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History of Stitching

A work in progress!

As we all know this is a huge topic to cover and I do not for one minute pretend to have a wide knowledge of the subject, so I’m hoping that if I start this off then you will all provide input from your own experiences and knowledge so that we can grow this part of the website.

If you can send me your information I’m more than happy to maintain some sort of order, please e-mail to

1. History of Cross stitch (from Wikipedia)

Cross-stitch is the oldest form of embroidery and can be found all over the world. Many folk museums show examples of clothing decorated with cross-stitch, especially from continental Europe, Asia, and Eastern and Central Europe.

The cross stitch sampler is called that because it was generally stitched by a young girl to learn how to stitch and to record alphabet and other patterns to be used in her household sewing. These samples of her stitching could be referred back to over the years. Often, motifs and initials were stitched on household items to identify their owner, or simply to decorate the otherwise-plain cloth. In the United States, the earliest known cross-stitch sampler is currently housed at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The sampler was created by Loara Standish and is circa 1653.

Traditionally, cross-stitch was used to embellish items like household linens, tablecloths, dishcloths, and doilies (only a small portion of which would actually be embroidered, such as a border). Although there are many cross-stitchers who still employ it in this fashion, it is now increasingly popular to work the pattern on pieces of fabric and hang them on the wall for decoration. Cross stitch is also often used to make greeting cards, pillow tops, or as inserts for box tops and coasters.

Multi-coloured, shaded, painting-like patterns as we know them today are a fairly modern development, deriving from similar shaded patterns of Berlin wool work of the mid-nineteenth century. Besides designs created expressly for cross stitch, there are software programs that convert a photograph or a fine art image into a chart suitable for stitching.

There are many cross-stitching "guilds" and groups across the United States and Europe which offer classes, collaborate on large projects, stitch for charity, and provide other ways for local cross-stitchers to get to know one another. Individually owned local needlework shops (LNS) often have stitching nights at their shops, or host weekend stitching retreats.

Today cotton floss is the most common embroidery thread. It is a thread made of mercerized cotton, composed of six strands that are only loosely twisted together and easily separable. While there are other manufacturers, the two most-commonly used (and oldest) brands are DMC and Anchor, both of which have been manufacturing embroidery floss since the 1800s. Other materials used are pearl (or perle) cotton, Danish flower thread, silk and Rayon. Different wool threads, metallic threads or other novelty threads are also used, sometimes for the whole work, but often for accents and embellishments. Hand-dyed cross stitch floss is created just as the name implies - it is dyed by hand. Because of this, there are variations in the amount of colour throughout the thread. Some variations can be subtle, while some can be a huge contrast. Some also have more than one colour per thread, which in the right project, creates amazing results.

Related stitches and forms of embroidery

Other stitches are also often used in cross-stitch, among them ¼, ½, and ¾ stitches and backstitches.

There are many stitches which are related to cross-stitch and were used in similar ways in earlier times. The best known are Italian cross-stitch, Celtic Cross Stitch, Irish Cross Stitch, long-armed cross-stitch, Ukrainian cross-stitch and Montenegrin stitch. Italian cross-stitch and Montenegrin stitch are reversible, meaning the work looks the same on both sides. These styles have a slightly different look than ordinary cross-stitch. These more difficult stitches are rarely used in mainstream embroidery, but they are still used to recreate historical pieces of embroidery or by the creative and adventurous stitcher.

The double cross-stitch, also known as a Leviathan stitch or Smyrna cross stitch, combines a cross-stitch with an upright cross-stitch. Berlin wool work and similar petit point stitchery resembles the heavily shaded, opulent styles of cross-stitch, and sometimes also used charted patterns on paper.

Cross-stitch is often combined with other popular forms of embroidery, such as Hardanger embroidery or blackwork embroidery. Cross-stitch may also be combined with other work, such as canvaswork or drawn thread work. Beadwork and other embellishments such as paillettes, charms, and small buttons and speciality threads of various kinds may also be used.

Recent trends in the UK

In recent years Cross-stitch has become increasingly popular with the younger generation and the Great Recession has also seen renewal of interest in home crafts.

In a departure from the traditional designs associated with cross stitch, there is a current trend for more postmodern or tongue-in-cheek designs featuring retro images or contemporary sayings. It is linked to a concept known as 'subversive cross stitch', which involves more risqué designs, often fusing the traditional sampler style with sayings designed to shock or be incongruous with the old-fashioned image of cross stitch.

Stitching designs on other materials can be accomplished by using a Waste Canvas. This waste canvas is a temporary gridded canvas similar to regular canvas used for embroidery that is held together by a water-soluble glue, this is removed after completion of stitch design.

2. Blackwork (from Wikipedia)

Blackwork , sometimes historically termed Spanish blackwork, is a form of embroidery generally using black thread, although other colours are also used on occasion. Sometimes it is counted-thread embroidery which is usually stitched on even-weave fabric. Any black thread can be used, but firmly twisted threads give a better look than embroidery floss. Traditionally blackwork is stitched in silk thread on white or off-white linen or cotton fabric. Sometimes metallic threads or coloured threads are used for accents.

Historically, blackwork was used on shirts and chemises or smocks in England from the time of Henry VIII. The common name "Spanish work" was based on the belief that Catherine of Aragon brought many blackwork garments with her from Spain, and portraits of the later 15th and early 16th centuries show black embroidery or other trim on Spanish chemises. Black embroidery was known in England before 1500. Geoffrey Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales describes the clothing of the miller's wife, Alison: "Of white, too, was the dainty smock she wore, embroidered at the collar all about with coal-black silk, alike within and out."

Blackwork in silk on linen was the most common domestic embroidery technique for clothing (shirts, smocks, sleeves, ruffs, and caps) and for household items such as cushion covers throughout the reign of Elizabeth I, but it lost its popularity by the 17th century.

Today Blackwork has regained its popularity. Common subjects among hobbyists include chessboards, maps, Tudor houses, roses and cats. Much of the success of a blackwork design depends on how tone values are translated into stitches.

Today, the term "Blackwork" is used to refer to the technique, rather than the colour combination.

3. Tapestry or Needlepoint (from Wikipedia)

Historically the term Tapestry applied to the large loom woven pieces and the work we refer to in the UK as Tapestry today was known as Needlepoint.

Needlepoint is a form of counted thread embroidery in which yarn is stitched through a stiff open weave canvas. Most needlepoint designs completely cover the canvas. Although needlepoint may be worked in a variety of stitches, many needlepoint designs use only a simple tent stitch and rely upon colour changes in the yarn to construct the pattern. The degree of detail in needlepoint depends on the thread count of the underlying mesh fabric. Needlepoint worked on fine canvas is known as petit point. Due to the inherent stiffness of needlepoint, common uses include wall hangings, pillows, upholstery, holiday ornaments, purses and eyeglass cases.


The roots of needlepoint go back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, who used small slanted stitches to sew up their canvas tents. Howard Carter, of Tutankhamen fame, found some needlepoint in the cave of a Pharaoh who had lived around 1500 BCE. Modern needlepoint descends from the canvas work in Tent Stitch, done on an evenly woven open ground fabric that was a popular domestic craft in the 16th century.


Needlepoint refers to a particular set of stitching techniques worked upon stiff openwork canvas. Because it is stitched on a fabric that is an open grid, needlepoint is not embellishing a fabric, as is the case with most other types of embroidery, but literally the making of a new fabric. It is for this reason that many needlepoint stitches must be of sturdier construction than other embroidery stitches.

"Needlepoint" is not synonymous with all types of embroidery. Needlepoint is often referred to as "tapestry" in the United Kingdom and sometimes as "canvaswork." Needlepoint differs from true tapestry, which is woven on a vertical loom. Needlepoint is stitched on canvas mesh. When worked on fine weave canvas in Tent Stitch it is also known as "Petitpoint". When referring to handcrafted textile arts which a speaker is unable to identify, the appropriate generalized term is "needlework".

Berlin Work (also spelled Berlinwork) refers to a subset of needlepoint, popular in the mid-19th Century that was stitched in brightly coloured wool on needlepoint canvas from hand-coloured charts.

4. Contemporary techniques


The threads used for stitching may be wool, silk, cotton or combinations, such as wool-silk blend. Variety fibers may also be used, such as metallic cord,metallic braid, ribbon, or raffia. Stitches may be plain, covering just one thread intersection with a single orientation, or fancy, such as in bargello or other counted-thread stitches. Plain stitches, known as tent stitches, may be worked as basketweave, continental or half cross. Basketweave uses the most wool, but does not distort the rectangular mesh and makes for the best-wearing piece.

Several types of embroidery canvas are available: single thread and double thread embroidery canvas are open even-weave meshes, with large spaces or holes to allow heavy threads to pass through without fraying. Canvas is sized by mesh sizes, or thread count per inch. Sizes vary from 5 threads per inch to 24 threads per inch; popular mesh sizes are 10, 12, 14, 18, and 24 (Congress Cloth). The different types of needlepoint canvas available on the market are mono, penelope, interlock, rug and plastic

  • Mono canvas comes in the widest variety of colours (especially 18 mesh) and is plain woven, with one weft thread going over and under one warp thread. This canvas has the most possibilities for manipulation and open canvas. It is used for hand-painted canvases as well as counted thread canvaswork.
  • Penelope canvas has two threads closely grouped together in both warp and weft. Because these threads can be split apart, penelope sizes are often expressed with two numbers, such as 10/20.
  • Interlock Mono Canvas is more stable than the others and is made by twisting two thin threads around each other for the lengthwise thread and "locking" them into a single crosswise thread. Interlock canvas is generally used for printed canvases. Silk gauze is a form of interlock canvas, which is sold in small frames for petit-point work. Silk gauze most often comes in 32, 40 or 48 count, although some 18 count is available and 64, 128 and other counts are used for miniature work.
  • Rug canvas is a mesh of strong cotton threads, twisting two threads around each other lengthwise forms the mesh and locking them around a crosswise thread made the same way; this cannot be separated. Canvases come in different gauges, and rug canvas is 3.3 mesh and 5 mesh, which is better for more detailed work.
  • Plastic Canvas is a stiff canvas that is generally used for smaller projects and is sold as “pre-cut pieces" rather than by the yard. Plastic canvas is an excellent choice for beginners who want to practice different stitches.

Frames and hoops

Needlepoint canvas is stretched on a scroll frame or tacked onto a rectangular wooden frame to keep the work taut during stitching. Petit point is sometimes worked in a small embroidery hoop rather than a scroll frame.


Commercial designs for needlepoint may be found in different forms: Hand-Painted Canvas, Printed Canvas, Trammed Canvas, Charted Canvas, and Free-form.

In Hand-Painted Canvas, the design is painted on the canvas by the designer, or painted to their specifications by an employee or contractor. Canvases may be stitch-painted, meaning each thread intersection is painstakingly painted so that the stitcher has no doubts about what colour is meant to be used at that intersection. Alternatively, they may be hand-painted, meaning that the canvas is painted by hand but the stitcher will have to use their judgment about what colours to use if a thread intersection is not clearly painted. Hand-painted canvases allow the stitcher to give free range to their creativity with threads and unique stitches by not having to pay attention to a separate chart. In North America this is the most popular form of needlepoint canvas.

Printed Canvas is when the design is printed by silk screening or computer onto the needlepoint canvas. Printing the canvas in this means allows for faster creation of the canvas and thus has a lower price than Hand-Painted Canvas. However, care must be taken that the canvas is straight before being printed to ensure that the edges of the design are straight. Designs are typically less involved due to the limited colour palette of this printing method. The results (and the price) of printed canvas vary extensively. Often printed canvases come as part of kits, which also dramatically vary in quality, based on the printing process and the materials used. This form of canvas is widely available outside North America.

On a Trammed Canvas the design is professionally stitched onto the canvas by hand using horizontal stitches of varying lengths of wool of the appropriate colours. The canvas is usually sold together with the wool required to stitch the trammed area. The stitcher then uses tent stitch over the horizontal lines with the tramme stitches acting as an accurate guide as to the colour and number of stitches required. This technique is particularly suited to designs with a large area of mono-colour background as such areas do not require tramming, reducing the cost of the canvas and allowing the stitcher to choose the background colour themselves. The Portuguese island of Madeira is the historic centre for the manufacture of trammed canvases.

Charted Canvas designs are available in book or leaflet form. They are available at book stores and independent needlework stores. Charted Canvas designs are typically printed in two ways: either in grid form with each thread intersection being represented with a symbol that shows what colour is meant to be stitched on that intersection, or as a line drawing where the stitcher is to trace the design onto his canvas and then fill in those areas with the colours listed. Books typically include a grouping of designs from a single designer such as Kaffe Fassett or Candace Bahouth, or may be centered around a theme such as Christmas or Victorian Needlepoint. Leaflets usually include one to two designs and are usually printed by the individual designer.

Free-form needlepoint designs are created by the stitcher. They may be based around a favourite photograph, stitch, thread colour, etc. The stitcher just starts stitching! Many interesting pieces are created this way. It allows for the addition of found objects, appliqué, computer-printed photographs, goldwork, or specialty stitches.

While traditionally needlepoint has been done to create a solid fabric, more modern needlepoint incorporates open canvas, techniques which allow some of the unstitched, or lightly stitched, canvas to show through. Some of these techniques include "shadow" or "lite" stitching, blackwork on canvas, and pattern darning.

Needlepoint continues to evolve as stitchers use new techniques and threads, and add appliqué or found materials. The line between needlepoint and other forms of counted-thread embroidery is becoming blurred as new stitchers adapt techniques and materials from other forms of embroidery to needlepoint.

Ordering A
Customised Games Board

We can customise any of our games boards with designs which can be chosen from our design Library, please order the customised option of the Games Board from the website and then click the Custom Games Board Order Form at the bottom of the product page to let us know which designs you would like and where, once complete please e-mail to If you have any questions then please contact us.