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The candlewick bedspread received its name from the early practice of using for working the design the coarse white yarn then employed for the wicks of home-made candles. The pattern is worked out by small tufts of the yarn or by tiny knots or loops; or a combination of these methods is employed. As in all embroidery, the patterns range from designs simply outlined in a coarse stitch to patterns in which the embroidery is more finely worked and the design filled in and enriched with the characteristic stitch.
The patterns are of several general types. One is a geometrical arrangement, the surface being divided into square or oblong spaces, perhaps with star or leaf forms in each section. More elaborate specimens of this type have many rows of candlewicking to mark off the spaces, with rosettes accenting the corners of the divisions.
A popular past and present type has the surface ornamented with sprays of flowers and leaves, and perhaps a border of the candlewick stitches in festoon and garland forms. Combinations of geometrical shapes, with sprays of flowers and perhaps patriotic emblems, make up another characteristic design.
In the less geometrical designs a much lighter touch is obtained. Vine leaves and bunches of grapes form a favorite motif, which adapts itself to a freely flowing pattern meandering over the coverlet. In other examples the richness of English embroidery in flower patterns is the obvious inspiration. Some of the coverlets made today have a touch of the Oriental in their variety of flower, bud and leaf forms and are reminiscent of Jacobean crewel work, which was strongly influenced by Eastern art.
The curious forms given to the flowers and leaves on some of these candlewick spreads, together with certain decorative arrangements of the motifs, illustrate this tend ency. Tiny birds amusingly perched on flower sprays a type of decoration familiar in seventeenth century embroidery-are also found in candlewick designs.
Other patterns gain a simpler effect by a frugal use of the design on the top of the bed, leaving the broad expanse of the coverlet that hangs down at the sides entirely unworked except, perhaps, for a double line near the edge. This type of spread may have a centre rosette of leaves surrounded by a wreath, with a more freely designed vine motif filling in the corners.
Candlewick spreads of early Republic days often carried the American eagle. This might be found combined with a star design, the unoccupied space filled in with flowering plants springing from pots or vases. The date and the initial or name of the owner were sometimes embroidered on the surface.
An important part of the candlewick spread was the fringe, of the same material as the embroidery. It might be simply knotted; or, for an elaborate spread, the fringe might be many inches wide. No machine art can simulate the best of these interesting fringes, for here a certain flexibility of effect and variation of design is possible only by handwork. This is illustrated in the old and in the modern hand-made reproductions.
There is undoubtedly a close connection between the ancient art of quilted bedspreads and the candlewick variety. Decorative motifs found on candlewick bedspreads recall those familiar to us in the quilted and patchwork coverlets. Patterns used on candlewick spreads were handed down from mother to daughter. Each design had its own name. "Bird and Tree," "Swinging Basket," "Sweet Brier Rose" are a few of the quaint designations preserved in spreads of modern make.
Although the traditional candlewick bedspread is made in a solid cream color, coverlets today may have the design in cream on a colored background; or the background may be cream, with the design in color. These are especially useful in achieving a successful harmony with the bright hangings and painted furniture of a modern bedroom. For the four-poster bed or the later form of bed with low footboard and headboard, the cream colored candlewick spread with long fringe and quaint air is particularly appropriate. Valances, bureau covers, table covers and curtains may all be made to order in this same type of embroidery.
Candlewicking was essentially a simple art and in the less elaborate designs the almost puritanical austerity of the craft is disclosed. Originally intended doubtless as a humble substitute for the elaborately embroidered quilts used as far back as Queen Elizabeth's day, the candlewick coverlet came, through its very excellence, to be much in vogue in the best families a century or more ago.