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History of Cross Stitch

History of Cross Stitch

     Cross stitch and needlework can be found in the earliest history, as far back as sixth century BC.  Needlework has been around as long as there has been cloth to work it on.  Pieces of embroidery and needlework have been found preserved in ancient Egyptian tombs and in Medieval churches. 


     In the Eleventh century, tapestry was the most popular and famous of embroideries depicting the Norman invasion of England in 1066.  Catherine of Aragon, who was Spanish and the first wife of Henry VII is credited with bringing blackwork to England in the sixteenth century.   Blackwork was believed to be the beginnings of what we think of as cross stitch today.  It was worked with black sheep wool on white linen.  Blackwork is still popular today.


     The first printed pattern book was made in Germany in 1524.  It would be some time before patterns became widely available.  In the 16th century printing was invented.  These early patterns left the stitcher to decide what colors to use for their design.


     Linen was very expensive so every square inch of the fabric was used.  Thus the invention of samplers.  Samplers were also intended to teach young women to sew and to memorize the alphabet and numbers.  They were also used to teach moral values and verses from the bible.  Since Linen was so expensive, commoners used what is called perforated paper to do their designs.


     The first fabric made specifically for cross stitch was introduced in 1890.  It was made by a company in Germany called Zweigart.  The fabric is called Aida, it is an evenweave  and it is designed in little squares making it easy to see where to stitch each cross stitch.


     Assisi embroidery is a form of counted-thread embroidery based on an ancient Italian tradition where the background is filled with embroidery stitches and the main motifs are left void i.e. unstitched, similar to a silhouette. The name is derived from the Italian town of Assisi where the modern form of the craft originated.  The traditional color used for most designs was red.  Green and blue were also very popular colors to use.  Traditional themes included animals, plants, and mystical beings like mermaids. Assisi was named after St. Clair of Assisi.  St. Francis, the Patron Saint of Needleworkers, was her brother. 


      Zweigart currently has two mills.  One in Germany and one in Switzerland.  They distribute their products world wide.  Their next step is to catch up with the computer age.   It would make their distribution much more efficient.


     Cross stitch as we know it today was introduced in the 1960 when women had more leisure time.   Needlework in this country as generally been attributed to women's work, but in it's beginnings it was a craft preformed mostly by men who spent many years mastering their technique.    Many designs  were made widely available with the ease of printing them and computers to reproduce the designs.  You can find a pattern of just about any subject today.  You can even design your own patterns with computer software.


     Cross stitch is the most popular form of needlework today.  It is very easy to do and to teach.  Most people who stitch, myself included,  consider it to be relaxing and enjoyable to do. 


     There are a few different types of cross stitch.  There is stamped cross stitch.  In stamped cross stitch little X's are stamped on what is usually a cotton fabric with a   tight weave (no holes).  The fabric is often used for a quilt, bed linen, or doily.  You just stitch over the little X's to make your design.


     There is no count cross stitch.  This is a great way for beginners or children to learn to cross stitch.  The pattern is dyed onto the cross stitch fabric (usually an Aida) and you just follow the colors while you stitch.  No need for a paper pattern.


     More experienced stitchers like to do counted cross stitch.  In counted cross stitch you use a clean fabric (Aida, Linen, Lugana, etc.) and you use a paper pattern and follow the directions on the pattern to create your design on the clean fabric.  This is the most rewarding kind of cross stitch.  It's fun to watch your design come alive on the clean fabric as you stitch.  It's like painting with a needle.