Pulled vs. Drawn Thread

Let’s break it down from the big picture to the actual technique. Both techniques fall under the Whitework category. This seems pretty self-explanatory – the technique is traditionally done with white threads and fibers on white fabric. This would include Hardanger embroidery and Irish Mountmellick Embroidery (1742) and (1784) which is highly textured with knitted fringe. It can be as simple as Candlewicking (255-420-0004) and (255-420-0003). Also included are techniques like Scottish Ayrshire work, German Schwalm, Irish Carrickmacross Embroidery, Danish Hedebo and Ukrainian Drawn Thread (0589) and (155-001-5383). Even Asian Tambour embroidery is considered whitework even though it uses a special hook to create chain stitched designs on veils, collars, cuffs and caps. To learn a little more about most of these techniques you should get A-Z of Whitework Book 1 (1659N). We have been told A-Z of Whitework Book 2 is being compiled, but a release date has not been set).

Counted Thread Embroidery is another "umbrella title" they both would fall under. This means the stitcher has to count over a specific number of fabric threads before inserting the needle. More often than not, techniques considered counted thread involve a variety of colors and stitches such as Blackwork, Canvaswork, and cross-stitch.

Both techniques would better fall under the more specific category of Open Work. Merriam Webster defines open work as any work that is constructed specifically to show off the holes in the work. This also involves other mediums such as wrought iron and pottery. It is the open spaces that create the designs for pulled and drawn thread embroidery even though they are accomplished in completely different methods.

So, how can we tell them apart? I will start with Drawn thread since "D" comes before "P". (Yes, it has been that kind of a week!) Drawn thread involves cutting and withdrawing fabric threads. Ah ha! That’s a great way to remember this technique. The withdrawing of the fabric leaves open areas that can be further worked or left as is. Drawn thread is believed to be one of the oldest types of openwork embroidery. There are known examples of altar cloths attributed back to 13th century Germany. However, some historians say it originated much later in Italy in the 16th century, where it was known as Punto Tirato. (reference link) Yet it was also popular in China, India, Mexico, and Middle East! No matter its origin, many cultures have created beautiful drawn thread needlework throughout centuries.

The basic technique of drawn thread is to carefully cut and withdraw certain fabric. Depending on your design, you may cut only the vertical threads (warp). Other designs only cut the horizontal threads (weft). Some designs cut both warp and weft threads. Be sure you understand your pattern before you get out the scissors! Also before you start to cut, there is often some type of foundation work to do. Without the pre-work your fabric would unravel once you cut the threads. Once your foundation is stitched and your grid work cut, it is time to start embellishing the open area.

One of the most basic types of drawn thread is hemstitch which is used for finishing the edges in linens, clothing, and samplers. We have several great hemstitch books including Hems, Edges & Fancy Borders (140-400-0001), Hemstitching (2404A), and The How To Book of Hemstitching and Edging (2404).

Here are some other books that give more explanation on drawn thread: Beginner’s Guide to Drawn Thread Embroidery (1751A), The Art of Drawn Work (reproduction of an 1896 volume) (1741), Drawn Thread Needlework Ideas (1096), The Proper Stitch (140-375-0001), and A Celebration of Stitching (140-471-0002).

Of course, Hardanger embroidery is another drawn thread technique. We have written several newsletters about Hardanger embroidery including Basic Hardanger, Cutting & Repairing Mistakes and Weaving.

Here are some drawn thread projects to try: Welcome Hearts (140-920-0090), Butterfly Garden (100-400-0002), and Dragonfly Lace (140-920-0081).

So What is Pulled Thread Embroidery?

Pulled thread embroidery involves no cutting! The lacy effect is created by applying tension to the stitching thread and pulling the thread tight. The more tension applied, the wider the open area becomes. Some of our confusion over these two techniques may be because pulled thread has also been called drawn fabric (not drawn thread), because the fabric is being drawn together. What I could find about the history is rather vague. Earlier samplers in the 17th and 18th centuries contained pulled work. The technique was made popular by peasant women imitating the fine, and expensive, laces. Ilse Altherr is an expert in Pulled Thread and she says this has been called Dresden work.

The "pull" in "pulled thread" is the tension applied to the thread and/or the direction the tension is applied. What makes this technique unique from most other types of needlework is the stitches you make are not meant to be seen!!! You go to all that work and what is seen are the resulting holes in the fabric. Therefore, the thread you use often matches the fabric. Pearl cotton or silk is often used instead of a single ply of floss because the thread must be able to withstand tension both during stitching and for the life of the finished piece. The thread should be about the same thickness as the fabric threads. If you don’t have the right threads, some fabrics can be unraveled along the edge and those threads used to stitch with ! Evenweave fabric is most often used and the count is from 20- to 40-threads per inch.

Here are a couple of examples of how this technique works. In the first two pictures, a regular satin stitch border has been done using regular tension. The second picture shows what happens when tension is put on the stitching thread and is pulled tight.

This example shows how you can further manipulate a satin stitch row by adjusting your tension as you stitch the row.

If you are thinking this sounds like a pretty boring technique because just how many stitches could there be, then you have to check out Lorilea Halley’s pulled thread sampler with over 100 stitches!! See her work and what reference books she has used. One of the books is Ilse Altherr’s wonderful book Mastering the Art of Pulled Thread (EMB122) http://www.nordicneedle.com/PROD/EMB122.html . Moyra McNeil has a great book Pulled Thread Embroidery (145-216-0002) and another resource is Mary Fry’s Pulled Thread Workbook (EMB124). With so many possibilities, we will work on a newsletter on pulled thread embroidery for 2011.

If you can’t wait until then, here are some pulled thread projects you might like to try: Sampler Heart Utility Case (140-400-0002), Diagonal Ribbons (145-400-0003), and Jonathan (145-400-0005).

As we’ve seen pulled and drawn thread techniques can be used individually to create beautiful designs. However, we can combine them to make a unique technique. For example, the basic Hardanger embroidery design is accomplished with the cutting and withdrawing of threads. Then the area around the Hardanger work can be embellished with pulled thread stitches like 4-sided, faggot, and eyelets. Together they create the beautiful overall design. Several techniques use pulled and drawn thread together to create the design, for example, German Schwalm and Swedish Naversom. In both techniques, a fabric grid is created by withdrawing threads and then pulled thread stitches are used on that grid to create the resulting lacy pattern.

Well, after looking into these techniques, I now can be able to tell the difference between Drawn and Pulled Thread techniques. I hope this has helped you as well. Please let us know if you have other topics you would like to see us cover.


We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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