The English Needlepoint

Needlework has been around almost as long as humans have clothed themselves. It goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians, who used small slanted stitches to sew their tents. Howard Carter, of Tutankhamen fame, found some needlepoint in the cave of a Pharaoh who had lived 1500 years before Christ. Samples of the art have been found on ancient Maori costumes in New Zealand, and the Bible features numerous references to needlework.

In 13th century Europe, a form of embroidery was done on coarsely woven linen fabric similar to canvas mesh. Tapestries, also popular in the middle-ages, were woven with vertical threads on a loom. By the 16th century, people began to imitate these art forms using a canvas background and the recently invented steel needles that allowed for more intricate work than the fishbone or thorn needles previously available. Needlepoint as it is known today originated in the 17th century, when the fashion for furniture upholstered with embroidered fabrics prompted the development of a more durable material to serve as the embroidery's foundation.

The list of historic needlepoint fans includes such famous names as Mary, Queen of Scots (who stitched extensively during her long imprisonment), Marie Antoinette and Queen Elizabeth I. During the reign of these royals, needlepoint was strictly a pastime of the leisure class. As time went on, its appeal gradually broadened to other parts of society.

The antique needlepoint in this picture is courtesy of the C John Rare Rugs Collection.