Unlike plain sewing, needlework is all about adornment.
Needlework is basically a catch-all term that is used to refer to various kinds of needlecrafts. The dictionary definition is pretty broad, referring to any work other than plain sewing that is done with a needle. As such, this would include needlepoint of all sorts, embroidery—particularly crewel—and cross-stitch of various kinds as well as smocking. Needlework is used to create or embellish decorative or functional items for the home as well as clothing, and personal accessories, such as handbags. A broad overview of each kind follows.
In addition to traditional needlepoint, the introduction of the plastic canvas has expanded interest in needlework within recent decades. This type of base is easier to work with for it doesn’t ravel or stretch. Consequently, the completed item needs no blocking to get it back into a proper shape. Needlepoint is an excellent craft choice for novices. Kits will include printed canvas, all the yarn you’ll need, and a detailed color chart of the design.
Embroidery is a longtime favorite. It consists of stitches that are done on an existing base of fabric or canvas. Regular cross stitch is typically used for tablecloths, towels, napkins, and bedding. Craft stores often sell items with the cross stitch pattern printed right on the cloth. Counted cross stitch is more exacting than regular cross stitch, requiring a detailed design.
In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in crewelwork. This is used to add a pattern of ornamentation or embellishment for aesthetic purposes. Now, it is often used as a fashion statement as needleworkers choose to personalize their clothing—either homemade or store-bought—with decorative details. The most common examples are fine heirloom clothing, jeans, blouses, and skirts.
Despite the popularity of embroidery machines, this by no means diminishes the interest in hand embroidery. While carefully- done hand embroidered items, particularly samplers, might be considered priceless heirlooms hundreds of years from now, it is unlikely that machine embroidered things will be viewed as favorably.