
case of a museum, or, better still, in your 
own hands for closer inspection, you will 
note with what certainty and regularity the 
little flowers are worked, and how suitable 
this stitch is for long stems and lines. A 
great deal of the Eastern work on fine 
muslin that we see in such abundance in 
all shops now, is worked in some- kind of 
tambour-frame ; that is, worked on a rather 
open stuff stretched tight, the thread being 
passed through and back with a hook or 
tambour-needle. It is not difficult to tell 
this work from the slower needle chain- 
stitch, as the former has a certain unmis- 
takeable evenness and flatness, which the 

16 



Decorative Needlework. 

other has not. The great cope of Syon 
that I have referred to already, is princi- 
pally worked in chain-stitch, but worked 
with the most inconceivable minuteness, 
and here and there displaying a daring and 
originality never ventured on now-a-days. 
The little figures of saints and angels, for 
instance, have the faces worked in a pecu- 
liar manner, starting from the high light 
on the cheek-bone, and thence round and 
round outwards from this point to nose, 
chin, and throat, the features being outlined 
with a fine dark thread. This method of 
using chain-stitch for figure-work requires 
to be seen to be understood, and I would 
not recommend a student to attempt to 
apply it to her own work, as it is not 
adaptable to any modern style, and needs 
both the verve and simplicity of mediaeval 
design to carry it off. 

I have in my mind, too, as an example 
of chain-stitch, certain work done in India 
in the XVI. and XVII. centuries for Euro- 
pean buyers. It is very different in style 
c 17 



Decorative Needlework. 

and character, and has not, as it were, the 
intellectual qualities of the ecclesiastical 
work spoken of above. It usually consists of 
large hangings and quilts for beds of state, 
worked on a fine cotton ground entirely in 
chain-stitch of one colour. Very rich and 
effective does this work look in a brilliant 
yellow with an irregularly stitched back- 
ground pattern also in yellow. These 
hangings and bed-coverings were ordered 
for state gifts or marriage gifts, the centres 
being sometimes occupied by the arms and 
device of the prince or lord for whom they 
were intended, elaborately interwoven with 
the design. 

Of other stitches looped on the surface 
we have button-hole stitch, sometimes pret- 
tily used for the outlining of flowers and 
leaves. This stitch does not allow of much 
variety, and being rather hard and unpli- 
able, looks best in combination with other 
stitches. The same may be said of different 
lace stitches, which look well in moderation, 
and add variety to the work, but, having a 

18 



Decorative Needlework. 

rather mechanical surface, are a little weari- 
some if too much used. 




Fig. 3. BUTTON-HOLE STITCH. 

Feather-stitch, familiar to the seamstress, 

19 



Decorative Needlework. 

is sometimes used for edgings and borders, 
and sometimes as a light filling of stems. 




Fig. 4. FEATHER STITCH. 

It bears no resemblance to the ' feather 
stitch ' of the old writers, which is another 
thing altogether. The diagram will, I 
should think, sufficiently explain its nature. 

20 



Decorative Needlework. 

Knotting or French Knot consists of 
several loops taken round the needle and 
secured by a stitch. This is effective for 
thick raised work, for the filling of flower 




Fig. 5. KNOTTING. 

centres and so forth, but is also seen in 
flat embroidery, such as some of the old 
Chinese work, which is sometimes com- 

21 



Decorative Needlework. 

posed entirely of very fine knots in 
different shades of silk. It is also seen 
used with comical effect in certain late 
English work, for hair, for trees, or sheep's 
fleece, or anything, in short, in which the 
embroideress thought a highly broken or 
granulated surface would help out her 
descriptive effects. Such ' effects,' however, 
are, to my thinking, in bad taste and out 
of place in embroidery ; where, even in the 
pictorial side of the art, natural objects 
should be interpreted by bold and skilful 
drawing, and no attempt at faithful copying 
be made. 

Satin-stitch can be done in the hand or 
in a frame. It consists of stitches evenly 
laid in one direction, the needle passing 
under and over the space to be covered, 
back and front being similar. In the dia- 
gram the stitches are shown laid far apart 
for the sake of clearness, but in reality they 
lie close together forming a smooth surface. 
This stitch can be worked flat and simply 
in fine twisted silk or linen thread, or as 

22 



Decorative Needlework. 

the Chinese and Japanese employ it, in 
floss silk finely divided, and with any of 




Fig. 6. SATIN STITCH. 

these materials makes very dainty decora- 
tion. You will have seen somewhere, 

23 



Decorative Needlework. 

doubtless, work of this description on 
some treasured antique garment, a great- 
great-grandmother's v/edding gown, or a 
gorgeous satin waistcoat of preposterous 
length, worn in times when dress was stiff 
and gaudy rather than tasteful, though 
picturesque for all that. On such gar- 
ments you may see little flowered borders 
worked with the utmost refinement and 
patience in chain or satin stitch, the finest 
imaginable twisted silk being used, the 
colours even now both bright and delicate, 
and chosen of the gayest and most fanciful 
combinations. Look well at such work 
when it next comes across your path, and 
you will see what time, patience and skill 
can do. To my thinking, satin-stitch is 
rather clumsy when worked with thick 
silk or wool. It is obvious that the space 
to be covered by the needle must not be 
very broad, for then the characteristic 
compact and close surface is lost, and the 
stitches lie loosely in untidy loops ; it will 
be found inexpedient and awkward to work 
24 



Decorative Needlework. 

in short stitches with thick materials, hence 
it is best to leave this stitch for the finer 
sorts of work. Another and an effective 
method of using the stitch consists in first 
embossing or ' stuffing ' the form to be 
covered, which is done by laying threads 
of coarse cotton or linen thread backwards 
and forwards and fastening them down ; 
and when raised so that the required relief 
is obtained, the satin-stitch is worked over, 
at right angles to the direction of the 
layers of stuffing. For any articles that 
are expected to receive hard wear this is 
an excellent and enduring method of work ; 
but as it is inclined to have a hard and 
mechanical look (particularly if it is very 
smoothly done), the relief should be mostly 
rather flat and low. What I describe here 
is a comparatively simple form of relief; 
but presently, in discussing more compli- 
cated stitches, I shall have to show that 
modelling can be elaborated to a very 
great degree. 

Stem-stitch is so simple that it almost 

25 



Decorative Needlework. 

explains itself by diagram. One stitch is 
laid beyond another in a continuous line, 




Fig. 7. STEM STITCH. 

which should be smooth and even, the 
thread being always kept on the same side 
of the needle. This is essentially adapted 
to work done in the hand ; it is useful for 
filling stems and putting in outlines. 

Darning can be variously treated, the 
principle of the stitch being given in Fig. 
8, where the threads are shown lair] in 
horizontal lines, (a] The needle is run in 

26 



Decorative Needlework. 

and out of the material, following the 
threads of it, sometimes both right and 
wrong side alike, and, indeed, resembling 




Fig. 8. DARNING. 

the woven stuff. It is used in this way 
on many of the Eastern embroidered 
towels that are so much used now. So 
treated, the stitch has little artistic value 
in itself, for the same decoration could be 
obtained with weaving ; it is merely a 
substitute for weaving used for the decora- 
tion of their cloths and towels by people 

27 



Decorative Needlework. 

who might not care to set up a loom for so 
slight a purpose. 

(b) Another form of darning is, on the 




Fig. 9. 

contrary, rather elaborate, and involves 
artistic knowledge in drawing lines and in 
28 



Decorative Needlework. 

shading colours. The needle follows the 
curves and forms of the design, the full 
stitch only showing on the upper surface 
of the material. When the design that is 
being worked is, as is usual, some treat- 
ment of flowers and other natural growths, 
the stitches also radiate outward from a 
common centre (see Fig. 9). The begin- 
ner will encounter several difficulties from 
the outset, and much more can be learnt 
by a few hours of personal instruction than 
by many pages of careful description. 
When a mass of one colour merely is 
required, the task is fairly easy, great 
attention being paid to laying the threads 
in even lines from centre to edge of the 
leaf or flower. The stitch, however, is 
particularly suitable to shading and 
blending several colours, a skilful worker 
obtaining both delicacy and variety from 
this facility. 

But here is our first pause : for this 
very facility of shading with the needle 
constitutes in itself a pitfall to the unwary. 

29 



Decorative Needlework. 

It is so tempting to form nice little leaves 
and flower-petals, all painted up in ' natural ' 
colours almost as good as a picture. But 
try it. Take a flower on its stem, or spray 
of leaves, use twenty or thirty different 
shades of colour to a square foot of work, 
each leaf executed with its browns, and 
pinks, and greens, with high light, and 
lights diffused and reflected, all dragged in 
by main force, till a libellous caricature of 
natural growth is achieved ; a caricature 
having less resemblance to the real thing 
than the fearless images with a blunt pencil 
done by a child, whose drawings are symbols 
of what his eyes see, and have a value all 
their own as a natural and unaffected ex- 
pression of natural facts. Then work the 
same spray in flat and simple colours, say 
in two shades at most for a leaf, either one 
side of the leaf light and the other dark, 
or both sides shaded up from dark to light 
colour ; flower-petals treated in the same 
way with very light shading, and with a 
firm outline to render the pattern clear. 
30 



Decorative Needlework. 

Compare the two methods of work, and a 
little thought will show you that even to an 
untrained eye, the latter way of working 
has a more pleasing look than the former, 
which is a laborious, pretentious effort to 
imitate nature in her own colours. A broad 
and simple style of work should be practised 
for a long time, and until you have thorough 
command over colour and composition, and 
a very sure and definite experience of the 
value of harmony and contrast and such-like 
technicalities akin to the painter's art. 

Darning, then, is worked in the hand on 
some loose soft material, and the more 
yielding the fabric, the quicker the work 
goes, if that be an advantage. It is not a 
method of work that will last for ever, the 
threads all lying on the surface, rather long 
and loose. Thus it is not suitable for 
ornamenting surfaces that receive much 
friction, nor for anything that is easily soiled 
and has to be constantly refreshed or 
cleaned. It is a good method for quickly 
and economically covering large surfaces, 

31 



Decorative Needlework. 

but unsuited to important works that are 
to be durable as well as beautiful. 

Another look at Fig. 9, which represents 
a stem and leaf filled in with work, will 
show roughly the direction in which the 
stitches ought to lie. It is absolutely 
necessary to pay strict attention to this, for 
correct laying of stitches is one of the first 
principles of embroidery, and of every sort 
of needlework, plain or ornamental. The 
slight radiation of the lines in the leaf 
falling outwards from a centre should also 
be noticed. In filling solidly an ornamental 
form of any breadth, the beginner who 
ponders over her work will consider how 
her threads shall be laid so as to fill the 
space harmoniously, giving at the same 
time an even texture. She will soon find 
that the only way to do this is to work from 
a centre, whence the stitches fall right and 
left, joining imperceptibly at the top (see 
Fig. 10), such designs as the embroideress 
makes use of almost always lending them- 
selves to and suggesting such treatment. 

32 



Decorative Needlework. 

These observations apply equally, of 
course, to all stitches used for filling solid 
masses. 

The stitches enumerated above are by 
their nature adapted to soft and supple 




! 



. 



JO. 



materials that hang in folds if the size and 
purpose of the work permit. They are 
also more suitably done on a material held 
loose in the hand than stretched in a frame. 
Those that I shall describe next are stiffer 
in character, and best done in an embroi- 
D 33 



Decorative Needlework. 

dery frame ; with some stitches, indeed, one 
wants both hands at liberty to manipulate 
the materials, this not being possible when 
one hand has to be devoted to holding the 
work. 



34 



Decorative Needlework. 



CHAPTER III. 

TAPESTRY, LONG-AND-SHORT AND 
FEATHER STITCHES. 

THESE names are somewhat vague, 
the stitches being merely varieties 
of the same, but I quote them 
as the student will constantly hear them 
spoken of, or come across them in de- 
scriptions of old work. Tapestry-stitch, 
in effect, bears a slight resemblance to 
woven tapestry (hence its name, I sup- 
pose). We must not, however, fall into 
the common error of calling the 
art of decorative needlework ' tapestry ' ; 
tapestry is a definite technical term for a 
textile wrought in a loom in a special 
manner ; and a very ancient art it is too, 
and a most interesting one. 

35 



Decorative Needlework. 

This stitch is, like darning, used for 
filling-in broad spaces; but, unlike darning, 
it is solid back and front (though not iden- 
tical), and instead of being rather frail and 
loose, is close and extremely durable. The 




Fig. n 



Decorative Needlework. 

worker aims at laying the stitches upright 
in rows (see Fig. 1 1), and when one row is 
done the next is laid with the stitches fitting 
close into those of the last row. This 
forms a laborious building-up of surface, 
simple enough where only a little shading 
or gradation of colour is wanted. Such a 
method of work was formerly, and is still, 
a very favourite one for embroidering 
figures, and here it becomes difficult as well 
as laborious. 

A faithful study of ancient figure-work, 
however (and early artists excelled in this 
branch of the art), will show that the 
mediaeval needleworker depended greatly 
on his design, and that he displayed his 
skill every bit as much in leaving out as in 
putting in. We find drapery depicted by 
harmoniously flowing, strongly-marked 
lines enclosing broad masses of colour ; 
flesh-tints, which are almost too beautiful 
and varied for a great painter to reproduce, 
are frankly and gracefully given up, and 
our needle artist gives us instead, well- 

37 



Decorative Needlework. 

marked features outlined with a brown or 
black line, the flesh itself being executed 
in a sort of monochrome in pinky-brown, 
with a very little brown shading used where 
absolutely necessary to mark the expres- 
sion. Hair, also, is frankly convention- 
alised, and yet the warm masses and sunlit 
ringlets of nature are pleasantly interpreted 
by noble and simple lines and one or two 
gleams of bright colour. The very simpli- 
city and harmony of such a design give 
what can never be attained by ill-advised 
attempts at needle-painting with a hundred 
different colours, an image of beauty, 
namely, not marred in the interpretation. 
It is an. old story this wisdom of the true 
artist in thoroughly understanding the 
capabilities of his materials and tools, and 
asking no more of his art than it can easily 
and truthfully give. 

It is as well to put down here what I 
want to say somewhere in these pages with 
regard to early figure-design : those who 
are not familiar with the early form of art 

38 



Decorative Needlework. 

are apt to laugh at what they consider the 
childish simplicity with which men and 
women were portrayed ; and, if they are 
accustomed to ponder over what their eyes 
see, they will wonder the more, comparing 
this rude drawing of the figure with the 
grace and delicacy with which rose and 
vine tendril, or any such natural growth 
were drawn. 

It is only when the eye becomes accus- 
tomed to look for certain qualities in certain 
arts (not expecting, for instance, to find in 
an embroidered face transparency of tone 
or warm depths and shadows as in a picture) 
that it accepts and appreciates those same 
qualities, and rejects work that looks more 
' real ' because it is full of over-confident 
attempts to realise what is beyond its 
limited power. 

This may sound pedantic ; and the student 
may say that he objects on principle, and 
as a thinking individual living in the holy 
nineteenth century, to accepting an oblong 
with a dot in the middle of it as a drawing 

39 ' 



Decorative Needlework. 

of an eye in any art, except that of the 
child and mud-pie period. He may be 
right so far as regards modern work 
though even here I am not sure ; for, as 
aforesaid, simplicity is one of the first 
principles of this art. But, although the 
mediaeval artist's conception of the human 
figure, characteristic of early times and early 
beliefs, would certainly be out of keeping 
with the temper of latter-day design, I 
still hope that the simplicity and wonderful 
power of expression of such work will 
appeal to many, and that few students will 
turn aside from a genuine admiration of 
what is admirable herein to jeer at any 
archaism in feature-drawing. It is one of 
the great and serious defects of modern 
criticism in art, not to accept the good faith 
and beliefs of the period under observation, 
but to subject every work of past times to 
a modern test of excellence, which is in 
itself too often defective. 

I have not forgotten that we are con- 
sidering a certain group of stitches, the 

40 



Decorative Needlework. 



first of which is peculiarly adapted for 
hangings and panels of a lasting nature, 
into which figures may be beautifully and 
effectively introduced. Long -and- short 
stitch and feather-stitch are merely variants 




Fig. 



12. 



of the same. A glance at the diagram will 
show that the former is well adapted to 
filling a broad space, starting from the out- 



Decorative Needlework. 

line, the stitches radiating slightly from a 
centre. Another row within this may be 
added of a different shade, but for the sake 
of clearness it is not shown here. 

In Fig. 13 feather-stitch is shown, the 
stitches starting from the centre and work- 
ing outwards. This form of the stitch is 
constantly employed in old English work 
of the Jacobean period, and later on into 




Fig. IS- 

the early eighteenth century. The stitches 
are built up from a centre line or stem, in 
close and compact rows, different gradations 
of colour being used where needed. These 

4 2 



Decorative Needlework. 

slightly varying methods of employing the 
long-and-short stitches produce extremely 
thick and enduring work ; I will not say as 
firm and close in surface as Arras tapestry, 
but certainly at its finest not far ofT. The 
work is usually executed in wool ; and, 
indeed, in silk would necessitate a quite 
extravagant use of this costly material, 
which could be better displayed in other 
ways. 

In the old work mentioned above, these 
stitches are sometimes used alone, through- 
out the whole of an ample hanging ; in 
other specimens they are employed together 
with other and lighter stitches, often for the 
sake of filling the surface more rapidly. 
For instance, in one old hanging that I 
know, a great bold leaf, about a foot long, 
is outlined with long-and-short stitch, and 
the veins done in the kindred feather-stitch ; 
but the body of the leaf is filled with a 
crabbed, loose stitch, similar to the looped 
feather-stitch mentioned in the first chapter. 
The whole piece of work is a wildly eccentric 

43 



Decorative Needlework. 

assembly of different stitches, and has an 
interesting individuality of its own, for 
whoever worked it must have taxed her 
invention to produce variety in a passing 
spirit of impatience at the monotony or at 
the dimensions of her work. 



44 



Decorative Needlework. 



CHAPTER IV. 
COUCHING AND APPLIQU. 

THE basis of the many elaborate 
stitches which would be included 
under the head of couching is, 
as the name denotes, a laying down of 
the threads covering the surface to be 
filled in. Some writers on the subject 
limit this name to work executed in 
gold and silver threads, but I prefer to 
give it a more general application, as it is 
often executed in less costly materials. 
Thus I should include the simple flat laying 
of threads, either passed down and up 
through the material or fastened at either 
end and caught at regular intervals over 
the surface thus formed (see diagram), and 
also the raised and moulded work which 
is built up of various thicknesses of soft 

45 



Decorative Needlework. 

linen-thread or of cotton, or sometimes 
string, and finally covered with closely- 




^ 



Fig. 14. FLAT COUCHING. 

packed threads of gold ; that is to say, I 
include the simplest form of this method of 
work, and the most elaborate. This is a 
particularly fascinating kind of embroidery, 
46 



Decorative Needlework. 

as it allows of much play of colour and 
invention and variety of stitching. Colour 
may lie upon colour, and be caught down 
with spots of yet another shade, and the 
silks or gold, spread out flat and untwisted, 
shine and show to their best advantage. A 
network of one shade of colour over another 
is often produced by employing this final 
stitching in various diaper patterns over 
the loose surface of silk or gold, such effects 
being often very elaborately worked out. 
The above diagram (Fig. 14), gives the 
simplest possible way of using the stitch, 
and one which is constantly seen in Oriental 
and Italian hangings of the seventeenth 
century. The design is filled in by long 
threads stretching from side to side, either 
passed underneath and up again, as in 
satin-stitch, both sides similar, or the needle 
going down and up again on the same side 
as close as may be, the silk being thus all 
on the surface. Next, threads are laid at 
right angles to the direction of these lines, 
are also passed from edge to edge, then 



Decorative Needlework. 

caught down at regular intervals by little 
stitches placed alternately so that they form 
lozenges or squares over the form which 
is being worked upon. The usual method 
of laying down the stitches in this form of 




Fig. 



15- 



couching will be seen in Fig. 15. It will 
be familiar to many who read this in the 
old and modern Eastern embroidery we 
see so much of nowadays. In the work 
alluded to, the filling and the crossing lines 
48 



Decorative Needlework. 

are usually all wrought with the same 
colour. The surface thus produced is 
admirable in its shining texture, but one 
feels the want here and there of a little more 
play of colour, to which all these couching 
stitches are, as aforesaid, particularly 
adapted.' 

So far our work is very simple, though 
care and attention will be needed to keep 
the threads beautifully flat, and, if floss-silk 
is used, to keep even the suspicion of a 
twist from it ; care also in laying the cross- 
ing threads at moderately even distances. 
Variety can also be made by crossing the 
threads lattice-wise, first one way and 
then the other, and catching them down 
with any little stitches that occur to the 
worker. But the next stage of elaboration 
will require more skill and attention, and, 
being more valuable artistically, will repay 
the extra trouble taken. Instead of 
covering the design with threads laid 
directly on the ground, it (the design) is 
stuffed or raised to a certain height by one 
E 49 



Decorative Needlework. 

or two or more layers of linen thread 
loosely caught down at intervals, or even 
by cotton wool, which would then, however, 
have to be covered with a thin muslin to 
keep it neat ; the work thus prepared is 
then covered with its final layer of silk or 
gold thread or what not. This moulded 
and raised work is best adapted for appliqud 
work, which is cut and ' applied ' to another 
ground, of which more anon. It is a rather 
stiff and formal method of work, unless 
done on a large scale for bold decoration 
to be seen at a distance. If executed on 
a small scale, the materials should be chosen 
very fine and pliable, and the work itself 
be extremely minute and raised ; for we 
never get with couched work that graceful 
flow and sweep of one stitch on another 
which those methods give us in which the 
needle follows the curve and swing of the 
design. The characteristics of couching 
lie chiefly in richness of invention in the 
stitching, and in beautiful colour and 
materials. The diagram (Fig. 16) will 
so 



Decorative Needlework. 

show how the stuffing threads lie, with the 
sharply marked lines for indicating the 
veins sewn on over them. These, again, 




Fig. 1 6. RAISED COUCHING. 

are hidden by the threads pf silk or gold, 
which must always be laid at right angles 



Decorative Needlework. 

to the direction of the last layer of stuffing. 
The veins can be clearly defined by a line 
of stitches either side, or can be left merely 
indicated in the course of sewing down, 
which will be enough if the vein line be 
well accentuated. 

This sufficiently characteristic method 
of couching' will be guidance for other 
varieties, and it will be borne in mind that 
' gold couching ' is no special stitch which 
has to be learnt anew, but simply couching 
as described here, worked with gold thread 
and cord, and only far more difficult to 
master because of the stubborn nature of 
the gold itself. There is some very pretty 
work of the sixteenth century (Italian), in 
which the ground is couched in long lines, 
the leaves also couched flat, the flowers 
worked in tapestry stitch following the 
curves of the design, but outlined with a 
very thick, close, raised thread, which 
carries out the stiff character of the 
couching. The stems are in raised work, 
and some shields with the arms of the 

52 



Decorative Needlework. 

owners of the work are introduced in very 
thick raised gold, heraldry having been 
always a favourite form of decoration in 
needlework. 

Precious stones, most frequently seed 
pearls, are often used in rich couched work. 
I have recently seen a very pretty richly- 
designed and richly-worked glove that once 
belonged to Henry VIII., on which are 
portrayed the lion, the rose, and the crown. 
The lion, a harmless and amiable looking 
animal, though drawn as rampant along 
the wrist of the glove, is thickly wrought 
in gold, with a pearl eye, if my memory 
serves me. The crowns are also gold, and 
the roses highly embossed and laid thickly 
over with a multitude of fine seed pearls. 
There is a little old book with an em- 
broidered cover in one of the museums 
wherein is inserted in the place of honour 
in the middle of the front board a large 
flat garnet or ruby. The work is further 
enriched by gold and pearls, but the 
isolation of this pale pink stone gives quite 

53 



Decorative Needlework. 

a peculiar value to the bit of needlework. 
This is all by the way, however, and I do 
not advise learners to tamper at all with 
pearls and stones until they feel that they 
have reached a stage of excellence which 
renders their work capable of bearing the 
weight and accentuation that such a striking 
addition gives to needlework. Poor work 
thus adorned looks yet poorer, and is 
pretentious to no purpose. 

It must be remembered that these and 
other couched stitches, as well as applique, 
are all admirably suited for decorating 
materials which are to be displayed flat ; 
and that for any textiles which are destined 
to hang loosely in folds such work is 
impracticable, unless, indeed, it is laid on 
as a powdered pattern, scattered at inter- 
vals over the surface of the cloth. For 
small objects on which, owing to their size, 
much work can be lavished, and which 
usually need to be enduring and firm, the 
stiffer forms of couching are peculiarly 
suitable. It wears well, and gives scope 

54 



Decorative Needlework. 

for great ingenuity and variety ; without 
which, I need hardly say, a small piece of 
work becomes insignificant, and merely a 
toy of fashion for the moment. 

I include under the name of applique, or 
'applied 1 work, every sort of embroidery 
which, being worked solidly on one 
material, is then cut out and laid down 
upon another, and secured by various 
ornamental stitches. This is rather a 
rough-and-ready definition, and requires 
amplification. Suppose, for instance, that 
a certain material is to be ornamented by 
having a group of flowers repeated over 
the surface at regular intervals. The 
group of flowers, or what not, is worked 
on some stout "ground, such as Holland or 
coarse linen ; when finished so far, the 
work is cut out carefully, the scissors 
following round the edge of the work 
about a quarter of an inch or half an inch 
away, according to the size and nature of 
the work ; the work is then laid upon the 
ground material, which is ready stretched 

55 



Decorative Needlework. 

in a frame. When a spray is well in its 
place, care being taken that every leaf 
shall be duly laid and no curve pulled 
the least out of 'shape, the raw edges are 
secured by firm stitches, and the whole 
design is edged with a gold thread, or a 
twist of silk or wool, or with a gimp or 
braid, according to the nature of the 
materials which are being dealt with. 
This method of work is, in fact, consider- 
ably modified by the materials employed. 
For a great bold wall-hanging in wools on 
serge we should not show the same nicety 
of finish that would be required for a 
delicate piece of work in fine silk and gold 
thread, to be laid on a choice bit of satin. 
In the former, the cut edges would be 
covered by the broad gimp or cord sur- 
rounding the design, whereas in the finer 
work the edges, wherever possible, must be 
dexterously tucked away underneath ; for 
the slim outline will not hide any uneven- 
ness here, and nothing looks so clumsy 
and ugly as a thick outline too heavy for 
56 



Decorative Needlework. 




. SUITABLE FOR APPLIQU. 

57 



Decorative Ncci ilcwork. 

the design. This turning-in of edges and 
sewing down very neatly is the most 
troublesome part of the work, and requires 
deft fingers ; one has to be careful not to 
cut too near the work, nor too deep into 
the corners ; but the broader the margin 
left, the more tiresome it is to turn in 
neatly, especially if the design is small or 
the least bit intricate. The design for 
such work should be of the simplest and 
broadest ; leaves should have a simple 
outline, or if serrated the serrations can 
be shown by two or three little stitches 
within the outline. Compare, for instance, 
Fig. 17 and Fig. 18, in which two different 
forms of design are shown, the one, as I 
take it, suitable for this work, and the 
other unsuited to it. In Fig. 17 a con- 
ventionalised bud and leaf are drawn 
simply and even crudely, but drawn in a 
way that suffices for our purpose. In Fig. 
1 8, on the other hand, a chrysanthemum 
with its deeply serrated leaf is drawn, also 
conventionalised. There would be nothing 

58 



Decorative Needlework. 




Fig. 18. UNSUITABLE FUR APPLIQUB 

59 



Decorative Needlework. 

elaborate or troublesome in this if worked 
in some stitches ; but in the form of work 
we are treating of now it would be almost 
impossible to do neatly, and I do not 
believe in trying to conquer impossibilities 
when there is a straight and simple way 
of doing what we want. Now, the very 
fact that broad and simple forms are a 
sine qua non in this method, makes the 
work very well adapted for decoration that 
is intended to catch the eye at a distance ; 
but for richer work to be admired and 
handled more elaboration will be wanted 
in finishing. Flourishes and tendrils can 
be added, or a whole back-ground pattern 
introduced behind the solid applique 
groups. This sort of ' tracery ' seems to 
give a coherence to the heavier parts of 
the design, and is very helpful in enriching 
and lightening it. 

Applique is not a stitch or series of 
stitches, but a certain method of work, 
irrespective of the stitches employed therein. 
But certain stitches are more adapted than 

60 



Decorative Needlework. 

others for working the groups and sprays 
to be applied. The more solid stitches 
will, of course, be used, and the various 
sorts of raised couching, especially gold 
couching, are perhaps the best for this 
purpose, and the stiffer worked the better. 
Botticelli, the Florentine artist, is said by 
his historian, Vasari, to have been specially 
fond of this work, and to have made designs 
for it. Vasari, indeed, said that he in- 
vented it, but I suspect this of being a flight 
of the historian's imagination, which was 
lively at times, and not likely to err on the 
side of understating the case. 

A simple form of applied work that is 
far from costly so far as concerns time 
and material, and yet effective, consists of 
cutting out shapes in coloured cloth or silk, 
and laying them directly on the material 
to be ornamented, and then connecting the 
whole with outlines and what veining and 
marking of leaf and so forth the design 
seems to require for its completion. Even 
this simple work should be put into an 

61 



Decorative Needlework. 

embroidery frame ; it is so much easier to 
manipulate the work when both hands are 
at liberty. 



62 



Decorative Needlework. 



CHAPTER V. 

PATCHWORK AND QUILTING. 

THE laying down of one stuff on 
another for decorative purposes 
brings me to the mention of 
patchwork, a time-honoured kind of 
stitchery, familiar by name at least to 
all of us. More time-honoured, indeed, 
than one would think, for the patch- 
work quilts which form a charming 
and pathetic record of our grand- 
mothers' girlhood and courtship, where we 
affectionately admire the little scraps of 
brocade ' worn the first night I danced with 
your dear grandfather,' are but a survival 
of, or speaking more strictly, a variation 
from, a different sort of patchwork done in 
very far-off times in distant Egypt, that 
land where the arts of life were flourishing 

^ 



Decorative Needlework. 

exuberantly long before history even begins 
for us of the Western world. Patchwork 
is formed by piecing together bits of stuff 
of chosen texture and colour, cut in various 
shapes and neatly stitched together ; if the 
shapes are at all complex, the fitting has 
to be most precisely and accurately 
managed, and forms the only really trouble- 
some process of this sort of needlework. 

In its simple form such work is easy 
enough, but in the East it has been, and is 
still, elaborately carried out, with intricate 
design and beautiful colour. It is rather 
difficult to give a clear idea of this curious 
embroidery by mere description. You 
must imagine a mosaic, as it were, but 
instead of being made up of bits of marble 
or of coloured glass, this mosaic is formed 
of pieces of stuff of different colours, fitted 
together into certain ornamental shapes 
and finished with touches of colour in 
embroidery stitches. Such patchwork dis- 
tinctly comes into the category of things 
artistic : while the quilts and such-like of 



Decorative Needlework. 

the last and the present centuries are only 
pretty pieces of neat stitchery, in which an 
elementary sense of geometric design and 
colour yet remains in the sometimes-clever 
arrangement of the different scraps of dress 
stuff of which they are composed. 

Quilting is done in different ways, but 
generally speaking, it consists of placing a 
thin layer of some soft yielding material, 
such as cotton-wool, between the ground 
to be worked on (be it thin silk, or fine 
cotton, or linen) and a thin lining ; the 
design is then worked in firm stitches, taken 
right through to the reverse side. The 
result isa slight relief, which gives a pleasant 
effect. A cord is sometimes laid between 
the two surfaces, and stitched down either 
side, making a higher relief. Quilting can 
be varied considerably, but this descrip- 
tion will, I think, be enough to enable the 
student to identify any different forms of 
quilting that she may come across among 
old or modern work. 

Gold and Silver Thread. It is usual to 
F 65 



Decorative Needlework. 

introduce metal threads in the more elab- 
orate kinds of needlework ; some work, 
indeed, consisting entirely of gold. But 
solid gold-work requires careful treatment 
lest it become vulgarised, as it does 
notably in some bad work of a late period. 
I have said enough about it in Chapter 
IV. to intimate that its use requires a 
special knowledge and dexterity, as it is 
difficult to handle, owing to its want of 
flexibility. For all practical purposes there 
are two kinds of thread now in general use, 
(i) paper- gold and (2) tinsel-gold. (i.) 
The paper-gold, which comes to us princi- 
pally, if not entirely, from Japan, and is a 
great favourite now, consists of gilded 
strips of very fine tough paper, such as 
the Japanese have the great art of making, 
wound round a silken thread. It does not 
tarnish, which is, of course, a great advan- 
tage. (2) Tinsel-gold is very much more 
brilliant and is made by the metal being 
wire-drawn into a fine thread, which is 
wound round coloured silk. Being really 
66 



Decorative Needlework. 

silver, gilded more or less thickly, it 
tarnishes readily in proportion to the 
quality of the gilding, which determines 
the value of the thread produced. Other- 
wise it is pleasant to use, and is a good 
firm material for solid work, with its 
brilliance a little softened by appropriate 
colours. I give its technical name, not 
knowing how else to call it ; but the word 
'tinsel,' gives a false impression of the 
quality of this beautiful material, which 
must by no means be classed along with 
the tin-foil splendours which delight our 
eyes at the pantomime on Boxing Night. 
However, much beautiful and fine work 
can be done with the paper-gold ; and the 
ancient form of it, gilded vellum, namely, 
very thin and finely cut into strips, and 
wound round a thread, was universally 
used in the most flourishing times of the 
arts of figured stuff-weaving and em- 
broidery. This, and the flat beaten gold, 
forming a sort of gold ribbon, were cer- 
tainly the forms of gold most used in 

67 



Decorative Needlework. 

ancient times ; but ' it were enquiring too 
curiously ' to enter here into the history of 
the use of gold and silver in textiles and 
embroideries, although it is so interesting 
a subject of research that one is almost 
tempted to do so. The first development 
of wire-drawn gold would certainly be 
from the delicate manipulation of flat gold 
ribbon, rolling it with the hand into a 
fragile wire, a lengthy and difficult opera- 
tion, but surprisingly finely done in the 
earliest times when machinery was not. 
For indeed, though people talk about the 
wonders of machinery, the patience and 
dexterity of man's handiwork without the 
help of any machine is far more wonderful. 

I must repeat that gold and silver are 
usually treated in some firm and stiff 
manner in various couching stitches. It is 
at once the most effective and the easiest 
way of using these beautiful materials, but 
skilful workers will introduce gold into 
lighter needlework, threading and passing 
it back and forth like a thread of silk, 

68 



Decorative Needlework. 

Gold and silver so treated can be seen in 
the muslin towels and cloths that come 
over here from India, and from Turkey 
and Bulgaria. The gold is passed through 
the thin stuff, of sometimes gossamer 
texture, with wonderful smoothness and 
precision, and in its way, nothing daintier 
can be imagined than this rich and heavy 
decoration shining among the floating 
folds of a light and delicate muslin. In 
couched gold the metal is usually threaded 
in a large-eyed needle, and occasionally 
passed through the ground, but it has to 
be very carefully laid down with minute 
stitches of fine silk of different colours. 
Silver thread is sometimes used also, but 
the rapidity with which it tarnishes proves 
a great drawback ; which is a pity, as it is 
almost as beautiful as the gold. The 
reader can refer to what I have written 
about couching, which equally applies to 
gold-work when used in this way ; though 
with all the difference between a pliable 
and a stubborn material. I should always 

69 



Decorative Needlework. 

advise learners, ambitious of excelling 
herein, to get some special instruction in 
gold and silver needlework, as a little- 
teaching by word of mouth would soon 
dispel difficulties that appear to be very 
discouraging at first. 



70 



Decorative Needlework. 



CHAPTER VI. 
SETTING TO WORK. 

MOST people are familiar with the 
aspect of an embroidery-frame, 
or have some idea of what it 
is like. It consists of two ' beams ' or 
rollers (A) on which the textile is wound, 
or to which it is merely attached by 
being sewn to a piece of stout webbing 
nailed to the wood, and two cross-sticks 
(B) which complete the frame and do 
the stretching, transversely by threads 
passed through the material to be worked 
on, and lengthways by means of pegs 
or screws in the beams. This is the 
ancient loom, simple and primitive, and 
coeval with any sort of textile first woven 
by the sons of Adam : two upright posts 
stuck in the ground, and a beam above to 



Decorative Needlework. 



T T 




e> 



72 



Fig. 19. 



Decorative Needlework. 

hold the warp-threads, and weights below 
to keep all tight, or a second beam to hold 
the finished web. Instead of working the 
needle in and out of the woven stuff, the 
weaver works his shuttle in and out of the 
warp-threads, forming the web or woven 
stuff itself; or, when the simple machine is 
a little elaborated, shoots the shuttle 
between the two sets of threads, which are 
kept apart by a simple contrivance. The 
old hand-loom can be seen figured in many 
of the mediaeval manuscripts, where ladies 
are drawn carding, spinning, weaving, and 
embroidering, sitting in pretty gardens, the 
blue sky overhead, with garlands or jewels 
in their hair, and graceful gowns on their 
bodies a different picture from that pre- 
sented by our latter-day weaving-sheds, 
where every hour spent in the hot 
exhausted air among the clatter and crash 
of machinery is an undeserved penance to 
the work-girls. 

Our embroidery-frame is either supported 
on a table or against a chair ; or, which is 

73 



Decorative Needlework. 

far more convenient, is set in a stand on 
the ground, an arrangement which steadies 
the work, and leaves both hands free to ply 
the needle. In preparing and stretching 
framework great neatness and precision 
should be observed from the outset. The 
first little piece of carelessness is demoral- 
ising, and leads to more ; and, indeed, 
mistakes and disasters to the work may 
arise from not straining it carefully in the 
frame, quite straight and exact, the raw 
edges cut even and hemmed or sewn to a 
stout tape, through which to pass the 
strings that are used to stretch the work. 

Everything must be kept very clean (it 
is impossible to be too particular in this 
respect), and a thin cheap lining-muslin 
should be procured to sew over the parts 
of the work which are finished or not yet 
started. The learner will soon notice that 
if she gets into a careful, precise method 
from the first, the difficulties of working will 
the more readily be minimised, Silks, too, 
must be carefully kept, the different shades 

74 



Decorative Needlework. 

of one colour arranged together, the colours 
being labelled for working at night, until 
the worker is well practised in recognising 
the different shades by artificial light. 
Gold and silver should be kept from the 
light as much as possible, and should be 
cut off in lengths not over long, as the 
metal thread easily spoils and breaks. 
Floss-silk will want much nicety in keep- 
ing, as well as in handling, for it gets 
rough in a little while, not being twisted, 
or only very slightly. Of such silks none 
should be left lying about but what is 
needed for present use, which must be 
wound neatly on cards, if not on nice little 
ivory or mother-of-pearl winders, which are 
certainly a luxury, but good to have, as 
they are smooth and clean, and keep the 
silk fresh. 

These observations are not so trivial as 
perhaps they seem, and all tend towards 
the one general axiom, ' Cleanliness and 
neatness,' without which your work will be 
naught. I have sometimes seen work, 

75 



Decorative Needlework. 

which was allowed to lie about the room 
between-whiles, gathering all the impurities 
of smoke and dust ; the general dimness of 
aspect of such work can be imagined, and 
shows in itself bad workmanship. True 
talent, like true genius, is never slovenly ; 
for the acquiring of this quality of order 
and care, on which I lay so much stress, is 
part of the apprenticeship that every 
worker with hand and eye must go 
through, be it in workshop or studio, or 
labouring alone and self-taught, towards 
excellence in any art. 

A few words more about setting to work 
before we pass on to consider design and 
the nature of materials used in embroidery. 
I have said elsewhere that, in arranging 
and starting a piece of work, you must 
consider whether the stitches employed will 
necessitate the use of a frame, and also 
what stitches will look well in unison. 
Some stitches are more quickly and better 
done in the hand ; and as it is certainly- 
tiring to sit a long while bending over a 

76 



Decorative Needlework, 

frame, even to those who are used to it, it 
is well to avoid the use of one for work 
that can be done without it. 

For instance, satin stitch is often worked 
in a frame ; but when worked on ordinary 
materials that are not very fine or likely 
to pucker, it is equally well done, and much 
more quickly, without stretching. For 
darning, and for chain-stitch and other 
looped stitches, I consider a frame out of 
the question. When chain-stitch is worked 
on a stretched material it is done with a 
hooked needle, and called tambour work. 
Tapestry, long and short, and feather- 
stitches are practically all stitches for the 
frame : as also, it goes almost without 
saying, are couching, applique, and similar 
methods of work. The rough division of 
stitches into frame-work and non-frame- 
luork is a kind of guide as to what stitches 
to use together. But the learner will 
do well to avoid a heterogeneous mix- 
ture of stitches and had best confine herself 
to the use of one or two. Variety and 

77 



Decorative Needlework. 

effect are more honestly produced by good 
design and careful colouring than by the 
skilfullest admixture of stitches. 



Decorative Needlework. 



CHAPTER VII. 

DESIGN, CONVENTION AND REALISM. 

THE most important element in 
successful work is the choice of 
design, and I shall therefore be 
obliged to linger a little over this subject, 
as it is impossible to make a clear explan- 
ation to those of my readers to whom the 
subject may be entirely strange without a 
good deal of enlargement of general axioms. 
While inferior work can be tolerated for 
the sake of the design, if that is good 
(though the two rarely go together), 
excellent work on a worthless design must 
be cast aside as labour lost ; so that, you 
see, design is the very soul and essence of 
beautiful embroidery, as it is of every other 
art, exalted or humble. It is enough to 
break one's heart to see the labour and 

79 



Decorative Need leu >ork. 

skill sometimes spent over would-be de- 
corative ornament, that instead of being 
full of beauty and intention, is more like 
a heterogeneous collection of unmeaning 
shapes, lacking form, which the designer 
himself, if put to it, could as ill explain as 
anyone else. 

Having said this much, I must here say 
what I mean by design worthy to be 
wedded to good work. First we must 
consider the nature of Design generally 
and ask, for instance (a) Why the otherwise 
blank surface of the wall of my study is 
decorated by a patterned paper ; and (b] 
Why this particular paper is chosen of 
willow-boughs rather than roses or honey- 
suckles, or any other growth ? (a) In the 
first place, it is one of man's instincts to 
beautify his life by whatever means are in his 
power, and a wall-paper printed in colours 
with some ornamental form is more pleasing 
in his sight (as a make-shift, be it said, for 
handsomer decoration, such as wood 
panelling or woven hangings) than the 

80 



Decorative Needleivork. 

bare blank surface of plain white or colour. 
This is the instinctive pleasure in life (the 
' ' joie de vivre ' in the comprehensive sense), 
which makes life desirable, but which is too 
often restrained or even altogether crushed 
out of us by external circumstance. (6) 
Again, the ornamented surface takes the 
shape of willow-boughs on account of my 
own especial fancy for them, and the 
pleasant river-scenes they recall ; this con- 
stitutes the personal element of taste or 
fancy, and it is this individuality which 
divides what is called ' original ' work from 
that which is wanting in character and 
vigour ; in a word, lifeless. Thus we have 
the instinct, and the more or less developed 
capacity of man to adorn his life, on the 
one hand ; and on the other, the individual 
taste which directs that capacity on to 
this, that, or the other lines : Design 
embodying these two elements, universal 
and individual. 

The application of decorative design 
in connection with the minor arts or 
G 81 



Decorative Needlework. 

handicrafts, as they are called, will obviously 
be for the adornment of articles of daily 
and of especial use. Every commonest 
article of every-day use shows the remains 
(machine-made now, of course) of what 
was once put on by hand in the course of 
making the article, by way of decoration, 
such as the rim of blue or pink colour 
round the edge of a penny plate, or the 
star at the bottom of a beer-house tumbler. 

As in embroidery we have only to do 
with decorative design applied to flat 
surfaces, and especially to textiles, I must, 
in so large and interesting a subject, limit 
myself to this particular branch. Given a 
certain space, the aim of the designer is 
to lay on it ornament, first, pleasing to the 
eye, and next, suitable to the materials in 
hand, and to the future use of the article 
when finished. For the present we only 
have to deal with the former pleasure-giving 
quality. Now, the modern tendency (a 
reaction, doubtless, from the Renaissance 
conventionality which has so long held its 

82 



Deco raiivc Needlework. 

ground) is to copy some spray or bough 
directly from nature, and to lay it down 
haphazard on the surface to be ornamented; 
a few stray petals or a broken leaf and a 
caterpillar being peppered about elsewhere 
without rhyme or reason ; this is then 
called a ' quaint ' design. When I tell you 
that symmetry, order, and balance are 
above all things essential, and that no 
attempted copying of the painter's art 
(for that is what it amounts to) in such 
dissimilar and insufficient materials is 
permissible, you will understand that the 
' quaint ' design is wrong in the very 
nature of it. The given space must be 
filled by forms in certain rhythmical 
sequence, which may either be masked or 
plainly marked. 

In designing for reproduction by me- 
chanical means the various forms are 
arranged so as to be repeated in regular 
order ; but for our purpose, repetition of 
a design should be sparingly resorted to, 
and principally for large surfaces ; for the 



Decorative Needlework. 

great charm of embroidery lies in its rich- 
ness and diversity of invention, within 
certain well-understood limits. 

You will have often heard the words 
convention and conventional used as opposed 
to naturalistic forms in a decorative design. 
Now, the first thing the designer will do is 
to go to natural growths and animal life, 
and show his pleasure in them by studying 
their infinite variety and beauty, and 
introducing them into his work. These 
studies should be constantly and faithfully 
made, until the artist has familiarised 
himself with all possible peculiarities and 
diversities of such things. But his own 
work should merely recall nature, not 
absolutely copy it ; the living flower should 
inspire a living ornament in his brain, 
certain characteristics being dwelt upon, 
but the forms all simplified, leaves flatly 
arranged, stems bent into flowing curves 
to fill the required spaces. 

Whatever growth is chosen as a model 
will thus be /r-presented by the draughts- 

84 



Decorative Needlework. 



man's hand, but translated, as it were, and 
serving the purpose of giving delight 
almost as well as when growing in the 
fields : in exchange for the subtle, uncon- 




Fig. 20. 



Decorative Needlework. 

scious and untranslatable beauty of nature, 
\ve get the charm of conscious art ; the 
artist exacting service from nature, and 
obtaining it, graciously and ungrudgingly 
given just in so far as it is lovingly and 
frankly asked for. Here is (Fig. 20) a 
sketch of a rose-bud, conventionalised a 
great deal, as you will notice ; as a likeness 
of the rose-bud it is too rough to be worth 
much, but quite sufficiently recalls the real 
thing for the purposes of needlework. It 
was not drawn without careful considera- 
tion of a live rose-bud, all the little nicks 
in whose leaves, and twirls of whose 
tendrils were admiringly noted, but not 
reproduced in this sketch. 

Thus much of Convention, then, as an 
essential of decorative design. Next I 
would ask you, when you have a design for 
flat decoration in your hands, or are 
yourself designing, to consider carefully 
whether it fulfils its first purpose of well 
and symmetrically covering a certain de- 
fined space ? If this space is not so filled, 

86 



Decorative Needlework. 



the would-be design must be rejected as 
not fulfilling its function. The following 
sketches (Figs. 21 and 22) may roughly 




Fig. 21. 

supplement this. Given a square space to 
be ornamented simply, two ways of doing 
so are shown ; In the one (Fig. 2 1) a spray 



Decorative Needlework. 

is ' gracefully and negligently,' as a fashion- 
paper would say, laid in one corner, a leaf 
or two stuck on somewhere else, no matter 
where. The spray is inoffensive in itself, 




Fig. 22. 

but however beautifully and carefully it 

io-fit be drawn, there is no form or 

i r 



mi 



symmetry in the grouping ; in fact, no 
88 



Decorative Needlework. 

thought. Next we have a square (Fig. 22) 
with rosettes at the four corners, little spots 
running along the edge forming a border, 
and a circle in the middle, with more spots 
round it, forming a centre rosette. The 
whole is a mere grouping of spots big and 
little, symmetrically arranged, simply, but 
sufficiently decorative, when compared with 
Fig. 21. 

However, having warned you against 
the dangers of so-called ' naturalism,' I 
must point out that conventionalism in the 
extreme brings us to an equally unsatisfac- 
tory result ; that is, when natural objects 
are so changed as to become either 
grotesque or meaningless. In fact, a 'con- 
ventional ' design in common talk means 
something of this sort; that is, form which 
has now no true relation to natural growth. 
It would be of service to us here, as an 
illustration, if we could compare the con- 
vention of, say, the design of a fourteenth 
century embroidered cope (of no more than 
ordinary beauty, but good of its style) 

89 



Decorative Needlework. 

with the design of some late Renaissance 
quilt or hanging, or what not. 

In the earlier work we have the conven- 
tion which compels natural objects into a 
certain subjection without losing sight of 
their character, and without robbing them 
of their grace. In the later work and I 
am careful to speak of late Renaissance, as 
the early style has a beauty and delicacy 
all its own we have the convention which 
has forgotten all about nature, or thinks to 
improve upon it, spinning ideas out of itself 
like a silkworm. It is almost unnecessary 
to say that with this exhaustive method 
the supply of ideas soon gives out, and we 
have strange and extravagant forms, at 
once luxuriant and weak in line, and poor 
in fancy conventional indeed, and nothing 
besides. 

The deduction from this is, therefore, 
not to draw a line you do not understand 
and cannot explain to yourself. Be definite 
before everything let every form you put 
on paper be something, explain something. 

90 



Decorative Needlework. 

Some of the natural forms most dear to 
the designer as models are so intricate that 
the explanatory and strictly conventional 
method is the only method of representing 
them at all. Look, for instance, at the 
numerous drawings by the ancient Egypt- 
ian artists of papyrus beds, executed with 
extreme simplicity, and almost amounting 
to mere shorthand notes of the real thing, 
but none the less beautiful in their way. 



Decorative Needlework. 



CHAPTER VIII. 
CONTRAST AND REPETITION. 

TO get a harmonious design we 
must study and consider well of 
what qualities such a design 
should be built up. The subordination 
of one form to another in some way 
is essential ; there must be some leading 
lines and forms, that, from their central 
position or broader massing, attract the 
eye more than others. In the sprig 
(Fig. 23), which composes the powdered 
pattern indicated in Fig 24, the flower is the 
central point of attraction, the leaves and 
stems being subordinate to it. The forms 
of which a design is made should fall into 
their places naturally and without effort. 
On looking at some unskilful decorative 
work, every line seems to clash with 
92 



Decorative Needlework. 

another, the design being restless, and ' all 
on end/ lacking that breadth and repose 




Fig. 23. 

which characterises good work. The danger 
of insipidity and dulness that a ' quiet ' 
design may fall into must be avoided by 

93 



Decorative Needlework. 

contrast, the subordination of one part to 
another, spoken of above. Such contrast 
may be obtained in various ways ; for 
instance, by opposing delicate tracery or 
smaller forms to the principal masses of 
striking or broad forms, such opposition 
presenting a rich and pleasing variety to 
the eye. This contrast implies a certain 
complexity of design, which is not always 
necessary or suitable, but it certainly 
greatly enhances the richness of the inten- 
ded decoration. 

After thinking over this point, and 
writing thus far, I turned to Ruskin's 
' Elements of Drawing ' to see what his 
word to the beginner is on the subject of 
Composition and Design. I find here said 
so exactly what is wanted on many points, 
that I hope those who wish to pursue the 
subject will look up this volume, which 
contains much food for thought throughout 
its pages. Many of the observations apply 
as much to the decorative as to the higher 
pictorial arts, and I am tempted to quote 

94 



Decorative Needlework. 

the master's words on the ' Law of Con- 
trast/ which, giving as they do the true 
ethical meaning of this law in a few clear 
and simple words, should be helpful to you. 
He says: 'Of course the character of 
everything is best manifested by Contrast. 
Rest can only be enjoyed after labour ; 
sound, to be heard clearly, must rise out 
of silence ; light is exhibited by darkness, 
darkness by light ; and so on in all things. 
Now in art every colour has an opponent 
colour, which, if brought near it, will 
relieve it more completely than any other ; 
so, also, every form and line may be made 
more striking to the eye by an opponent 
form or line near them ; a curved line is 
set off by a straight one, a massive form 
by a slight one, and so on ; and in all good 
work nearly double the value, which 
any given colour or form would have 
uncombined, is given to each by contrast.' 
The next paragraph contains a warning 
against vulgar exaggeration in the use of 
this artifice. 

95 



Decorative Needlework. 

The value of repetition in decoration on 
large surfaces will easily be seen, but it is 
further needed in the different parts of 
the design itself, as, for instance, the 
repetition of petal against petal, leaf beside 
leaf. Symmetry goes hand in hand with 
this, leaf balancing leaf on the opposite 
sides of the stem. There is also that more 
subtle repetition found in elaborate design, 
of one form ' echoing ' another, without 
exactly repeating it. This, however, will 
be better understood after studying good 
ornamental work closely, and carefully 
considering its composition. 

A glance at the diagram (Fig. 24) will 
give some idea of the nature of these laws 
of repetition, balance, and so forth, that 
govern design. The diagram represents 
the simplest possible expression of a 
' powdered pattern,' that is, of a design 
dotted or powdered over the surface at 
regular intervals. In the little sprigs we 
have repetition, and in so far as they 
alternate in position in alternate rows we 

96 



Decorative Needlework. 

have symmetry, and symmetry and balance 
also in the individual sprig, the leaves of 













Fig. 24. 

which lie opposed each side of the stem ; 
in the rosettes or groups of dots between 
the sprigs, as well as in the construction 
of the sprigs themselves, we have contrast 
or subordination. 

I have sufficiently enlarged elsewhere 
on Convention and Realism, or truth to 

H 97 



Decorative Needlework. 

nature ; I will therefore only again remind 
you, and very earnestly, not to note care- 
lessly one-half of my observations on this 
important point without due consideration 
of the other half, the one assertion being 
incomplete without the other. Man's 
instinct is creative as much as imitative, 
and the very convention he adopts, deter- 
mined by his own personality, is nothing 
but a re-presentation based on observation 
of and fidelity to nature. 



98 



Decorative Needlework. 



CHAPTER IX. 
LINES AND CURVES. 

IN considering the different elements 
of Design, a little talk about the 
value and qualities of lines will 
clear up a good many difficulties for 
the beginner. Remember well this : a 
beautiful curve has variety in every 
inch of it ; that is to say, it changes 
its direction constantly. Look at Fig. 25, 
which at A shows a curve which is the 
segment of a circle. A true circle being- 
drawn mechanically with a compass from a 
fixed centre, every portion of its line is 
regular and equal in value to every other 
portion. Such a curve in its mechanical 
perfection, therefore, is unsatisfactory to 
the designer's eye, and its unconscious, as 

99 



Decorative Needlework. 

well as conscious, adoption should be 
vigilantly guarded against. At B, on the 
contrary, we have a pleasing curve, very 




B 




Fig- 25. 

familiar to anyone who notes the poise of 
a flower-stem or the swing of a tree-branch. 
Look at it and compare it with A, and you 
will see what is meant by variety in a curve, 
100 



Decorative Needlework. 

At C, the outline of a full spring-bud, we 
have a still more varied line. 

Nothing could be better as studies for 
simple and complex curves than careful 
copying of a single leaf from each of the 
different plants and trees which may be 
accessible to you. Note the difference 
between the exquisite crispness of outline 
in the beech-leaf and the delicate simplicity 
of the slim vvillow r -leaf ; or again, the rich 
variety of line in the serrated vine-leaf. 
There is another thing to remember about 
curves : every curved line is stronger at 
its base or attachment than at its apex ; 
the further from the base, the more delicate, 
and finally the more weak it grows. A 
curve, therefore, w r hich is prolonged beyond 
a certain point loses its strength, its 
expression of poising and balance, and 
the indecision that results is extremely 
unpleasing. In Fig. 26 curve A is right ; 
continue it a little, and we get B, which 
reminds one of the woefully weak lines of 
a bad wall-paper. If a prolonged curve is 

101 



Decorative Needlework. 

wanted for some definite purpose, it should 
contain an actual repetition of direction as 
at C. 




Fig. 26. 

In planning out and starting a design, 
always work from a centre, both for the 
detail and in the composition itself. For 
instance, if you are bringing a rose into 
your work, fix in your eye a certain central 
point, and let the petals converge towards 

102 



Decorative Needlework. 

it ; the same in drawing a leaf (such a 
complex leaf as at B, Fig. 27). Without 
some such definite order the petals of the 
flower, or the parts of the leaf, will lie at 
all sorts of odd angles, and you will be 
puzzled, and unable to tell exactly where 
and how they are wrong. 

Designs differ considerably in form 
and method : some are worked entirely 
from a centre, while others are more 
flowing, and may have a central form, but 
not set or strongly marked. But in all 
ornamental design, whatever the construc- 
tion, the details themselves must have this 
definite centre, which gives unity and 
coherence, be it masked or revealed. The 
law of radiation is, in fact, all-pervading 
in design. In the little branch (A), in the 
diagram, the stem itself, roughly speaking, 
constitutes the centre, whence the leaf- 
stalks radiate and fall outwards with just 
that amount of irregularity, or, more 
strictly speaking (for nothing is wholly 
irregular in design), that amount of varia- 



Decorative Needlework. 

tion that will be felt and made use of as 
the student grows more familiar with the 
designer's art. 




Fig. 27. 

I think with these notes on the formation 
of design, the student should now have 
104 



Decorative Needlework. 

some inkling as to what to study among 
the examples of fine ornament in our 
museums, or from coloured plates of the 
same, which can be easily obtained. It 
will be easier now, I hope, to recognise the 
qualities, good or bad, of such work, and 
from study to practice should be but a 
short step. 

In always recommending ancient rather 
than modern work for study, I do so with 
intent; for, in mediaeval ornament, whether 
in an illuminated manuscript or a figured 
stuff, or embroidered cloth, one is always 
sure that though the interest of detail and 
beauty of form may vary very much, the 
work is not lacking in the essential qualities 
of good design, and is thorough in its way, 
and executed with due knowledge of 
material and with due skill of hand. In 
modern decorative work the estrangement 
between designer and executant generally 
creates a want of unity and coherence in 
the work produced. On the one hand, the 
designer frequently has no full knowledge 

105 



Decorative Needlework. 

of the materials and tools employed, and 
his drawings, made independently of such 
things, lose force or delicacy in the 
execution ; while on the other hand, the 
craftsman loses the knowledge he formerly 
possessed of the value of lines and masses, 
as he is no longer, as a rule, called upon 
to think and create his work a disastrous 
division of labour, with disastrous results, 



1 06 



Decorative Needlework. 



CHAPTER X. 

COLOURS AND COLOURING. 

CLEAR and beautiful colouring, 
sometimes complex, sometimes 
simple, is one of the principal 
features of fine embroidery. Some people 
are by nature more of colourists than 
others, and often hit upon the right method 
of work, while they would be puzzled if 
you were to ask them to explain the why 
and wherefore of it ; but with others it is 
a matter of education, and a few general 
precepts founded on observation may be 
given for the benefit of those who are still 
feeling their way. 

To the entirely uneducated eye (speaking 
with regard to colour) blue is blue, red is 
red, green, green, and so forth, every colour 
being positive, and there being no idea in 

107 



Decorative Needlework. 

the person's mind of the relation of one 
colour to another. But after a little obser- 
vation and experiment you will find that 
beside their positive value, colours have a 
relative value of which you have never 
dreamed hitherto : a colour that is in itself 
beautiful may become absolutely atrocious 
by awkward handling, being placed, for 
example, beside some other shade that is 
its natural enemy. 

Of the colours principally used for 
embroidery, blue is one of the pleasantest 
to have constantly under one's eye ; but 
personal idiosyncracies play an important 
part in colouring, and one person may 
declare against a generally admired colour 
without being able to explain the reason, 
though perhaps his doctor or his oculist 
could do so. Of blue choose those shades 
that have the pure, slightly grey, tone of 
indigo dye (varying somewhat, of course, 
on different materials). The quality of 
this colour is singularly beautiful, and not 
easy to describe except by negatives : it is 

1 08 



Decorative Needlework. 

neither slatey, nor too hot, nor too cold, 
nor does it lean to that unutterably coarse 
green-blue, libellously called ' peacock ' 
blue ; it has different tones brilliant some- 
times, and sometimes quiet reminding 
one now of the grey-blue of a distant 
landscape, and now of the intense blue of 
a midday summer sky if anything can 
resemble that. 

Pure blues, such as I am attempting to 
describe, are to be seen in the Chinese 
silks and satins, which are familiar now to 
most of us, sometimes very pale, and 
sometimes almost black in their intensity, 
but always full and brilliant. The modifi- 
cations of this blue to purple and 
grey-purple on the one side, and to green- 
blue on the other, are also useful colours, 
being chosen and employed with care. 

Of reds, we have first a pure central red, 
between crimson and scarlet (for in the pure 
colour neither blue nor yellow should 
predominate), but this is a difficult shade 
to use ; by far the most useful are those 

109 



^ Decorative Needlework. 



' impure ' shades which are modified by 
yellow, as, for instance, flesh-pink, salmon, 
orange, and scarlet ; or by blue, as rose- 
pink, blood-red, and deep purple-red. The 
more delicate of such shades can be freely 
used where a central red, overpowering in 
its intensity, cannot. A warning, however, 
against abuse of warm orange and scarlet, 
which colours are the more valuable the 
more sparingly employed, and as dainty 
little spots of colour treasures indeed. 

The most valuable colour next to blue 
is green, or, rather, equally valuable in its 
different way, being to some people more 
restful to the eye and brain. This being 
so, it is curious to remark how very rarely 
a good full green, neither muddy or coarse, 
is offered to the public. It is important 
for you to understand the different qualities 
of the various shades of green necessary 
for your work ; for, if you are told, or if you 
feel that such and such is an intrinsically 
admirable colour, you may perhaps through 
sheer enthusiasm try to use it where it 

no 



Decorative Needlework. 

should not be used, or employ a certain 
shade in large masses that should be 
soberly dealt with, and so forth. 

Here, again, we see the force of the 
positive and relative value of colours : a 
cold, strong green, not in itself very 
pleasing, placed against a clear brilliant 
yellow, gathers depth and force which it 
would otherwise lack ; a blue-green may 
strike the right note in a certain place, but 
if its use be exaggerated may blemish all. 
Now, there are certain greens which are 
brilliant and rich, and, when employed 
broken with other colours, produce a fine 
effect ; but when a green is to be largely 
used, it should be chosen of a greyer, 
soberer shade, such as the eye rests on 
without fatigue. Avoid like poison the 
yellowish-brown green of a sickly hue that 
professes to be ' artistic,' and looks like 
nothing but corruption, and avoid also a 
hard metallic green, which, after all, would 
not easily seduce a novice, as it is very 
obtrusive in its unloveliness. 

1 1 1 



Decorative Needlework. 

For your embroidery-palette certain 
definite sets of green will be necessary ; 
full, pure yellow-green, greyish-green, and 
blue-green, two or three shades of each. 
The brilliant pure green that we admire in 
a single spring leaf is impossible to use in 
large masses, nor does Nature, whose all- 
pervading colour is green, give us these 
acute notes in unbroken mass. You have 
only to look at the effect of light and shade 
in a tree in full spring foliage, with the 
browns and greys of its twigs, to realise 
this fact : the great masses of green 
meadow-land, besides showing a variety 
of colour that may be overlooked in a 
careless glance, have a tenderness of tone 
that is quite beyond and above any possible 
imitation in art. 

For a central yellow choose a clear, full 
colour that is neither sickly and greenish, 
nor inclined to red and hot in tone. Of 
impure yellows, pale orange and a warm 
pinkish shade that inclines to copper are 
useful, besides the buff and brownish shades 

112 



Decorative Needlework. 

that will sometimes be wanted for special 
purposes. These, I think, include all the 
yellow shades that you need trouble about. 
A certain experience is wanted for the 
successful use of yellow, so that those who 
take a special delight in the intrinsic beauty 
of this fine colour will do well to avoid too 
enthusiastic an introduction of it into their 
work. 

Of course, different colours and different 
dye-stuffs are affected by different materials. 
This is eminently the case with yellow : 
on wool, which absorbs the light, a large 
unbroken mass of yellow is positively 
forbidding ; while in silk, with its lights 
and reflections that serve to break the 
colour, it is another matter. 

Purple again is one of the ' difficult ' 
colours with which we must, as it were, hit 
upon the exactly right tones to use. There 
are two valuable purples a rather full 
red-purple, tending to russet, and a dusky 
grey-purple, which is, if the right tone is 
obtained, a very beautiful, and, if I may 
\ U3 



Decorative Needlework. 

say so, poetic colour. Perhaps such colours 
belong more to the artist's palette than to 
the embroideress's set of wools or silks, 
but it seems to me there ought to be little 
difficulty in getting all manner of strange 
and charming shades out of the dyer's vat, 
if the dyer of commerce had the enthusiasm 
of his art. 

Harmony, contrast, and repetition all 
these laws that we have glanced at with 
regard to form have the same application 
to colouring. In arranging your work, you 
should have in your mind a definite scheme 

J 

of colour, as simple as possible at first, and 
consisting, perhaps, merely of one predom- 
inating colour with a few touches of another 
for a relief. When a little more experienced, 
you should still have some dominating 
colour or shades of a colour, among which 
contrasting tones are placed, bringing out 
the relative values according to your skill 
or instinct in choosing. 

For elaborate and costly work, it is 
obvious that gold and silver will form an 

114 



Decorative Needlework. 

important factor in the scheme of colour 
but here again it must be noted thatmetals, 
if employed in great masses, highly raised 
and without due relief and softening by 
colours, are apt to look hard and a trifle 
sometimes more than a trifle vulgar. 

For example, compare a late French or 
Spanish vestment of the richest description 
with one of the same kind made in one of 
the best periods of this art. Both are 
equally lavish in materials and work- 
manship ; the modern is probably a mass 
of thick padded and corded gold, sewn down 
with yellow or white silk on a rich white 
ground. While labouring by this piling 
up of metal to get all the effect of splendour 
he possibly can out of his materials, the 
craftsman has produced a piece of work 
smart enough for theatrical effect, or for a 
piece of pageantry, but giving no idea of 
splendid and sumptuous beauty, such as 
the faithful of all times have been desirous 
of surrounding their religion with, accord- 
ing to their abilities. But, on the other 



Decorative Needlework. 

hand, a similar work of art, wrought in a 
more spontaneous and genuine period, 
with similar aims, that is, to be a fit offering 
to a favourite saint, in whose benevolent 
personality the craftsman had a genuine 
belief, would have shown less vaunting of 
costly material though none were stinted ; 
but the cunning with which rich and 
brilliant colours were interwoven with gold 
would leave an impression on the eye of 
subtlety and fantasy that is one of the 
charms of the art. 

Some such work that I have in my mind 
has a flat, golden background, the surface 
broken by being worked in a simple 
zig-zag or waved pattern, needing far more 
' technique ' and delicacy than the lumpy 
gold of the late French or Spanish cited 
above. On this gold background will be 
placed subject groups from the lives of 
the Saints, perhaps, or rich and fanciful 
ornament and foliage, wrought finely and 
laboriously with silk, with more gold, and 
possibly with little pearls and other precious 
116 



Decorative Needlework. 

stones. You don't want to have your high 
priest look as if he were cut out of tin-foil, 
but clotlicd in changeful folds that shine as 
he moves, and take lights and shadows on 
them like those of precious stones them- 
selves. 

Such work, with its quality of mystery, 
had a living splendour, and was indeed 
' fit for kings' treasuries/ as the simple 
saying has it, or as we might say now- 
adays, fit to gladden the eyes of all who 
believe that everything beautiful that is 
made serves its due purpose in enriching 
the treasury of the world. 

I had no intention of raising the question 
here whether kings' treasuries or the 
treasury of humanity itself should have the 
privilege of possessing beautiful things, 
and. what is more, the power of enjoying 
them ; but a belief in the power of beauty 
is a wholesome thing, and I make no 
apology for preaching it by the way. As 
an art, therefore, that should help to 
decorate home life very largely, and public 

117 



Decorative Needlework. 

life too, as regards religious buildings, 
public halls on festive occasions, and so 
forth, embroidery deserves to be taken 
seriously, especially the higher branch of 
it, which includes intricate colour and work 
in gold and precious stones, such as that 
of which I have been speaking. 

It is not easy to give much advice about 
method in colouring, as I suppose every one 
has his or her own pet way of setting to 
work. The colouring of your design can 
be treated as dark on a light ground, that 
is, using principally dark colours on a 
light ground ; or, as light upon dark, using 
light colours on a dark ground a more 
effective and more difficult treatment ; or 
by placing colour upon colour, forming, as 
it were, a mosaic of colours of more or less 
equal tone. This last is an elaborate but 
very beautiful method, in which Eastern 
artists have always excelled. A few hints 
as to grouping of colours to guard against 
fundamental errors will be all that is 
possible to touch upon here. 

118 



Decorative Needlework. 

As aforesaid, start with the simplest 
possible scheme of colour while you are 
feeling your way, and when you launch 
out into combinations of two or three 
colours, let one predominate, the others 
being rhythmically disposed to emphasise 
the leading tone. When you feel you can 
come to bolder contrasts, avoid placing a 
blue directly against a green of nearly the 
same tone ; if blue and green are mixed, 
the blue must be very light against a dark 
green, or the reverse. Again, red and 
yellow, if both vivid, will need a soften ing- 
line to separate them, though a pale yellow 
with a clear, pure, rather delicate scarlet is 
by no means a displeasing arrangement ; 
or again, a full, clear yellow with a very 
pale brick-red. 

Red and green must be carefully chosen, 
and softened by an outline ; avoid much 
use of any cold green, especially avoid 
placing it against a misty blue, for the 
indecision and muddled effect of this 
arrangement is the reverse of pleasant. 

119 



Decorative Needlework. 

Brown must be carefully chosen, warm 
in tint, but not hot ; a little of it will be 
necessary in figure-work, but for merely 
floral design a decided brown need be 
seldom used. Black also has distinct value 
in certain sorts of work, but the use of it 
should be left to an experienced hand. 

In handling colours, you must bear in 
mind the retiring quality of some and the 
assertive quality of others, but do not 
emphasise these qualities too much. Your 
work should, on the whole, be very flat and 
quiet in general character, though as bright 
as you can get it in the individual tones. 
As in design, avoid confusion and indis- 
tinctness of detail. The mystery and 
reticence spoken of with regard to work of 
the highest order is quite another quality, 
and one with which we have little to 
do here, beyond teaching ourselves to 
recognise and appreciate it. Make no 
attempt to grope after ' startling novelties/ 
but try for pure, clear tones. When people 
say they like 'soft, quiet colouring' in 

1 20 



Decorative Needlework. 

textiles and embroidery, it is an unconscious 
tribute to harmonious colouring, for the 
colours themselves, if excellent in quality, 
can hardly be too brilliant ; if they appear 
so, it is the craftsVnan who is at fault. 

In conclusion, I will ask leave to remind 
you that though there are the two aspects 
of embroidery, the one in which it is 

/ 

accepted as one of the lesser arts, having 
its clue place in history and in our lives, 
and the other in which it serves as an 
occupation for an idle hour, yet in both 
cases it is worth nothing if not pursued 
with clue method and soberness, and carried 
out in a workmanlike way. 



121 



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