Updated March 20, 2018.
A few years I had an occasion to look at the oldest needlepoint book I own, Needlepoint Made Easy, published in 1955.
It gave me pause, because I was also looking at the first edition of The Needlepoint Book, first published 21 years later.
Since most of us started stitching after the needlepoint “revolution” of the early 70’s we probably don’t think about it much, but the needlepoint of the 50’s was very different. That’s when my grandmother probably tried needlepoint. It was a pre-stitched canvas in a Berlinwork style. The colors were dull. She only had to fill in the background. She was an amazing dressmaker, knitter, and crocheter. She never finished the piece.
In the 50’s almost all needlepoint was pre-worked and very traditional in style. Furnishings inspired by the American colonies was popular and these designs fitted well in those decors.
Wool ruled to the exclusion of almost anything else. Original design was not encouraged, in the 50’s book only a short chapter near the end covers it.
Half-cross was the default stitch. Although Basketweave and Continental are covered, every picture of the back of stitching is half-cross. Only one non-tent stitch is even mentioned, Bargello, and no Bargello pieces are shown, so you can’t do a project in Bargello from this book.
There is more creativity in British books of the time, but not much more. The names we think of: Mary Rhodes, Constance Howard, and even Erica Wilson were all working then, but they did many types of needlework, not just needlepoint.
It’s as if the wonderful creativity of Victorian and early 20th-century needlepoint had gotten watered down to this little piece Grandma bought at a department store. It’s a sad testament to how techniques can be forgotten in only a generation or two.
Then look at The Needlepoint Book. You are encouraged to design your own projects and the author’s original designs are throughout the book. There are many, many stitches, both pictured and diagrammed.
You learn advanced techniques, in the 50’s book the only advanced technique covered is how to repair or splice canvas. You learn about color and design. All this was before the revolution in threads.
Even so, The Needlepoint Book from the 70’s looks contemporary and is still useful. The book from the 50’s looks quaint.
Think how far we have come!