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What is Hand Embroidery?

Embroidery is so much a part of our lives that we may not even notice it. However, when a shirt or skirt features fancy stitching, when a baseball cap has a stitched logo, or when a sweater is monogrammed, embroidery is the cause. Granted, this kind of embroidery is done by machine, but beautiful stitching is also possible through the age-old art of hand embroidery.

Hand embroidery, of one kind or another, is thousands of years old. It was used in Ancient Egypt to decorate the hems of royal robes, in tapestries in the Middle Ages, and in ladies' samplers during the Colonial and Victorian eras. It continues as an art form today. Many people are familiar with counted cross stitch - a cousin to hand embroidery - and it seems that counted cross stitch has nearly eclipsed it. However, there are many people who still love to work hand embroidery, and it decorates wall hangings, pillowcases, quilts and table runners.

Hand embroidery differs from counted cross stitch in that it uses many different types of stitches to achieve texture and interest, whereas counted cross stitch uses a single stitch and relies on color and shading for texture. Counted cross stitch is worked from a graph, where the printed design is rendered as a series of X's and the artist stitches the design accordingly. Embroidery designs may be stamped or drawn on the material, or they can be done freehand. Embroidery uses embroidery floss and an embroidery needle, which has a slightly larger eye but is still sharp.

Five stitches form the basis for hand embroidery. There are more, but an artist who learns these five can work 95 percent of the kits available. The stitches are: outline, satin, lazy daisy, cross and French knot. The outline stitch is a running stitch that, as the name implies, outlines a design. The satin stitch fills in open areas with closely worked stitches that give the appearance of satin. A lazy daisy makes small flower petals, while the basic cross (X) stitch also fills in open areas, or forms designs. The French knot is used to suggest small dots, such as eyes, pebbles, flower centers, and so on.

A beginner in hand embroidery should start with a small design that uses mostly outline, cross and lazy daisy stitches. These are the easiest stitches to master. The item may use satin stitch, but it should only be in small areas. Veteran embroiderers may want to tackle a project that is made mostly from satin stitch, but this is strictly for those who have mastered it. Satin stitch is simple enough in theory, but making it look smooth and shiny, with no gaps or uneven stitches, takes a while to master.

Many craft books on needlework are available. They will give instructions for the five basic stitches, and others as well. Community education classes may also be available and instructions for the basic five stitches are even available on the Internet. Kits are available in any craft store.

Hand embroidery is a beautiful art that almost anyone can learn. It is an art that should be preserved and well worth learning.

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