Ethnic Embroidery – Part 1 – Counted Styles


Oosh. For the record, I hate that term. ALL embroidery is, in some way, “ethnic.” What we are generally referring to is any embroidery form that can be traced to a specific small group of people or region of the world.

That said, I love to investigate and study historical embroideries. This started with my participation in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) in college. The French and English Medieval and renaissance work I looked at led me out and into the rest of the world, where most of our historic info (at least in English and French, which I read) tends to stop at the 18th and 19th centuries.

Most ethnic embroideries of the common people (also called “peasant” embroidery) is counted, and worked on plainweave fabric that may or may not be evenweave. A lot of it is simply full cross stitch with variations in color and in geometric design and what the people embroider (clothes, towels, pillows and so on.) After looking at peasant cross stitch for a while you start to see similarities. Most are in some form of red, green, or blue and black with a few other colors thrown in for accent. I did a wall hanging based on Palestinian motifs for a friend of Latvian descent a while ago, and he said the designs were very similar to those from his region. Add to this the fact that in the mid 1800s DMC began exorting their thread and pattern books to all parts of the world and you start seeing French design everywhere! For example, village embroidery in Palestine began adding scrolling vines, swan and floral patterns into their dress desgins mid 19th century. they also began swtitching from silk floss for the stitching to DMC perle cotton.

You can probably tell that i love these embroideries. Unfortunately, with the exception of Palestinian cross stitch, Norwegian Hardanger, and some German work, most notably Schwalm, most ethnic embroidery styles don’t have instruction books in English. Sometimes they don’t even have instruction books in their original languages. As a result, a lot of these stitching forms are disappearing. I find this sad.

Some of the counted styles I’ve been exposed to include:

  • Hardangersøm – Norway, Hardanger region
  • Sollerosøm – Sweden, Solleron Island (Dalarna) region
  • Swedish (huck) weaving – Not even limited to Sweden! Really popular in 1930s and 40s USA
  • Cross Stitch
    • Palestinian
    • Roumanian
    • Latvian
    • Ukrainian
    • Hmong
  • Imperial Chinese (tent on gauze)
  • Dresden – German counted and pulled lace
  • Tellemark beadwork – Norway, Telemark region
  • Assissi work – Greece
  • Cutwork lace – Greece (looks a lot like hardangersøm)
  • Ottoman pattern darning – Turkey
  • Kasuti – India (much like blackwork)

Exploring just the variations on cross stitch could keep an adventurous stitcher busy for decades!


Filed Under: Uncategorized

4 Responses to Ethnic Embroidery – Part 1 – Counted Styles

  1. Many of the counted styles now considered ethnic or peasant embroideries started out much higher in the social status spectrum. Pattern books of the early and later 1500s were clearly luxury items, aimed at the elite. They were full of counted designs, and wearing of many of them was interdicted by sumptuary laws. But these things trickle down, both as clothing is used and sold secondhand, cut down for children, given to servants or discarded and re-used those with few other options.

    What counted patterns have in particular that has led to their continuance in the folk tradition is their relatively low learning curve, and the ease with which they can be copied from extant pieces. You can trace patterns first published in the 1500s (and possibly collected from earlier artifacts even then) all the way up to modern works.

    • This is definitely true, Kim. Most of our “ethnic peasant” work information comes from the 19th century travels and the ethnologies those Victorians wrote. Modern scholars should definitely look deeper (and older). Your books on Renaissance counted designs are a fantastic source for this, and I covet my copies! The counted work had moved down the social ladder a bit by the 19th century in many areas, at least in Europe. When we start talking about African and Asian counted work, the societal differences start becoming important as well. And I don’t know enough about the historic situation of the Hmong (or really many Asian groups other than Imperial Manchurian, which was my focus of study) to make assessments other than “WOW that’s beautiful counted work!” 🙂

Leave a reply