I’ve been doing a lot of research about what really constitutes a crewel filling stitch (other than long-and-short stitch / shading as a solid filling, which is not included here) and here’s what I’ve learned: most of them are really just combinations of other stitches and there’s no, say, ‘directory’ of them. If you look at historical Jacobean crewelwork, the same combos sort of repeat endlessly but with minor differences.
I’m working up a little chart (above, looking very professional and official indeed) of what stitches I’ll put where, but the most common combination in old pieces seems to be the use of couching to make a simple lattice, then french knots, cross stitches, or detached chains to fill the spaces. This is what you think of when you picture crewelwork filling, am I right?
So that seems like a good place to start! Here’s a basic tutorial for how to work this sort of filling:
First things first. To start and end a thread in crewelwork, you will make a few teeeensy (just a millimeter or two) stitches in a nearby area that you will cover later. In our case, that will be along the borders between each section. Make a single knot at the end of your thread and go down into your fabric through the top, so that the knot sits on a line. Then take two or three little wee stitches on the line before starting to stitch your section. When you’ve done just a bit to make sure all is secure, you can go ahead and carefully snip that knot off. (This is also called a ‘waste knot’, by the way.) The little stitches will stay there and be covered up later on; you can start this way in any area that you know will be completely covered later. In the photo above, you can see one knot that still needs to be snipped off and my other starting stitches sitting along the other border lines.
I’ve chosen three thread colors (the two brighter colors are actually very slightly different shades, to give a bit of subtle depth). First we make a lattice with long, straight stitches:
This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, as the overall look really does depend on getting your lattice squares as even as you possibly can. Honestly, I’m not really happy with the evenness of my first couple of rows there, but I seem to be getting better as I go. A tip (shown above): to help get a straight and evenly spaced line, hold your thread down across where you want it to lay and insert your needle at the end point.
Once you’ve filled your space with lattice, you’ll tack down each intersection with a little stitch (in a new color, if you like). Again, this is a little trickier than it looks! You want the tacking stitch to be very small, but not so close to the lattice threads that it effects the straightness of the lattice lines. This will take a few before you get a feel for how long and close this stitch should be.
Then stick a french knot in the middle of each square – or whatever you like, really – and that’s the first block of this sampler filled!