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What is Candlewicking?

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  • Written By: R. Stamm
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2016
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The name candlewicking comes from the nature of the soft cotton used for making candle wicks. It is a type of embroidery which uses various stitch forms on an unbleached piece of muslin using thread of the same color. It was popular during the 17th century in England and was brought to the Americas around the same time. When looked at from a distance, this embroidery resembles trapunto quilting.

Also known as white work embroidery, the stitching in candlewicking is the same color as the fabric. The stitches are slightly raised on the surface of the base fabric by passing the loop of the stitch over a small twig or a specially-designed tool. The initial knot is made by using a variety of stitches, such as the colonial knot, the French knot, or a basic stem stitch. In early forms of candlewicking, the knots were left uncut while more modern versions tend to cut them, displaying a frayed effect in the embroidery. Following the initial knot, a series of running stitches are sewed, then another knot is complete and so on until the design is finished.

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The tools used to produce this form of embroidery include unbleached cotton muslin and candlewicking thread. Ecru-colored, six-strand embroidery thread may also be used as long as it is the same color as the base fabric. Other useful tools for this process are a chenille needle, pins and a fabric marker. Some may find an embroidery hoop useful, but it is not necessary.

While considered fairly simple, this process of embroidery design requires some practice. A pattern is secured in place with pins and traced onto the base fabric using a fabric marker or other washable writing utensil. After the complete design is traced, it is placed into an embroidery hoop. Then, the design is stitched using one of the three knots mentioned above.

Patterns chosen for whitework embroidery designs vary depending on the time period and the desired effect. Designs taken from natural settings include flowers, butterflies, or pine trees. More elaborate designs stem from folk art created during the Pennsylvania Dutch period in the 17th and 18th centuries and colonial American designs a century later. The creation of more modern designs uses a floss embroidery thread with the traditional white-on-white stitchery.

Whether used over an extensive area or a small one, candlewicking embroidery typically has an elegant effect. Traditionally, items made using this method included heirloom christening gowns, baby blankets, and other small baby items. More commonly, it is used to create bed linens and cushion covers.

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frosted
Post 2

@BreeZee22 – I agree this is a beautiful technique. Some other ways I have seen it used is on table linens such as tablecloths, table runners, and napkins. Some other uses could be hankies, sachets, and linen guest towels.

I have also seen it used as a decorative piece by mounting it in an embroidery hoop and hanging it on the wall. A set of these would make a nice wall grouping I think. I am sure there are other items to use this technique on, but those are a few I have seen.

A chenille needle is about the same length as a tapestry needle, but the eye is larger and it has a very sharp point.

BreeZee22
Post 1

I absolutely love the look of candlewicking embroidery. It is so beautiful. Using it on baby items would make a lovely shower gift. Any ideas about other things this technique could be used on besides baby items and bed linens? And what is a chenille needle?

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