In my research and work on my Historical Hamilton collection, I discovered a new stitch that I haven’t used, at least not officially, before. Petit point! This is sometimes referred to as a tent stitch or continental stitch, depending on how you sew it, but in essence, it is a term used to refer to “half stitches” that are half the size of the rest of the piece. This is what I have read and seen done by modern stitchers anyway. I found a bit more thanks to the internet though.
I really haven’t seen this in any patterns I’ve used, but it kept popping up in pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries. I think this is down to 2 different things, but this is just my belief!
1. Aida was invented in 1890 (most sources I’ve read say Zweitgart was the first to manufacture the cloth in that year but some cross stitch reference material dates it to 1882). Before aida fabric was available, most Western stitchers used linen. This naturally lends itself to petit point as most of the stitch work is done 2 over 2 (yes even in the 18th century!) and the petit point is 1 over 1. It produces nice even letters, and for a long time showing you could read and write was a lot of the reason samplers were produced.
Reason 2, backstitching wasn’t popular. I’ve looked over hundreds of samplers by now, and one thing I really noticed was an absence of backstitching. Plenty of samplers mix both cross stitch and other forms of embroidery like satin stitch or long and short stitches, but backstitching as a way of outlining or forming letters was noticeably absent. I’m not sure if this was purely aesthetic or if it was economic as well? Nowadays loads of people love backstitch and if you are working on aida, I definitely agree backstitching is easier than petit point!
So there’s some of the history around the stitch now on to how to stitch it. I have set up 2 separate samples, one on aida and another on linen so you can see how the stitch looks. I stitched the word “Hi” in 2 bold contrasting colors, and used 2 strands for all of them.
For aida, I used a bright yellow for the regular stitch (this was done on 16 count) and purple for the petit point. First I stitched out “Hi” in half crosses so that it will be easier to see the difference between the 2 stitches.
In order to stitch the petit point, I recommend using a regular embroidery needle rather than the duller cross stitch ones. You’ll need to be piercing parts of the aida that aren’t actually the “stitching holes”. I tried to take some zoomed in pictures of this.
I will say that while I find stitching on aida to be easier in general, for petit point linen is definitely going to be my go to. I can see why the stitch might have lost popularity when aida came into the game! It was much easier to keep my stitches even on linen.
A note about stitching in petit point, I watched a few tutorials on youtube (this one was very helpful for getting that full back coverage). Petit point is now a term more associated with canvas embroidery. The stitch that I tried to emulate most was a tent stitch as that would help provide support on the back of the fabric as well. I believe this is pretty clear if I turn my work over…
I even took pictures with my ruler so you can see the petit point is indeed half the size of the regular cross stitch. My “Hi” came out to 2cm long on 16 count in regular half stitches, and 1 cm in petit point half stitch.
Now for linen! I used red for the regular cross stitch and blue for the petit point. I started off by working only half stitches for each piece and took pictures.
Ok so it’s done in half stitches. I went back to the National Museum of American History’s collection of American Samplers (they allow you to zoom in in very nice detail!) and decided to double-check a few pieces showing a mix of cross stitch and petit point from the colonial period. However, upon further examination, I noticed something, almost all of the samplers used full crosses in their petit point!
So I decided to compare the half stitched version with a full cross in both regular and petit point. I only completed the full stitches in the linen. My opinion? Damn that petit point be looking choncky! It’s not bad per se, but it’s not the look I was aiming for lol. If you decide to stitch full crosses, I think it would work better if you only use 1 strand of floss. You can see from the picture below that 2 strands was just too much on the 32 count linen.
So there is petit point as it relates to cross stitch. If you check out more examples you might see that some like to use this to get more detailing in specific sections of full coverage pieces, I’ve seen a few people do Mirabilias this way, they have my full respect!
If you are looking for a back stitch alternative, this is a great way to add longer selections of text without making your cross stitch piece a 2′ x 4′. In the samplers I noticed a few bible verses and family trees were stitched like this and I can see why. Reminder, you can use this stitch on aida or linen, linen is definitely easier, and if you plan to use full crosses I recommend only one strand of floss.