This post was originally in XStitch Magazine Issue 20: Mystery, and has been adapted.
When it comes to cross stitch, there are many mysteries. From simple ones like “what do those dots on DMC labels mean?” to complicated issues like “what’s the best dithering pattern when making your own cross stitch designs”.
But something that links these types of mysteries are that at some point, we need to know an answer. You may have threads with and without the dots, or may need to make the most awesome kick ass cross stitch pattern of Hello Kitty that the world has ever seen!
But there are other mysteries. Those mysteries that we may have thought of, but not really needed an answer. Pushed to the back of our brains and tried to forget about, despite it coming up every time you buy aida, or try out new stitches.
And it’s those mysteries that we look at today! I reached out on the XStitch magazine social channels to get your unanswered mysteries! Without further ado, let me introduce, the Lord Libidan Mini Mystery Lectures!
For The Love Of One Stitch
“Why do we only use one stitch when other embroidery uses loads?”
Many histories of cross stitch, including my own, reference Catherine of Aragon (the first wife of King Henry VIII of England) back in 1509 bringing blackwork to Britain as the main source of cross stitch across the world.
However in reality, this is only part of the story. Blackwork is, essentially, nothing to do with cross stitch. Whilst it does use a structured fabric (linen) like cross stitch all Catherine of Aragon did was bring embroidery to England (which sparked the cross stitch phenomenon).
Cross stitch itself was actually created back in China in 600 AD and was another stitch used in embroidery in general. It moved across the world all by its own, but to answer this story we need to think about 3 locations.
Since the 5th century, central Europe has been a major seat of artistry across the world, and in particular fabrics. Due to its location along the silk route central Europe began creating highly detailed artworks using thread. Taking styles from across the world, one particular stitch picked up was the cross stitch.
The stitch, up to this point, was never used alone. But soon, not only was this stitched used, but soon became a wearable stitch, in the form of a Vyshyvanka. These shirts included detailed collars, cuffs and arms with a geometric cross stitch pattern in a limited colour palette. This is where cross stitch as we know it truly started.
When Catherine of Aragon came to England some 800 years later, she brought blackwork, which similarly used stitches collars and cuffs. But soon embroidery of all types followed this.
As a major seat of power in this time period, trends also moved back to Eastern Europe, reintroducing cross stitch to the continent.
Here, enterprising German and French embroiders formalised the stitch and made pattern books. Counted cross stitch was born!
This was in turn spread back to England (cross stitch really has been around the block!) and around the world in England’s days of Empire building.
Aida; aːˈiːdə or ‘eɪdə?
“Why is it called Aida, and how on earth do you say it?”
No one knows!
In fact, no one is really even sure where the name comes from!
Looking into more recent history, cross stitch was stitches on linen and evenweave fabrics for a long time before Zweigart, a Germany company, came up with a specific fabric in 1890, made just for cross stitch. This fabric was called Java canvas. But is what we know today as Aida.
You see, Java fabric, an embroidered fabric from (you guessed it) Java, was easily confused with the new Java canvas. Therefore, in 1907 the decision finally came to rename it, and they chose aida cloth (AIDA-Gewebe).
But why? This is sadly, completely unknown to this day. Many people suspect that whilst “Java canvas” was used in marketing, the name used internally was aida, based off of the opera by Verdi, which was extremely popular in Germany in 1890.
But no one, not even Zweigart themselves, have been able to confirm if this is the case, or why!
To Railroad, Or Not To Railroad, That Is The Question
“Does Railroading actually make any difference?”
I get asked this question a lot! I think the reason behind due to fear of railroading (its not that hard in reality) and a few hang ups the cross stitch community has about perfectionism (looking at you perfect backs!).
But honestly, it does make a difference. It gives better coverage, it gives the work a better sheen once complete, and its deemed to be of a higher quality if done.
The real question here, is “is it worth it?”.
That’s slightly harder to answer! If you intend to enter a competition, railroading is 100% required if you want to win, but for most other instances; not unless you want to. I would suggest that every stitcher tries out railroading at least once, but if you’re not loving it, ditch it thereafter!
Mona Lisa Or Lisa’s Craft?
For our final mini mystery lecture, I thought I’d tackle the biggest question in cross stitch!
Regardless of what I say here, let’s be clear; its whatever you want it to be! Whilst there has always been a discussion about the art/craft argument in cross stitch, no one has ever been able to answer it!
The best museums in any country have cross stitch. It’s as simple as that! But hardly any art galleries have cross stitch. This is something people often look over, bulking art galleries and museums together, but they actually represent two different things. One hosts items that have history, and one hosts art.
For cross stitch to truly become an art form, it has to be in galleries too!
But thankfully, in the last few years (and I truly mean that, maybe 10 or so) we’ve seen cross stitch really penetrate the cross stitch market.
So far these artworks haven’t brought in big money, but the premier art gallery for affordable art has hosted cross stitch for the last 9 years, with this years having the largest selection of artists using cross stitch yet!
So whilst the art/craft argument still rages on, it looks like cross stitch is slowly becoming more and more elevated, and bringing with it a new phase in cross stitch history!