About Cross Stitching

Counted Cross Stitching

Counted cross stitching is an embroidery method, which transfers a design from a printed graph onto evenweave fabric and/or Aida cloth. The stitcher uses a special type of thread called embroidery floss to place X's on the fabric corresponding to symbols on the chart. Each symbol on the chart represents one X on the fabric. Depending on the chart used, the different colors of floss will be represented either by different symbols or by colors. Cross stitching is easy to learn and requires only a few supplies.

Cross Stitching History

To trace the history of cross stitch, we must look back to the very beginnings of embroidery, since it is only relatively recently that cross stitch has been used as the sole stitch in a piece. Ancient wall paintings and sculptures show that embroidery was worked on clothing from the earliest times. An ancient Peruvian running-stitch sampler has been dated to 200–500 AD.

The earliest example of a complete cross stitch is a design worked in upright crosses on linen, and the piece was discovered in a Coptic tomb in Upper Egypt, where it was preserved by the dry desert climate dating from about 500AD in Upper Egypt.

From the historical and archaeological evidence available, there is not yet enough accurate information to trace the exact origins of cross-stitch embroidery. Some historians suggest that the development of cross stitch owes much to the craftsmanship of the Chinese, since this type of embroidery is known to have flourished during the T’ang Dynasty between 618AD and 906AD and a strong rural tradition of counted cross stitch still existed there during the early twentieth century.

The only certainty is that the technique and designs of cross stitch spread from many of these countries throughout the European continent. The Crusaders probably brought home-embroidered textiles from the Middle Eastern countries after the Crusades. The well-traveled trade and spice caravan routes carried not only merchants and their stock of articles, which were for sale but also itinerant craftsmen, who practiced their skills wherever they settled. The spread of cross stitch designs from their place of origin to so many different locations makes it difficult to identify accurately any one design as having originated in a particular region.

One of the most important and widespread functions of cross-stitch has been to ornament peasant garments and household linens, often as a way of indicating family wealth and status in the community. The stitches are simple to work and the fabric readily available - usually regularly woven linen, sometimes cotton. Colours were often limited to two or three, but these would be brilliantly dyed and often accentuated by dark brown or black outlines. In rural areas of western China, cross-stitch was nearly always worked in indigo blue thread on coarse white cotton fabric.

Stitchers would record samples of their favourite stitches and patterns on long strips of narrow cloth, hence the name ‘sampler’. These were not intended for display, but were rolled up and kept in a drawer until needed for reference. They became family assets. Often, an intricate stitch would be worked next to the stages used to compose the stitch. Early samplers were often completely covered, with examples of stitches and patterns crammed together, showing the stitchers need to make use of every square inch of her precious linen.

The earliest surviving dated sampler was stitched by an English girl Jane Bostocke, in 1598 – just over 400 years ago. Jane’s sampler contains floral and animal motifs, samples of patterns and stitches, and an alphabet (the alphabet lacks the letters J, U and Z as was common at that time). There is evidence from the motifs that Jane had access to an early pattern book.

Many of the samplers made at the time were biblically based and a practical lesson to the girls was to learn the alphabet and numbers in stitchery.

The patterns became more complicated during the 18th century, less simplified and more realistic, and during the second half of the century, cross stitched landscapes appeared.

During the 19th century, in conjunction with the development of the textile industry and the diffusion of women magazines, and of hand-coloured schemes, cross-stitch became the passion of this century, learned at school and practiced by women from all social classes. However, during the 1830’s, sampler making and cross-stitching went into decline due mainly to the craze for Berlin wool work.

In Britain, cross stitch hung on through the thirties, forties and fifties, with the help of pre-stamped cross stitch kits: crosses were printed onto the fabric, and then stitched over.

Transfers for cross-stitch and other techniques could be purchased separately and they were often given away in the leading women’s magazines of the day. The design outlines were printed on the paper. The outlines were transferred to the fabric by pressing with a hot iron and transfers could, be used more than once. After the embroidery was finished, the item was washed to remove all traces of the ink from the fabric.

Cross-stitch as we recognize it today was re-discovered in the sixties, when increased leisure time was a factor in the revival of counted cross- stitch for pleasure. Once again, stitchers were working from charts. Early kits from this period offered copies of traditional samplers, taking cross- stitch back to its roots

- These extracts are supplied courtesy of Jan Eaton © 2000


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