Early settlers in the American colonies brought their crafts from Europe. For embroidery, vegetable-dyed, handspun linen thread was probably used first, although wool and silk have also been found in early sampler embroideries. In the late 18th century linen was replaced by commercially spun cotton thread. Of the vegetable dyes, various shades of blue obtained from home-cultivated indigo were the most common.
Although American embroidery designs generally were derived from English designs, they tended to be simpler. Among English styles that became popular in the colonies was Turkey work; so called because of its knotted pile imitating that of Oriental carpets, it was a type of canvas work much used for upholstery. Quilting was also practiced in America from early colonial times. As the colonies prospered and resources such as cloth became less scarce, the appliqué quilt became a favorite type, with decorative embroidery stitches used to apply the pieces of colored cloth that formed the designs. Samplers also were widely executed, serving both as ornamental objects and as instructional tools whereby girls learned the alphabet and numbers as well as their embroidery stitches. An older type of embroidery traditional in the U.S. Southwest was wool-on-wool and cotton-on-wool colcha (Spanish, "bedcovering") embroidery. In early examples, wool stitching was used in a kind of self-couching stitch called colcha stitch.
Throughout the 19th century, needlework pictures were popular, the most characteristic type being Berlin work. In the early 20th century a taste for naturalistic design gave rise to shaded silk embroidery, worked in flat satin stitch on linen in delicately shaded colors. From the mid-1960s to the early 1980s there was a renewal of interest among needlework enthusiasts in working their own designs as well as prestamped designs of varying complexity; and by 1985 there were signs that crewel work had been taken up again by those seriously interested in embroidery crafts. Quilting had recently grown in popularity.
Especially notable among the many Asian styles of embroidery were those of Iran, India, China, and Japan.
Iran and India
Although no examples of Persian embroidery survive from before the 16th century, the 13th-century Italian traveler Marco Polo described designs that were still used centuries later on carpets, robes, hangings, curtains, and table covers. Floral and medallion motifs similar to those found on Persian rugs were most common. A number of techniques-particularly darning, couching, and drawnwork-were employed to achieve variety of texture, an important element of Persian embroidery.
Embroidery was known in India probably from prehistoric times, but in the 16th century it was greatly encouraged by the Mughal emperors, under whose patronage many Persian artisans settled in India. Regional peasant embroidery continues to flourish. Among the best-known styles are those of Kutch and Kathiawar, in which satins are stitched with floral patterns inset with pieces of reflective material. In the Punjab, phulkari embroideries display geometric patterns made by counted stitchwork.
China and Japan
The earliest surviving examples of Chinese embroidery are Tang dynasty (618-907) garments from eastern Turkistan. Profoundly influenced by the silk culture, which made exquisite threads and fabrics available to artisans, Chinese embroidery was principally used to decorate garments. Especially well known are Chinese emperors' robes, profusely adorned with traditional motifs and worked on a rich, dark ground-often black silk. One characteristic technique was void satin stitch, in which the rows of satin stitch are separated by a narrow strip of background material. Also characteristic were couched rows of silk threads covered with gold and silver.
In Japan, colored silks continued to be embroidered with long soft stitches in untwisted silk threads. Flowers, birds, bold flowing lines, and abstract motifs are common, and the designs achieve a feeling of calm restraint through their spacious distribution. Japanese embroidery on women's kimonos especially flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Knitting and Crochet
Both knitted and crocheted fabrics are made most often from a single strand of thread; the fabric is composed of loops chained together to form a continuous textile.