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Cross Stitch History

Updated on September 11, 2012

History of Cross Stitch Embroidery

It is very difficult to pinpoint an exact date of discovery of the cross stitch. Historical records tell us that in prehistoric, cavemen already used this point to attach the skins of animals.

Hunted animals were completely used, in addition to providing food they also used their skins, bones and guts. With manufactured bone needles they sew together the skins and use the gut or plant fiber as line thus forming their own clothes.

There are disagreements about the origins of cross stitch, as we know it today.

Coming from very ancient times some say it began in the Middle Ages, spreading through Europe, particularly in England and also in the United States.

Pieces of linen dated from 5000 BC, that show us that the cross stitch was used to sew pieces of fabric, were discovered after archaeological excavations in Egyptian tombs.

The early cross stitch works found in Britain date from the mid-1800s BC. In England it was women and female children who performed the work in cross stitch, they were not allowed to attend schools and this was the best way for them to be able to learned the alphabet, numbers and geometric shapes.

The embroiderers used to signed their name, date and sometimes also their age on their works. Flowers, butterflies and houses were the most used themes.

This technique of embroidery has been passed from generation to generation until the present days.

The themes have been changing since the Middle Ages to the present day where new designs have appeared and needleworkers began to use more creative new applications for cross stitch.

Works such as paintings and applications in various objects began to be used as decoration of homes.

The cross stitch is a relaxing activity where the embroiderer may talk while working, listen to music or even watch television. It is possible to stop the work when necessary and resume it days, weeks or months later.

Cross Stitch in the Middle Age

Early works from this time give us the information that this technique was used to distinguish and identify the clothing of the noble society.

Although still very rudimentary, they were inspired by family crests, with little use of color drawings. After seeing the designs of the Oriental rugs that soldiers from the Crusades brought, the noble lords ordered similar designs for their clothing.

Only in the Renaissance period is that the cross stitch takes the appearance that we know today.

First sampler by Loara Standish
First sampler by Loara Standish


It was during this period that the cross stitch spreads throughout Europe when the earliest schemes appeared to circulate in 1500 A.C.

Topics such as floral decorations, animals, alphabet monograms were the most frequent by then. Religious themes with many symbols of doves, chalices and crosses were also used by the embroiderers.

It was thanks to the Roman Catholic Church that cross stitch became more decorative. The Church commissioned several embroidered ornaments for their parishes. Such claims have led the embroiderers to become more creative and they started using new themes and create new designs for embroidery.

It was a very difficult task because the materials at this time were very rudimentary and there were few colors available.

It's in Plymouth, Massachusetts where we can find the first sample of cross stitch on the Pilgrim Hall Museum. It was around 1653 that Captain Myles Standish`s daughter, Loara Standish, embroidered this sample (sampler).

The cross stitch was used to decorate and embellish pieces of fabric and carpets which were embroidered only on the edges to be used as decorations.


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    • RedElf profile image


      9 years ago from Canada

      Beautiful pictures and a most interesting topic. Welcome to HubPages!


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