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Hemstitching: A Short History

Hemstitching: A short history

Have you ever tried hand Hemstitching? It is an enjoyable and useful embroidery technique that can be incorporated into your garments, and so today I am providing a little history. The hem stitch or hem stitching is a type of ornamental drawn thread work, which is generally used to decorate the hem of garments or household textiles.

Hemstitching is a type of Drawn Thread Embroidery with examples that date back to the 1400s. Some sources mentioned that examples of Drawn Thread Embroidery were found in Egyptian and Coptic tombs, suggesting that it dates back much farther than the 15th century! While its origins may be obscure, different types of Drawn Thread Embroidery can be found throughout the Mediterranean World with each country giving its own unique spin and flair to the technique. Originally a form of Whitework, the technique later spread to Norway and the Slavic Countries where the use of bright colors can be found in Hungarian and Romanian national costumes. Sicily in particular was known for the elaborate designs that were embroidered over a "net" of Drawn Thread work.

Example of hemstitching

According to the Textile Research Center, Drawn thread work is a form of embroidery, by which selected warp and/or weft threads are drawn out of the ground material and then cut off. The threads can be withdrawn from one direction (Punto Tirato) which leaves vertical bars of thread that are then grouped into designs, or from both directions (Punto Tagliato) leaving holes that are then filled with designs (cutwork). This is in contrast to Drawn Fabric which is a type of Pulled Thread embroidery. The difference between the two is that no threads are withdrawn in Pulled Thread; instead the fabric is "drawn" together through the tension of the stitches used. Yes, it's confusing! But today I am focusing on Drawn Thread in which the threads are withdrawn!

Drawn Thread can be worked on any type of even weave fabric, and the fineness of fabric traditionally used is amazing. However, the fabric of choice was usually linen. and the techniques were used to decorate household linens including tablecloths, napkins, cushion covers, lingerie and handkerchiefs. Hemstitching is the simplest of the Drawn Thread techniques and is so named because besides being decorative, it was also used to hem the work. In the photo at the top of the page, each of the 3 ivory bands is a different type of Drawn Thread Work, all of which incorporate hemstitching.

Ladder stitch on antique baby gown

The open work in the baby gown above is an example of Ladder stitch, a type of hemstitching. It can also be seen in the detail on the yoke of the same dress.

Ladder Stitch detail

If you are interested in trying Drawn Thread work, you can read a little more about it by downloading Therese de Dillmont's book Drawn Thread Work which is available from the Antique Pattern Library.

Drawn Thread Work by Th. de  Dillmontt

As I mentioned in the beginning, hemstitch is technique that can be incorporated into your garments and yes, I have done just that! Below is an sneak peak of an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Close-up of hemstitching on a garment

And here is a full picture of that adorable antique baby gown.

Antique Baby Gown

Sources for this post include those highlighted above as well as the Anchor Manual of Needlework. published by Interweave Press.

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