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The well-travelled trade and spice caravan routes carried not only merchants and their stock of articles which were for sale but also itinerant craftsmen, who practised their skills wherever they settled.
One of the most highly decorated items is the toran, a colourful embroidered frieze with a row of pointed pendants along the lower edge, which hangs over a doorway or window for a festive occasion.There are many regional variations of similar cross stitch shapes, including eight-pointed star, heart, flower and bird motifs, as each basic shape is translated to fit the grid of the fabric in a slightly different way.Many earlier stitches are now our most common and more easily executed ones One of the most important and widespread functions of cross stitch has been to ornament peasant garments and household linens, often as a way of indicating family wealth and status in the community.Single motifs are uncommon in peasant embroidery; instead the motifs are usually repeated to form straight bands, which are then arranged above one another.Traditional Greek Island designs can have as many as six or seven different bands put together to form an intricate border, which is usually finished with a pattern that creates a broken outer edge.The earliest example of a complete cross stitch is a design worked in upright crosses on linen, and the piece was discovered in a Coptic tomb in Upper Egypt, where it was preserved by the dry desert climate dating from about 500AD in Upper Egypt.
Very few pieces of decorated fabric have survived from ancient civilisations, but this does not mean that decorative stitching was rarely used.
Some historians suggest that the development of cross stitch owes much to the craftsmanship of the Chinese, since this type of embroidery is known to have flourished during the T’ang Dynasty between 618AD and 906AD and a strong rural tradition of counted cross stitch still existed there during the early twentieth century.
It is feasible that techniques and designs spread from China via India and Egypt to the great civilisations of Greece and Rome, and from there throughout the countries of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
The only certainty is that the technique and designs of cross stitch spread from many of these countries throughout the European continent.
The Crusaders probably brought home embroidered textiles from the Middle Eastern countries after the Crusades.
To trace the history of cross stitch, we must look back to the very beginnings of embroidery, since it is only relatively recently that cross stitch has been used as the sole stitch in a piece.