Introduction to Embroidery

Private Collection

Counted Thread & Canvas Embroidery, Including Needlepoint – Tapestry

Counted thread techniques can be achieved on either linen or canvas. On canvas, it is familiarly known as needlepoint. A variety of threads and background fabrics, including linen, may also be used for different effects and coverage of the background fabric. Much whimsy can be employed, with the use of textured stitches, shading and a variety of materials.

A Little History

In 13th Century Saxony and Italy, altar frontals and curtains were embroidered with silk in geometric stitches (flame stitch) on coarse counted linen, very much like today’s canvas for needlepoint. Peasant costumes dating back hundreds of years employed geometric stitching on counted fabric for embellishment. In Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Palestine (to name but a few) linen shirts and chemises had deep bands of stitching at the neck, cuffs, bodice and sleeves in tent stitch, which is used today in needlepoint.

Mary Queen of Scots used source materials of flora and fauna to create her famous emblem embroidery, which were all done in tent stitch; she inspired fashion for bed valances using petit point. England and France used petit point on wall and window hangings as well as table carpets.  In the 18th Century, covered sofas, chairs, bed hangings, and tent-stitched pictures were sought after and produced in many households. The Fishing Ladies series all come from this technique, as do the important and admired girlhood sampler embroideries produced in schools demonstrating a young girl’s educational achievements. Berlin wool work was popular throughout the 19th Century Victorian era. It was so popular that sheep producing merino wool were bred in Saxony.  This wool was preferred for dying the popular jewel colors of the day. In 1835, charts for designs were published with flower sprays and baskets of flower motifs.

In the 1930’s, there was a renewed interest in needlepoint. It is important to note, since samplers are of so much interest, that in the 1500’s, the only way to record patterns and stitches was to make a sampler.  Even after pattern books became available, the tradition of sampler making endured for centuries and served as an important element of girlhood education, particularly in England and the Colonies.


El Khalidi, Leila. The Art of Palestinian Embroidery. London: Saqi Books, 1999. Print.

Seba, Anna. Samplers: Five Centuries of a Gentle Craft. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1979. Print

Staples, Kathleen. British Embroidery: Curious Works from the Seventeenth Century. Austin: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Curious Works Press. 1998. Print

Staples, Kathleen and Hogue, Margiet. Samplers in the European Tradition. Curious Works Press. 2000. Print

Synge, Lanto. Art of Embroidery: History of Style and Technique. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2001. Print