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Needlework once basic skill

Posted: January 24, 2012 - 4:21pm  |  Updated: February 1, 2012 - 10:40am

 

The art of needlework has been a part of our lives for centuries. For many years, the education of a young girl was based on her needle skills, basic art skills and music.

They were expected to have basic skills in stitching and painting (usually in watercolors), and know how to play the piano and sing.

A young girl spent hours working on her sampler. She used many different embroidery stitches to create her sampler. These samplers always included the alphabet and numbers from one to 10. Many girls included scenes of animals, birds, butterflies and even homes and barns. Today, some of these pieces that have survived because of careful family care are worth hundreds of dollars in the antiques market.

There are many stitches to choose from to create a hand embroidery piece, including: backstitching, blanket, chain, couching, feather, filling, running, satin and weaving stitches. Each piece requires cleaning and pressing plus blocking to finish.

There is also blackwork embroidery, which is a special category of counted thread embroidery in so-called diaper or repetitive patterns that are used to fill the design area. It is called blackwork because, traditionally, black silk thread was worked on white lines.

Cross-stitch embroidery is a traditional type adaptable to either simple or intricate designs. Cross-stitch designs are often worked exclusively in a basic cross stitch, though variations of the stitch can be used. Even-weave fabrics are especially good because they help guide the stitches. Embroidery floss is the usual choice, but other embroidery yarns can be used.

Another form is huck embroidery, also called darning, a type of needlework in which the surface of a huckaback fabric is decorated. Huckaback is a toweling fabric. When I was in school, a sewing class was required in fifth grade for all girls. The first thing we were taught was to hem a huckaback towel and then do a design in embroidery basic stitches. I was lucky because my grandmother had started me in needlework by the time I was 6 years old, including dressmaking, which I did for many years and led to me owning a fabric store and dressmaking business.

There are many other types of embroidery such as openwork/pulled threadwork, openwork/drawn threadwork, openwork/hardanger and openwork/cutwork. Today, many use the new embroidery machines instead of doing it by hand. I still find hand embroidering the most enjoyable, even if it is more time-consuming.

We will not go into knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, quilting, rug-making, lacework, patchwork, macramé, tapestry or smocking at this time. While all of these are part of the needlework world, not every young girl had the skills or a source of supplies to learn about all of them, let alone someone to teach them.

Different parts of the world thought certain needle skills were more important than others. The poorer girls learned the more basic skills such as quilting, patchwork and knitting and general sewing to be able to supply their families with clothing and warm bedding and outerwear. The wealthier young ladies were expected to learn a number of the needle skills as well as apply themselves to drawing, singing and playing a musical instrument. All of this was thought to make them better marriage material.

Today, we learn these skills because we want to, not because we have to. I, for one, hope we will continue to want to learn to do needlework and pass the skills on to new generations.

Keep art in your life and a smile on your face. Happy New Year, everyone.

 

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