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Embroidery is an ancient art, most generally described as the art of decorating fabric, or other materials, with designs stitched in strands of thread or yard with a needle. Materials other than thread can also be used, such as pearls, beads or sequins. Embroidery is done by hand, or with sewing machines. Modern technology, such as embroidery software, which translates a design so that it can be read by a machine, has brought embroidery to a new level not only for experts, but the beginner, as well. No one really knows the origins of the art of embroidery, but examples have survived from ancient Egypt, the Iron Age of Northern Europe and the Zhou Dynasty China. Embroidered clothing, religious objects and household items were a mark of wealth and status in many ancient cultures, such as India, Byzantium, medieval England, Persia and Baroque Europe. The famous Baveux Tapestry is actually not a tapestry at all, but an elaborately embroidered wall hanging that was originally displayed at the Baveux Cathedral and is now kept in a special museum in Baveux, Normandy.

There are many different styles of embroidery. In “counted-thread embroidery,” patterns are created by making stitches over a predetermined number of threads in the fabric. Counted-thread embroidery is most easily done on an even-weave fabric such as canvas, aida cloth or a specially woven cotton or linen fabric. Examples of this type of work are needlepoint and cross-stitch. In contrast, “free embroidery” is done by creating and applying designs without regard to the underlying fabric. Examples of this type of embroidery are crewel work and traditional Chinese embroidery. Many people think of embroidery as the technique that is called “surface embroidery” where patterns are created on top of the fabric using decorative stitches and laid threads. Surface embroidery actually encompasses most free hand embroidery, as well as some forms of counted-thread embroidery. In canvas-work embroidery, threads are stitched through a fabric mesh to create a dense pattern that completely covers the foundation fabric. One of the most important distinctions between canvas and surface embroidery is that surface work requires the use of an embroidery hoop or “frame” to tightly stretch the material to ensure even stitching tension. This prevents the pattern from becoming distorted. Ribbon embroidery is yet another type of embroidery where ribbons are used rather than the standard six-thread string. Ribbon embroidery is usually used to create floral motifs and is said to have a “romantic and antique quality.”

The beautiful, intricate handicraft of embroidery is an ancient art that continues to be enjoyed today, and, in fact, has only been enhanced with the use of modern technology, such as embroidery software. This traditional art is still being passed down from generation to generation in many countries, including the United States, Mexico, Vietnam and many cultures of Eastern Europe.


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