The word Embroidery is a wide ranging term that really encompasses all of the needlework skills. It really is just the art of forming decorative designs on fabric. This art of decorating fabric with thread or yarn has its roots in ancient history. The earliest surviving examples of embroidery are Scythian (c. 5th–3rd century BC). These pieces depended on the basic stitches still used today. The big change between then and now is that no longer must embroidery be done by hand.
In the mid 1800s France developed a machine that would do embroidery and machine made embroidery became popular in the late 1800s. No longer did decorations depend on individuals plying a needle and it became more abundant in society.
This is not to say that young girls were no longer taught the art of embroidery and in fact needlework played an important part of life and a girl’s duties growing up into the early 1900s.
Crewel Embroidery is a form of what is considered to be crochet embroidery. It is not a counted stitch but more of a freehand which allows a certain interpretation of the picture. The Bayeaux Tapestry pictured above was done in this type of embroidery.
A picture is transferred to the material, which historically has been cotton or a closely woven linen twill. The designs went from simple to very intricate. Some of the traditional stitches that are used are chain stitch, satin stitch, french knots, and stem stitch.
I think many of us think of the sampler such as the one pictured above when someone mentions cross stitch. We think of the young woman completing her cross stitch sampler that shows that she has accomplished a certain skill level. Interesting enough, that is not where this all began.
The original samplers were not a showing of a level of competency but a record of needlework samples that the woman did not want to forget. Basically if she saw a design she would quickly use a small piece of fabric and copy it. This would then be attached to a larger piece of fabric and kept so that she could remember the stitch. This is something that she would do over a lifetime.
These original samplers were not just cross stitch but contained samples of many different types of stitches and designs. It was not until the 1700s that the sampler became a tool to demonstrate knowledge of cross stitch.
Traditional, Hardanger was white on white needlework combining counted thread and drawn thread techniques. It all begins with a series kloster blocks which are five satin stitches over four threads. These initial blocks define the borders of the design element. The material is then cut away and the remaining threads are woven and filled with designs.
Needlepoint is done with yarn and is worked into a stiff openwork canvas fabric and usually completely cover the material with design work. The most common stitch and often the only stitch used is the tent stitch, using a variety of colors to provide the change in color and seemingly a change of texture. Because of the stiffness of the base fabric, needlepoint is best suited for upholstery, wall hangings, pillows and the such.
When working with a fine openwork canvas it is referred to as Petitpoint.