Cataloguing Embroidery Stitches

Two of Mary Thomas's books on embroidery, first published in the 1930's, remain basic literature for many embroidery scholars and students. Two of Mary Thomas's books on embroidery, first published in the 1930's, remain basic literature for many embroidery scholars and students.

There are two basic approaches to cataloguing a type of embroidery stitch. The first is based on how the stitch is technically made. This form of cataloguing often divides the stitches into family groups, such as interlaced stitches, threaded stitches, whipped stitches.

Various writers, on the other hand, divide stitches according to their location on a piece of cloth or garment. The most common divisions in this context are: bands and border stitches, edging stitches, filling stitches, insertion stitches and outline stitches. There are also authors that use a combination of technique and use, in order to group together various types of stitches (see for example, Anne Butler 1983; Ryan 2000:150-159).

One of the questions raised by the concept of defining and classifying stitches refers to the actual need of such a classification system. Some teachers, for example, use such systems in order to make it easier for students to learn the various types of stitches and how they can be used. In addition, many collectors and museum curators use a stitch classification system in order to consistently identify and catalogue their embroideries. This is especially important with respect to institutional databases (private and on-line) that are becoming increasingly important in the internet age.

But there are many embroiderers who regard a stitch classification system as totally unnecessary, as they know their ‘local’ or ‘favourite’ stitches and it is part of a ‘Western’ obsession with ordering everything. Such a stitch classification system has no relevance to what they (and their community) are producing.

In addition, there are numerous ‘artist embroiderers’ who regard such classification systems as going totally against a natural freedom of expression that is essential for their form of embroidery. They feel that their work should be instinctive, rather than based on a pre-ordained idea or plan. This argument is also reflected in the perceived opposition between embroiderers [artists] and needlers [copiers] (see Ryan 2000:150).

Sources and brief bibliography:

  • BUTLER, Anne (1983). The Batsford Encyclopaedia of Embroidery Stitches, London: Batsford.
  • CLABBURN, Pamela (1976). The Needleworker’s Dictionary, London: Macmillan London Ltd.
  • DILLMONT, Thérèse de (n.d.). Encyclopedia of Needlework. Mulhouse: DMG.
  • EATON, Jan (1986). Complete Stitch Encyclopedia, Woodbury, N.Y.: Baron's Education Series.
  • EDITH, John (1967). Creative Stitches, London: B.T. Batsford.
  • ENTHOVEN, Jacqueline (1976). Stitches with Variations, San Ramon, Calif.: Sunset Designs.
  • ENTHOVEN, Jacqueline (1987). The Stitches of Creative Embroidery (revised and enlarged), West Chester, Pa: Schiffer Publishing.
  • HENRY ART GALLERY. Embroidery Stitch Identification Guide.
  • MORRELL, Anne Butler (2007), The Migration of Stitches and the Practice of Stitch as Movement, Ahmedabad: Sarabhai Foundation, pp. 8-13.
  • NICHOLS, Marion (1974). Encyclopedia of Embroidery Stitches Including Crewel, New York: Dover.
  • OHMS, Margaret (1989). Ethic Embroidery, London: Batsford.
  • PETERSON, Grete and Elsie SVENNAS (1970). Handbook of Stitches, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
  • RYAN, Mildred Graves (2000). The Complete Encyclopedia of Stitchery, New York, Bookspan.
  • SNOOK, Barbara (1963). Needlework Stitches. New York: Crown.
  • SWIFT, Gray (1984). The Larousse Encyclopedia of Embroidery Techniques, New York: Larousse.
  • THOMAS, Mary (1934). Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (1934), London: Hodder and Stroughton.
  • THOMAS, Mary (1936). Mary Thomas’s Embroidery Book (1936), London: Hodder and Stroughton.
  • WADE, N. Victoria (1960). The Basic Stitches of Embroidery, London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 8th July 2016).


Last modified on Tuesday, 16 May 2017 19:32
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