Archive for confusion


Posted in books, discussion topic, Embroidery with tags , , , , , , on June 3, 2012 by suetortoise

Now, as people who have been reading the last few posts here will already know, I am absolutely delighted with Jacqui Carey’s Elizabethan Stitches. Such a useful, clear book, showing most of the stitches found on Elizabethan embroideries – a lot of them are not in any of the standard embroidery stitch dictionaries. My main review is here.

One classic stitch from Elizabethan and Jacobean embroidery can be seen in several of the photographs in Elizabethan Stitches, but doesn’t have an instruction section in the book. This is the stitch known as Trellis Stitch. It’s one of the stitches in Grace Christie’s classic stitch book: Samplers and Stitches, which was published in 1920. It’s not a particularly easy stitch to learn, but it gets easier with practice. It can be worked to-and-fro, in rows, or with all the rows worked in the same direction – often spiralling in a circle. And there are other variations.

Here’s a rather bad sample of the basic to-and-fro version. (I’m still learning to get the tension right for the stitch – this one is a bit scrappy to say the least.) It’s a stitch that makes a reasonably substantial fabric with some stretch to it, so it can be used for pieces that are worked separately and attached afterwards, as well as making a useful filling stitch.

Now, I’m not complaining that trellis stitch isn’t included in Elizabethan Stitches – it’s a well-documented stitch, it is already in most of the stitch dictionaries. If she had included it, Jacqui Carey would have had to leave out one of the less well known stitches, and that would have been a great pity. The book concentrates mainly on the metal-thread stitches. That is its strength.

But one of those metal-thread stitches in Elizabethan Stitches is in danger of causing serious confusion. It’s one of the many different variations of detached buttonhole stitch. It’s a useful little stitch, not hard to work, and particularly suitable for metal thread. I haven’t seen it explained in any book before, and I’m glad to learn it.

Here’s a little sample I did with crochet cotton.

The problem is that Jacqui Carey has chosen to call this newly-discovered stitch ‘Elizabethan Trellis’. To add to the confusion, she shows a small diagram of the structure of  trellis stitch – Mrs Christie’s trellis stitch – as a comparison. The small diagram is labelled ‘modern trellis stitch’. Now that ‘modern’ trellis stitch is equally as Elizabethan as the one she has callled ‘Elizabethan Trellis’. Trellis stitch proper is a stitch for silk thread not metal, because it’s a knotted stitch. It’s not the same sort of structure as ‘Elizabethan Trellis’, as you can see from my two photos. And, more to the point, trellis stitch has been going by the name of  trellis stitch for nearly 100 years.

I was confused. I thought that Jacqui Carey had simply found a new way of working trellis stitch – until I tried out her instructions. I am not the only person to be confused by the misleading name.

What is more, as Elizabethan Stitches is such a very useful book, it’s going to be used as a main reference work by many people interested in the embroidery of the period. So now, if I see a mention of ‘trellis stitch’ in a recent description, I am going to wonder which of these two stitches are actually meant: ‘Christie-trellis’ or ‘Carey-trellis’? I’d dearly like to see ‘Elizabethan Trellis Stitch’ renamed in the next edition of Elizabethan Stitches – without that confusing word ‘trellis’ and without the equally confusing ‘comparison’ diagram. Until that happens, we’ll all just have to make very sure we are clear about which stitch we mean when we use the word.