Cross stitch is a hobby that combines patience and dexterity to create a finished piece with a tiled almost pixelated appearance with a series of small "X"s. Uniformity is prized in this hobby and can either be completed through counted cross stitch or stamped cross stitch (where the design is pre-printed on the fabric).
A Brief History of Cross Stitch
Even though there are many examples of cross stitch throughout history, scholars are unable to pin-point the exact geographical and chronological origin of this form of embroidery. The earliest known example is a piece of cross stitch from 500 AD that was discovered within a Coptic tomb in Upper Egypt. Textiles do not have a tendency to survive such long time periods due to its high perishability compared to say, ceramics or metal work. However it does give us a rough idea of when weaving for necessity became an activity of more leisurely pursuit for the creation of aesthetically pleasing forms of artwork.
Cross stitch began to spread as an embroidery form throughout the Middle East and Persia. Eventually it reached China and became very poplular within the T'ang dynasty (618 - 907). It is theorised that Persian merchants travelled through the trade routes into the Far East, perhaps even along the famous Silk Road and brought this embroidery technique with them. We have evidence to believe that this was the case for two-fold reasons; first of all there is a very convincing similarity between the basic patterns of cross stitch used by the two very different civilisations and also the chronological timings of adoption of the craft.
From China, cross stitch spread East across the successive centuries, becoming more intricate in its design and execution. We can also see the combining of embroidery skills in Spain, through Islamic civilisation influence and also the natural spread of cross stitch through trade within the European countries. As Islam stems from the Middle East and subsequently some Muslims travelled and settled in Spain. With them, they brought the black work technique which mingled with the full cross stitch to evolve into something new. There is also evidence that no less the Catharine of Aragon herself brought the black work technique to England when she married King Henry VIII, though she was previously married to his elder brother in the very early 1500's. There is anecdotal evidence that Queen Catherine used black work on her royal husbands own garments.
As cross stitch had now successfully travelled throughout the Far East, Middle East, Mainland Europe and England, it then made the leap across the Atlantic Ocean. The Mayflower travelled from Plymouth in 1620 and cross stitch grew with the colonies of North America which soon became known as New England.
We have evidence of this movement from a sampler dated 1645 and done by Loara Standish. Samplers were popular at the time and were often the first project of a young lady. They not only acted as a teaching tool but also as a reference tool throughout her life. This would help her in stitiching onto linens, table cloths and other small household items as stitching was for the most part seen as an embellishment of the practical and not a pursuit of pure leisure. Samplers have also been found dating 1792 in the Calcutta region of Bengal. These were primarily samplers of lengthy bible passages. Around this time the British had imposed their ruled on this area of India and had subsequently brought cross stitch and their Christianity with them. The sampler found was done by orphan children from a school near Calcutta.
Between the 1600's and present day the design of cross stitch moved on. Art become more refined and complex with the rise of the Rennaisance across Europe with evolved into the modern artist and cross stitch designers that we know today.
However embroidery and cross stitch did dwindle for sometime in the late 1900's as it was seen to be a privilige of the elderly and retired who had the time to undertake such projects. Thankfully this period did not last long and soon cross stitch went back to being enjoyed by all generations once again. Many designers now combine the classic with the contempory to create new and risque designs - also known as subversive cross stitch.
The Great Recession of 2008 also helped to cement crafting and consequently cross stitch back into peoples minds as a make do and mend mentality came back to people. Whilst cross stitch is more luxurious in its pursuit than say darning a sock, it has a relatively low cost of supplies that can give hours of enjoyment and a finished project to be proud of. Some still cross stitch patterns onto linen for household items but mostly we now have our finished pieces professionally framed and then hung on wall around our homes.