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Techniques - Drawn Thread

Drawn thread is one of the earliest and most ancient forms of open work. It is defined as the art of drawing out a group of threads from a base (an even weave fabric) and weaving the threads that are left into bundles in order to form decorative open patterns. Drawn work is traditionally considered a counted thread technique and a precursor to lace making.

Drawn thread designs range from very simple such as a single row of antique hemstitch, to very ornate such as a wide ornamental border. Since the stitches are worked along the fabric thread lines, the designs are very geometric and angular. Surface embroidery is often used along side drawn thread to soften the design. Older works show the ravelings from the fabric itself were used to create the decorative embroidery and bundling.

Drawn thread is traditionally worked with white thread on white fabric. In contrast as embroiderer's skills developed and refined through time, richer appearances were achieved using fine gold threads and colored silks.

Drawn thread work has been called many names throughout history. The original name, punto tirato (threads being drawn one way from the material), comes from the Italian word tirare meaning to pull or draw. Punti tagliata refers to threads drawn out of the fabric both horizontally and vertically. Many names found for drawn work indicate the countries or districts where these types of embroideries were produced - Puntia Guiorgi, Broderie de Nancy and Hamburg Point.

As Italian embroiderers became more experienced many deviations of this work flourished, such as punto agruppo, point tire, punto reale and fili tirari. Additional forms mentioned in history are Opus Tiratum (fancy open stitches such as Dresden Point and lace stitches), Tonder lace and Indian work.

Drawn thread work can be traced back to almost prehistoric times. The earliest example is found in Egypt from around the 1st century A.D., hundreds of years before its introduction in Europe, it was discovered on the wrapping of mummies. Another early discovery was found when the tomb of St. Cuthbert at the Cathedral of Durham was opened in the 12th century. The Saint's shroud was "fringed" with such a border "worked upon threads". One of the main advantages for using drawn thread is its durability. This is why many ancient specimens like those mentioned above are still in a perfect state of preservation today.

Elaborate forms arose in the 15th and 16th century from Italy and developed into what is known today as reticella. During that same time frame drawn work spread throughout many regions of Europe (around the time when cutwork and Greek Lace were discovered). Later in that century, John Ruskin introduced reticella to the linen workers in the Lake District of England. Here it became known as Ruskin lace.

The earliest publication on the subject was a booklet found in Zwickau, Germany in 1525. Another was printed in Cologne in 1527.

In modern times it seems to have a little more universal appeal. You can find examples of this work from Germany, Italy, Russia, Greece and Scandinavia. Other journals cite China and the Middle East as well as South America and the Philippines as popular places practicing these techniques. Each area has developed their expression of drawn work differently. Very fine work needing a magnifier to examine is produced in India and Persia. In contrast, Mexican drawn work produces a heavily spider webbed effect.