Well, I should obviously have written about those five basic stitch types before – because no sooner had I posted this than I serendipitously found the Henry Art Gallery’s rather grandly named Embroidery Stitch Identification Guide. It’s a very apt name as that is exactly what it does: it helps you identify stitches by classifying them and showing what they look like. It’s not an instruction manual that tells you how to work the stitch; but once you know its name you can look it up in other books which do just that (the stitch descriptions even suggest books in which you can find these instructions).
The whole Guide is interesting, but from the stitch category perspective the most interesting part is their Stitch Classification. It is uncannily close to what I remembered. There are seven, not five, categories, but one of them I would probably discard as the “Composite” class consists of two or more named stitches combined. The added condition that they are “worked in one journey” may make a difference, I suppose, but I am interested in basic stitches – the ones that composite stitches are made up of. I would also leave out the “Crossed” class as it explicitly states that these consist of straight stitches.
That leaves five sections, three of which correspond closely to the three I identified. Their “Flat” class is what I called “Straight”, except that “flat” stitches don’t pass over or under anything, which is why they need a separate category for cross stitches and the like. Even after a certain amount of thought I can’t see the need for that separation, but do let me know if you think otherwise! Their “Knotted” and “Looped” classes use the same names I did.
So we come to the two remaining classes, which (random thought that just popped into my head) are the only two to contain stitches which could be worked in more than one colour, as far as I can see. You may remember I suggested that one of the remaining classes might be corded, laced or woven, and HAG’s stitch classification does have a class called “Interlaced, plaited, or woven”. I’d prefer a less complex name and would suggest “Woven” as a sort of simple catch-all term if it weren’t for the fact that things like Pekinese stitch (as used in the border of SotW June) are so obviously not woven. Perhaps “Interlaced” would be the better choice – do you think that could include woven stitches?
Their final class is “Couched”, which makes sense. To me this would include lattice work, though I’m not sure the Indentification Guide mentions that. There is still some overlap between the categories if you go by looks alone; to take the Pekinese stitch again, it looks rather like a series of couched loops. It is only when you look at the process (the backstitches come first, and the loops are laced through them) that you can tell it’s not a couched stitch (where the loops would be laid first and then the backstitch worked on top of them to attach them – which would, incidentally, be a very fiddly thing to do).
So here are the Five Basic Stitch Types that I will be using from now on when classifying stitches based on how they are worked: Straight, Knotted, Looped, Interlaced, Couched.
I contacted the Henry Art Gallery for permission to use some of their images (to give you an idea of what their stitch illustrations look like and what level of detail they show), but haven’t heard back yet, so for the moment I can’t – you’ll have to browse the Stitches section yourself (hover over a name for a small picture, click on it for more detail). It’s worth doing so anyway, because you may well come across stitches you wouldn’t otherwise have known about, let alone tried out!