[HNW] Counted Cross Stitch

Chris Laning claning at igc.org
Sat Aug 11 17:24:27 PDT 2007

On 8/7/07, Liz Wilson <ewilson618 at tx.rr.com> wrote:
> I am new to the SCA and looking for information about Crewel work and
> Counted Cross Stitch.  I have done the latter in the past and did  
> see some
> of it exhibited at Steppes Artisan.  Are either of these types of  
> embroidery
> considered period?


If I may toot my (our) own horn for a moment -- take a look at the  
articles here:

There's an article on historical cross stitch here:

And some patterns here:

That issue of the guild's newsletter (which you can download as a PDF  
file) has both of the above, plus another project in long-armed cross  

> Also, I have done samplers in the past (like the Early
> American type).  Did anyone do samplers in period, or were most  
> people too
> illiterate?

Yes, people did samplers, but .....

The classic 18th-century sampler you're probably thinking of is a  
special type and seems to come into being only toward the very end of  
the 1500s. It's an alphabet sampler, one of whose purposes is to  
record patterns for the letters of the alphabet. Another purpose --  
especially later, in the 18th and 19th centuries -- is to demonstrate  
the developing needlework skills of the young girl who usually worked  
it. Such samplers usually have a balanced, picture-like appearance,  
and they often seem to have been framed and hung on walls as an  
exhibition piece.

What's most common before about 1600, however, is "samplers" in a  
broader sense -- pieces literally recording _samples_ of many  
different needlework motifs, borders, techniques and so forth. Most  
of these were worked by adults. They were generally not designed as  
pictures; instead they were a "reference book" to which new patterns  
could be added whenever they were encountered, for instance if you  
saw a border you liked on someone else's pillowcases. They were not  
displayed on walls, but were generally kept rolled up in a  
needleworker's work box or basket. By our standards they often look  
rather disorganized, even messy, full of patterns that may stop  
somewhere in the middle rather than having evenly worked, finished- 
looking repeats.

So literacy probably doesn't have much to do with it. You certainly  
don't have to be literate to make samples of patterns that don't  
include the alphabet :) And BTW, you'll probably also find as you do  
more research that the idea that very few people were literate in  
"The Middle Ages" is something of an over-generalization. At some  
times and places, especially toward the 1400s and 1500s, quite a  
large proportion of people were literate, especially in cities.

*          *         *         *         *

As for "crewel work,"  this article may be helpful:

"Crewel embroidery" as such -- named for the wool thread that was  
used to make it -- really became popular in the 17th and 18th  
centuries, although you'll find that the individual stitches used for  
it, such as stem stitch and chain stitch, are much older.  The older  
stuff is more often simply called "surface embroidery" and was far  
more likely to have been done in silk rather than wool thread. You  
will certainly be able to find plenty of examples of pre-1600 pieces  
done in stitches you already know well, although the style of the  
pieces may not be what you expect. But then, that's the joy of  
learning about new things, isn't it?

Some further links:
The Atlantian Needleworkers guild, at http://aeg.atlantia.sca.org/
has a list of other SCA needlework guilds and their websites.

Their LINKS page is also very impressive:

Have fun, and don't hesitate to ask if you have more questions.

(Dame) Christian de Holacombe, OL
also known as

O    Chris Laning <claning at igc.org> - Davis, California
+     http://paternoster-row.org - http://paternosters.blogspot.com

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