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Opening a new country takes a special type of person - somebody who can make the most of what they have to build a civilisation.

Candlewicking is born of these people.

When America was being opened up to new settlers, whole families packed up their lives and went west. The problem was that they could take with them only what would fit in a covered wagon. This meant necessities only.

And then when they got there, there were only necessities for them - luxuries like fine embroidery fabric, and beautiful silks came rarely and embroiderers had to make do with what they had.

In many cases, this was calico or canvas and candlewick. And thus - the fine embroidery style of Candlewicking was born.

The designs were drawn directly onto the fabric - often using charcoal or a pencil - and then the embroiderer used the candlewick to embroider them. This gave Candlewicking its distinctive "white on white" look - which is still the preferred colour scheme today.

The Gold Rushes in Australia brought American men and women to our shores, and these ladies brought their technique with them - and showed the Australian ladies this form of embroidery. They took it up with great enthusiasm.

There are 2 basic stitches used in Candlewicking - a knotted stitch called a Colonial knot, and backstitch.

A Colonial Knot is also called a "figure of 8 knot" due to the method of making the knot.

Unlike the French Knot which is wrapped around the needle and then drawn back through the fabric, a Colonial knot wraps around the needle in a figure of 8 pattern (hence the other name). Make sure that when you have finished wrapping the thread around the needle you put the needle back into the fabric as close as possible to where it came out (but not back in the same hole)- exactly as you would a French Knot.

The other stitch is the simple backstitch - however you can also use stem, split, or any of the large number of line based stitches as well.

Modern embroiderers still use much of the same materials to do their Candlewicking on.

Candlewick is readily available from craft stores, however a lot of embroiderers prefer to use soft Cotton-a-broider, or the finer ply´s of knitting/crochet cottons. Perle thread can also look very good.

Please: do not use stranded thread for Candlewicking. It does not sit the same - and the strands tend to catch and your knots do not have a smooth look to them.

Although traditionally, Candlewicking was done white on white, today´s embroiderers use many different colours of thread to give their work a distinctive look - however you do find that the main colours are still white on white, with other colours only used as accent colours, or as painted designs that are not stitched.

Another modern trend I have seen is the combining of Candlewicking with Crewel embroidery - however I have a suspicion that this is not a "modern" look - and that it was probably done in past times as well if the embroiderer had the materials, and particularly liked the look of Candlewicking.

Like Blackwork, Candlewicking is another technique of embroidery where the blank space on your stitching is as important as the actual design.

A characteristic of Candlewicked designs is their clean lines and large amounts of blank space. To my mind, it gives them a very clean and fresh look - and probably made them much easier to launder and Iron.

Candlewicking is best worked in a hoop or frame, which helps you to keep the embroidery taught. You should work the knots and then carry the thread to the next knot - provided (of course) that it does not travel too far. Remember: these were thrifty ladies, and starting and finishing thread takes more thread than carrying a short distance.

If you look at old examples of Candlewicking, you will notice that the designs have the knots carrying on naturally in a line or circle - so that there is not a lot of travelling of thread necessary.

So why not give this form of Embroidery a try - it is fun and rewarding and gives one an appreciation of those special ladies without whom America and Australia would not have been settled.

Recommended Reading

"Traditional Candlewicking" by Sandie Meldrum

"White Work: Techniques & 188 Designs" by Carter Houck

"Candlewicking: 24 Iron On Transfer Patterns & Complete Instructions" by Claire Bryant

Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please contact me with your suggestions.

Happy Stitching

Happy Stitching from Megan

© 2007 Megan McConnell

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