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What is Surface Design as Opposed to Non-surface Design...?

Hi Mary and Ladies:

What makes something a "Surface Design," and if it's not a surface design, what do you call it?

I think I understand that embroidery is a surface design because you don't change the structure of the underlying fabric.

What are examples of non-surface design? Would something like making eyelets and or pulled thread designs in fabric qualify? Or, Hardanger? Maybe making eyelets isn't a good example since you don't cut the underlying fabric, you're just pushing the threads aside.

Thank you,
Carolyn in SoCal
Joined: 6/26/2011 1:16 pm
Posts: 4

Re: What is Surface Design as Opposed to Non-surface Design.

Hi, Carolyn - It's a difficult categorization.

When people say "surface" embroidery, they are usually talking about embroidery that follows a design that's put on plain-weave (non even-weave) fabric (or it can be put on even-weave fabric, but the weave has nothing to do with the manner in which it is stitched) and is stitched with stitches that don't rely on counting the fabric threads or the number of stitches in a space. This is often called "free-style" surface embroidery, but "free-style" doesn't imply that you just sit and stitch with no design (although it could mean that, depending on what you're doing). For example, Anchor has a beginner's book that's called "free-style surface embroidery" - and it covers your typical surface embroidery stitches used on designs that are drawn on the surface of fabric.

"Counted thread" is generally embroidery done on even-weave fabric, where the design is not on the fabric, but on a graph that one follows, putting stitches into the fabric in correspondence with marks on that graph, counting the number of threads and the number of stitches in a given space. It doesn't always necessarily follow a pattern written on a graph - sometimes, it may just follow the "graph" of the fabric, and the pattern develops from the stitcher's imagination, on that "graph."

Then there are some types of embroidery that are a combination. Colbert embroidery involves surface work and counted work; Blackwork often combines the two; Hardanger sometimes combines the two (predominantly it is counted); various types of pulled thread and drawn thread fillings might be "counted" but the designs are not generally drawn out on a graph to follow - the stitcher just works in what fits in a given area and even-weave fabric is not a requirement; needlepoint (canvas work) is often counted, though sometimes the design is on the canvas, and canvas work can certainly utilize surface stitches - but they are usually (though not always!) stitched according to the grid of the canvas. So, it's difficult to categorize the division.

I generally consider anything that doesn't follow a graph and is not counted as surface work. The stuff that follows a graph and is worked on even-weave fabric, I call counted thread techniques. And then anything worked on needlepoint canvas using needlepoint stitches, I call needlepoint (or canvas work).

So I look at those three divisions, understanding that they may sometimes cross over each other. But generally when I use the term "embroidery" I'm talking about some type of surface embroidery (and there are many, many types). So "embroidery" in that case becomes an umbrella term.

Then, of course, there's the whole needle lace category. Is it lace-making, or is it embroidery?!? :o

Well... I hope that helps clarify a little bit!
Joined: 6/1/2011 9:45 am
Posts: 437
Location: Kansas
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Re: What is Surface Design as Opposed to Non-surface Design.

Mary, thank you for your explanation, you've cleared up a number of other questions that have been rattling around in my head.

I can see that needlework is, as with most arts/crafts (as in "craftsmanship"), more complex and intricate than one might at first imagine; and that it cannot fit comfortably into any rigid category. It's a lifetime study.

Thank you, again!

Carolyn in SoCal
Joined: 6/26/2011 1:16 pm
Posts: 4