We are officially half of the way through our alphabetic tour of the decorative arts. What better way to kick off the back half of the alphabet than with a great topic: needlework.
The term needlework applies to handicraft that incorporates decorative sewing and textile arts. Medieval needlework in the form of embroidery was often used to embellish and decorate luxury textiles.
The needlework of this time is almost exclusively associated with ecclesiastical uses. By the Tudor period, needlework and embroidery was broadly used for secular purposes. Professional workshops worked with numerous pattern books to create intricate designs, such as Richard Shorleyker’s Schole House for the Needle or Peter Stent’s Books for Drafts of Men, Birds, Beasts, Flowers, Fruits, Flyes, Fishes.
In the sixteenth century, there was an influx of French embroiderers in England who came to work in the households of nobility and royalty. The professional workshops also faced competition from amateur needlewomen who played a large role in developing the domestic cult of embroidery.
Needlework designs became progressively more naturalistic throughout the eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century. needlework went through a notable resurgence with the Gothic revival led by A.W.N. Pugin as well through the secular work of William Morris.
Needlework could be found on a vast number of textiles—it could be used in panels as substitutes for tapestries or woven carpets or tablecloths, it could be used as a cushion covering, and it was also used as a covering for beds, chairs, stools, and mirrors. There are a range of techniques used in needlework, including petit-point, which is the use of a series of parallel stitches arranged diagonally across the threads, and cross-stitch, which is a stitched formed by two stitches crossing at right angles.
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