The Incredible History of Cross Stitch

March 22, 2023

Being crafters, we're constantly searching for the next project to satisfy our creative needs. But have you ever stopped and wondered when and how the craft we all love so much began?

WHO INVENTED CROSS STITCH?

Needle crafts have existed as long as there have been pieces of cloth to work on, and elements of cross stitch can be found in history for thousands and thousands of years.

Ancient art and sculptures prove that embroidery has been added to clothing since the earliest times - believe it or not, an ancient Peruvian stitching sample has been dated as far back as 200-500 AD, and cross stitch pieces have been found preserved inside ancient Egyptian tombs and medieval tombs across the globe. 

woman cross stitching

WHO'S THE FIRST LADY OF CROSS STITCH?

Erica Wilson is widely regarded as 'America's First Lady of Cross Stitch'. Erica began to teach needlework in 1954, and it didn't take long for her popularity to grow - she was soon teaching classes, seminars and lectures all over America. Erica noticed a lot of her students were struggling to remember the patterns she taught them, so released her first book, 'Crewel Point' in 1962. This book went on to sell over a million copies! 

erica wilson cross stitch

WHAT'S THE OLDEST CROSS STITCH PROJECT?

Cross stitch was popular in China during the Tang Dynasty. As it was her role to make and embellish beautiful clothes for her family, at this time, a woman's worth was closely tied to her stitching ability. Thread made of silk could be found in street markets and was considered to be extremely valuable. 

The oldest known sampler made in the US is currently on display at Pilgrim Hall - this piece was created by Loara Standish in 1653! 

The oldest British sampler was made in 1598 by Jane Bostocke - it's inscription commemorates the birth of a child. This piece is currently on display in London's V&A Museum.  

oldest cross stitch V&A

WHERE DID CROSS STITCHING COME FROM?

Cross stitch wasn't always a hobby. In the 18th century and as part of her preparation for the responsibility of sewing clothes for her future family, girls and young women in education would complete at least two stitching samplers. 

Many people believe blackwork to be the origin of cross stitch. Still a very popular craft, blackwork is a Spanish form of embroidery that uses black thread or silk and is worked on white or off-white linen or cotton fabric.

This craft is believed to have been brought to England in the 16th century by Catherine of Aragon when she married Henry VII in 1509. Catherine was a keen stitcher and continued to make clothes for the king until her death in 1536. 

Geoffrey Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales describes the clothing of the miller's wife, Alison: "Of white, too, was the dainty smock she wore, embroidered at the collar all about with coal-black silk, alike within and out."

 cross stitch black work

HOW PEOPLE USED PRINTED CROSS STITCH PATTERNS

People didn't have access to printed patterns for thousands of years. They would have to rely on simple hand drawn patterns that were being passed around their circle, if they were lucky enough to know somebody with access to them that is!

Today we often take printed patterns for granted, but they are a very useful resource and creating beautiful stitched pieces of art would be difficult without them. The first recorded printed pattern book was published by Johann Schonsperger in Germany in 1523, and others quickly followed throughout Europe, mainly in Italy and France. However, these books were not widely accessible for a long time. 

 cross stitch book of patterns

CROSS STITCH SUPPLIES

Before the Industrial Revolution it was still the woman's role to make clothes for her family, and so the ability to sew was a necessity. Linen was very expensive and every square inch would be used up, thus the sampler was invented. Samplers were intended to teach young women to sew, as well as used to help young girls to memorise numbers and the alphabet. Since linen was so expensive, poorer families would use perforated paper to create their designs. 

traditional cross stitch sampler

WHAT'S THE HISTORY OF CROSS STITCH SAMPLERS?

The first fabric specifically made for cross stitch was made by a German company, Zweigart, in 1890. Known as the best cross stitch fabric in the world, we include Zweigart fabric in all of our Caterpillar Cross Stitch kits! They distribute their products worldwide and currently have two mills, one in Germany and one in Switzerland.

Founded in 1746, DMC (Dollfus-Mieg et Compagnie) are now the best and most loved brand of thread in the world. We also use DMC thread and needles in all of our kits! Today, DMC operate in over 125 countries and offer over 500 colour variations of thread. 

 history of cross stitch

WHO CROSS STITCHES TODAY?

Cross stitch as we know it today started in the 1960s. Now considered to be more of a hobby than a necessity, it's much easier to produce patterns (using cross stitch design software like Love it Stitch it), and designs are now widely available.

Being fairly simple to teach and learn, cross stitch is now the most popular form of needlecraft. Cross stitching has endless benefits, it's extremely relaxing, great for mental health and truly a fantastic hobby to learn.  

 

Happy stitching! 




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