Is it embroidery?

This post was in part inspired by a leaflet for next year’s knitting and stitching show in Edinburgh. There I found out that the workshops on offer included ones on cross stitch and ones on embroidery. I was more than a little surprised by this as I had always assumed that cross stitch was just another embroidery stitch and not an art or craft form on its own. Anyway this chance discovery got me thinking about what I call or should call what I do.

Naming things is an intriguing and at times controversial activity. One which has led to many a querulous dispute! When I first got started I was very reluctant to use the term embroidery and simply referred to my work as stitching. I was a simple stitcher! This of course did not convey anything to anyone. Stitching covers a multitude of activities and no doubt a few sins.  Think of medicine, fishing, taxidermy and so on.

So out went stitching, but what could take its place? There is a wide range to choose from, but none feels really satisfactory. As I work with a needle and thread, needle work seems an obvious choice. But, as with stitching, all kinds of people work with a needle. So needlework was not much use either.

But what I hear someone say, is wrong with the term embroidery? My reluctance to use this stems from my particular conception of what embroidery is. For me embroidery conjures up a twofold image. It is art of embellishing or ornamenting a fabric. At the same time this fabric has a practical use. This can be an item of clothing, a chair cover, a cushion et. Now when I started working with a needle and thread I never made anything practical at all. Even now I only rarely make something useful. Since for me to embroider is to embellish and I don’t or very rarely embellish anything, the term embroidery has never seemed right for me.

Embroidery does of course cover many types of work. Needlepoint for example, according to Wikipedia, “refers to a particular set of stitching techniques worked upon stiff openwork canvas. However, because it is stitched on a fabric that is an open grid, needlepoint is not embellishing a fabric, as is the case with most other types of embroidery, but literally the making of a new fabric.”  Much of my work falls into this category, Bargello work for example. Which is why this blog is called The Bargellist. Though I do not limit this work to stiff canvas. On the contrary most of my Bargello pieces are stitched on soft Aida cloth.

However I would never call myself a Needlepointer, as not all my work falls into this category. Blackwork, crewel work and traditional Palestinian embroidery have over the years been added to my repertoire of work. These do embellish the fabric, but as mentioned above, very rarely to any practical purpose.

Apart from crewel work, all my other work falls into the counted-thread category of embroidery. Not that I would want to be described as a counted-thread worker!

What’s left? I have toyed occasionally with the term Textile Artist, but have never felt this was me. Firstly while I obviously start with a piece of textile, I don’t work with other fabrics at the same time. Secondly most textile work seems to involve some degree of machine work, and I don’t have a machine. Thirdly I don’t really think of myself as an artist.

When I have to write something about a piece I usually write that it has been hand embroidered. As all my work is done by hand. A Hand Embroiderer then? A bit of a mouthful and still leaves me a bit suspicious of the term embroiderer. This is just my problem though. However the work itself is quite clearly based on the use of stitches used in embroidery. So I use embroidery stitches to fill or part fill fabrics for no other purpose than to amuse myself. However hard I try I cannot get away from the term embroidery. Guess I will just have to get used to it.


One thought on “Is it embroidery?

  1. I don’t have quite your aversion to the work “embroidery”, but I sympathize. “Textile Artist” just doesn’t seem right – partly as you say because it suggests machine work, partly because much of it appears to involve applied and distressed fabrics, where I’m nore interested in the stitches themselves.

    If you find another word to try on for size, do let me know!

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