This is a very old stitch which is used for outlining and also for filling in colors for patterns.
Looking back into the history, Split stitch has its popularity placed at a high during the medeival ages in England. The needle work of this times was called Opus Anglicanum.This medeival english needlework comprised of generous use of split stitch for fillings in a motif along with ‘underside couching’ method of embroidery. It covers the whole cloth on which it is worked and leaves negligible space for background. So, we can say that the history of split stitch is akin to the history of Opus Anglicanum.
Opus Anglicanum was done mainly for the purpose of the rich and powerful churches of the medeival ages. Though it was used otherwise too, only a very few of its kind has survived. Information has it that they were mainly done by nuns or anyone with a seven years of apprenticeship in a secular workshop. It was also populary done among the Anglo-Norman ladies. This was a time when embroidery work was viewed as a highly skilled art work at par with other art forms like stained glass work, sculpture, architecture and, silver and gold metal work. In fact, it was considered to be of a higher esteem than fine art.
This embroidery was done with fine silk and gold threads. Not only was it done with expensive materials, but it was labour intensive as well. This made the garments very expensive, so much so, that it went on to become a status symbol for the religious leaders and royalties. From the mid 1200s to mid 1300s, the fine embroidery of England was exported all over Europe and Opus Anglicanum was at its height. Great profits were made by the merchants who hired labourers for this expensive embroidery work. However, the great value of these garments also led to its destruction. When the older garments wore out or was no longer in use, the gold threads and other expensive embelishments would be pulled out and used in new creations. Opus anglicanum used exceptionally high quality materials and was done by highly skilled artisans.
The decline of Opus Anglicanum was seen from 1348, after the Black Death. The country saw a general unrest with a high decline in population. The time was ripe for newer techniques and materials to invade the textile and embroidery scene. Materials from Italy were used and embroidery work reduced to just borders or applied peices. Weaving took more importance than embroidery. Cheaper and quicker ways of stitching embroidery came into being. Satin stitch, brick stitch, long and short stitch, surface couching and stem stitch slowly replaced the tiny and laborious split stitch.
Now let us get on to our lessons.
Since I have taken 6 strands of thread, I have taken care to split them into three each. But I suppose that as we move on to using split stitch for more elaborate designs, we can be leniant with splitting the thread into exact halves. Well, this tip is for the more lazy ones. 😀
Rows of split stitch used in close succession can be used to do filling for a design. It is a laborious task, but when done with patience can create beautiful fillings.