The Sam­pler Sleuth

Just Cross Stitch - - Contents - Vickie LoPic­colo Jen­nett

Neg­a­tive Space: As­sisi Em­broi­dery's Best Friend

Simple but el­e­gant and amaz­ingly adap­tive is an apt de­scrip­tion of the age-old tech­nique known as As­sisi em­broi­dery. In the words of Newnes Com­plete Needle­craft: A Prac­ti­cal and

Com­pre­hen­sive Guide, “There is no em­broi­dery at once sim­pler and more ef­fec­tive than this, with its white de­sign show­ing boldly against a coloured back­ground of con­tin­u­ous cross stitch.”

Dat­ing to the Mid­dle Ages, As­sisi em­broi­dery gets its name from the re­gion where it de­vel­oped in As­sisi, Italy. Worked in geo­met­ric pat­terns, birds, dragons, beasts, flow­ers and elab­o­rate bor­ders are char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally found in this count­edthread em­broi­dery tech­nique.

One form of As­sisi em­broi­dery re­lies on the four-sided run­ning stitch out­lin­ing small squares. The other form re­quires that the area to be stitched is first cov­ered in dou­ble run­ning stitch. Then its back­ground is filled with hor­i­zon­tal rows of cross stitch or long-armed cross stitch.

The end re­sult in both cases is that the main mo­tif (or mo­tifs) is out­lined by the stitches, leav­ing the mo­tif it­self void of stitches. Most tra­di­tional de­signs in­cor­po­rate only one or two col­ors of floss.

The ear­li­est As­sisi pieces are thought to be ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal em­broi­deries worked by nuns in con­vents. Some sources at­tribute the ori­gin of As­sisi em­broi­dery to the Poor Clares, a con­tem­pla­tive or­der of nuns founded by St. Fran­cis and St. Clare of As­sisi in 1212.

Typ­i­cally stitched us­ing silk threads on even­weave linen fab­ric, the more elab­o­rate em­broi­deries some­times in­cluded metal­lic threads. Some de­signs also were drawn on the fab­ric prior to stitch­ing.

Dur­ing the Renaissance, As­sisi em­broi­dery be­came more sec­u­lar and fea­tured a wider va­ri­ety of sub­jects, in­clud­ing myth­i­cal an­i­mals. Al­though not very pop­u­lar in the 18th and 19th cen­turies, the tech­nique en­joyed a re­vival in the early 1900s when a work­shop was founded in As­sisi to pro­mote the tech­nique and pro­vide em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The counted-thread tech­nique is still found to­day on a va­ri­ety of house­hold linens, in­clud­ing table­cloths, run­ners, cush­ion cov­ers and bags.

Au­thor Het­sie van Wyk's col­or­ful de­scrip­tion cap­tured the orig­i­nal source of this needle­work in her 1977 book,

Em­broi­der Now: “Af­ter a visit to the pic­turesque lit­tle town of As­sisi on the slope of the hillock in Italy, the vis­i­tor will al­ways have a soft spot for ev­ery­thing con­nected with it. Above all there will be the last­ing im­pres­sion of nu­mer­ous gay lit­tle em­broi­dery shops along a gray cob­bled street. On the out­side against the stone walls and the door­frames, dozens of ar­ti­cles hang, em­broi­dered in the typ­i­cal style known as As­sisi work.”

Now again in this cen­tury, As­sisi em­broi­dery is en­joy­ing a re­vival as vi­brant pal­ettes join con­tem­po­rary de­signs in a tech­nique that dates back over 800 years.

Re­sources

As­sisi Em­broi­dery: Tech­nique and 42 Charted De­signs by Pamela Miller Ness

As­sisi Em­broi­dery: Old Ital­ian CrossStitch De­signs by Eva Maria Leszner

Dragons and myth­i­cal an­i­mals are tra­di­tional de­signs for As­sisi em­broi­dery.

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