Cross-stitch is one of the oldest forms of embroidery and can be found all over the world. Many folk museums show examples of clothing decorated with cross-stitch, especially from continental Europe and Asia.
Two-dimensional (unshaded) cross-stitch in floral and geometric patterns, usually worked in black and red cotton floss on linen, is characteristic of folk embroidery in Eastern and Central Europe.
The cross stitch sampler is called that because it was generally stitched by a young girl to learn how to stitch and to record alphabet and other patterns to be used in her household sewing. These samples of her stitching could be referred back to over the years. Often, motifs and initials were stitched on household items to identify their owner, or simply to decorate the otherwise-plain cloth. In the United States, the earliest known cross-stitch sampler is currently housed at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The sampler was created by Loara Standish, daughter of Captain Myles Standish and pioneer of the Leviathan stitch, circa 1653.
Traditionally, cross-stitch was used to embellish items like household linens, tablecloths, dishcloths, and doilies (only a small portion of which would actually be embroidered, such as a border). Although there are many cross-stitchers who still employ it in this fashion, it is now increasingly popular to work the pattern on pieces of fabric and hang them on the wall for decoration. Cross stitch is also often used to make greeting cards, pillowtops, or as inserts for box tops, coasters and trivets.
Multicoloured, shaded, painting-like patterns as we know them today are a fairly modern development, deriving from similar shaded patterns of Berlin wool work of the mid-nineteenth century. Besides designs created expressly for cross stitch, there are software programs that convert a photograph or a fine art image into a chart suitable for stitching. One stunning example of this is in the cross stitched reproduction of the Sistene Chapel charted and stitched by Joanna Lopianowski-Roberts.
There are many cross-stitching "guilds" and groups across the United States and Europe which offer classes, collaborate on large projects, stitch for charity, and provide other ways for local cross-stitchers to get to know one another. Individually owned local needlework shops (LNS) often have stitching nights at their shops, or host weekend stitching retreats.
Today cotton floss is the most common embroidery thread. It is a thread made of mercerized cotton, composed of six strands that are only loosely twisted together and easily separable. While there are other manufacturers, the two most-commonly used (and oldest) brands are DMC and Anchor, both of which have been manufacturing embroidery floss since the 1800s.
Other materials used are pearl (or perle) cotton, Danish flower thread, silk and Rayon. Different wool threads, metallic threads or other novelty threads are also used, sometimes for the whole work, but often for accents and embellishments. Hand-dyed cross stitch floss is created just as the name implies - it is dyed by hand. Because of this, there are variations in the amount of color throughout the thread. Some variations can be subtle, while some can be a huge contrast. Some also have more than one color per thread, which in the right project, creates amazing results.
Cross stitch is widely used in traditional Palestinian dressmaking.
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