White work is made up of several different methods and technique where the stitching is traditionally the same colour as the fabric which would traditionally white linen, although the introduction of colour is now becoming popular.
There are many different styles of whitework embroidery including Mountmelick, Hardanger, Drawn Thread Work, Broderie Anglaise and Reticella.
Mountmellick embroidery (or Mountmellick work)
MountMellick is floral whitework embroidery which originated from the town of Mountmellick in County Laois, Ireland in the early nineteenth century.
Mountmellick embroidery is created by using knotted and padded stitches to create beautifully textured whitework embroidery.
Mountmellick is believed to have been started by Johanna Carter in around 1825; she started teaching this embroidery to a group of about 15 women and girls. The embroidery used white cotton thread on white cotton fabric, and created predominantly floral motifs drawing inspiration from the town of Mountmellick and the plants and flowers that can be found there including blackberries, oak, fern, dog roses and of course shamrocks.
Mountmellick was hit very hard by The Great Irish Famine (1845-1849) so in about 1880, Mrs Millner, started an industrial association to help people within the town. She employed women to stitch Mountmellick embroidery for sale. Many of these items were sold at the ports from where many people set sale on their way to America.
Hardanger embroidery or “Hardangersøm”
Hardanger is a form of embroidery traditionally worked with white thread on white even-weave linen or cloth, using counted thread and drawn thread work technique.
Hardanger became popular in the period between 1650-1850 Hardangersom meaning: work from Hardanger area. The True origins of Hardanger embroidery are unknown, but it is thought that the basis for the technique began in Persia and Asia. Those techniques were brought to Europe during the Renaissance where it evolved into several variations such as Reticella and Venetian lacework. The techniques were then brought over to Norway by Sea farers bringing embroidery back, this then evolved into the technique known as Hardanger which was used to decorate national costumes and bedspreads.
Hardanger is primarily a style of drawn thread work that is still popular today. Most Hardanger designs consists of satin stitches using geometric shapes other basic shapes such as squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, hearts, zig-zags and crosses are often used as well as stylized flowers. Originally Hardanger would be completed on evenweave fabric of 36 count or higher. However, modern Hardanger fabric is tends to be evenweave cotton with a ’22-count’. The weave gives a squared appearance to the fabric making it easier to count.
Traditional Hardanger embroidery is worked with a thread colour that matches the fabric, usually white or cream. Using self-coloured thread enhances both the sculptural nature of the stitches and the details in the intricate filling stitches. Many contemporary designs, however, do make use of coloured, variegated and overdyed threads to great effect.
Drawn thread work
Drawn thread work was traditionally done in white thread on white fabric and is often combined with other whitework techniques, but the drawn thread are the most distinctive parts, it is a form of counted-thread embroidery based on removing threads from the warp and/or the weft of a piece of even-weave fabric. The remaining threads are grouped or bundled together into a variety of patterns.
Needlelace was first started in Italy in the16th century. Needlelace evolved when the lacemakers realized that they can do the same things without any supporting fabric. Reticella lace is a form of embroidery in which typical techniques of needlelace are used to embellish drawn thread work. High quality reticella is done with thread almost as thin as sewing silk.
Broderie anglaise (French, “English embroidery”)
Broderie anglaise originated in 16th century Eastern Europe but remains associated with England because of its popularity there during the 19th century. It is characterized by patterns composed of round or oval holes, called eyelets, which are cut out of the fabric, the patterns, often depicted flowers, leaves, vines, or stems. The use of button hole stitches and later Satin stitch are notable within this technique. Today, most broderie anglaise is created by machine.
Madeira work is a popular and well known form of broderie anglaise associated with artisans on the island of Madeira.