Embroidery is the handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as metal strips, pearls, beads, quills, and sequins. Embroidery is most often used on caps, hats, coats, blankets, dress shirts, denim, stockings, and golf shirts. Embroidery is available with a wide variety of thread or yarn color.
An interesting characteristic of embroidery is that the basic techniques or stitches on surviving examples of the earliest embroidery—chain stitch, buttonhole or blanket stitch, running stitch, satin stitch, cross stitch—remain the fundamental techniques of hand embroidery today.
Embroidery has been dated to the Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC) of ancient China. The process used to tailor, patch, mend and reinforce cloth fostered the development of sewing techniques, and the decorative possibilities of sewing led to the art of embroidery. In a garment from Migration period Sweden, roughly 300–700 CE, the edges of bands of trimming are reinforced with running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, tailor's buttonhole stitch, and whipstitching, but it is uncertain whether this work simply reinforced the seams or should be interpreted as decorative embroidery.
The remarkable stability of basic embroidery stitches has been noted:
It is a striking fact that in the development of embroidery ... there are no changes of materials or techniques which can be felt or interpreted as advances from a primitive to a later, more refined stage. On the other hand, we often find in early works a technical accomplishment and high standard of craftsmanship rarely attained in later times.
Global Use and Techniques
Elaborately embroidered clothing, religious objects, and household items often were seen as a mark of wealth and status, as in the case of Opus Anglicanum, a technique used by professional workshops and guilds in medieval England. Embroidery was also produced for every day use all over the world. In English culture, centuries old examples survive showing that embroidery was a skill marking a girl's path into womanhood as well conveying rank and social standing.
Many of these items used materials that were accessible to non-professionals. Examples include Hardanger from Norway, Merezhka from Ukraine, Mountmellick embroidery from Ireland, Nakshi kantha from Bangladesh and West Bengal, and Brazilian embroidery. Many techniques had a practical use such as Sashiko from Japan, which was used as a way to reinforce clothing.
In the 16th century, in the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, his chronicler Abu al-Fazl ibn Mubarak wrote in the famous Ain-i-Akbari: "His majesty (Akbar) pays much attention to various stuffs; hence Irani, Ottoman, and Mongolian articles of wear are in much abundance especially textiles embroidered in the patterns of Nakshi, Saadi, Chikhan, Ari, Zardozi, Wastli, Gota and Kohra. The imperial workshops in the towns of Lahore, Agra, Fatehpur and Ahmedabad turn out many masterpieces of workmanship in fabrics, and the figures and patterns, knots and variety of fashions which now prevail astonish even the most experienced travelers. Taste for fine material has since become general, and the drapery of embroidered fabrics used at feasts surpasses every description."
Embroidery was an important art in the Medieval Islamic world. The 17th century Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi called it the "craft of the two hands". Because embroidery was a sign of high social status in Muslim societies, it became widely popular. In cities such as Damascus, Cairo and Istanbul, embroidery was visible on handkerchiefs, uniforms, flags, calligraphy, shoes, robes, tunics, horse trappings, slippers, sheaths, pouches, covers, and even on leather belts. Craftsmen embroidered items with gold and silver thread. Embroidery cottage industries, some employing over 800 people, grew to supply these items.
The development of machine embroidery and its mass production came about in stages in the Industrial Revolution. The earliest machine embroidery used a combination of machine looms and teams of women embroidering the textiles by hand. This was done in France by the mid-1800s. The manufacture of machine-made embroideries in St. Gallen in eastern Switzerland flourished in the latter half of the 19th century.
Embroidery can be classified according to whether the design is stitched on top of or through the foundation fabric, and by the relationship of stitch placement to the fabric.
In free embroidery, designs are applied without regard to the weave of the underlying fabric. Examples include crewel and traditional Chinese and Japanese embroidery.
Counted-thread embroidery patterns are created by making stitches over a predetermined number of threads in the foundation fabric. Counted-thread embroidery is more easily worked on an even-weave foundation fabric such as embroidery canvas, aida cloth, or specially woven cotton and linen fabrics although non-evenweave linen is used as well. Examples include needlepoint and some forms of blackwork embroidery.
In canvas work threads are stitched through a fabric mesh to create a dense pattern that completely covers the foundation fabric. Traditional canvas work such as bargello is a counted-thread technique. Since the 19th century, printed and hand painted canvases, on which the printed or painted image serves as a guide to the placement of the various thread or yarn colors, have eliminated the need for counting threads. These are particularly suited to pictorial rather than geometric designs such as those deriving from the Berlin wool work craze of the early 19th century.
In drawn thread work and cutwork, the foundation fabric is deformed or cut away to create holes that are then embellished with embroidery, often with thread in the same color as the foundation fabric. These techniques are the forerunners of needlelace. When created with white thread on white linen or cotton, this work is collectively referred to as whitework.
The fabrics and yarns used in traditional embroidery vary from place to place. Wool, linen, and silk have been in use for thousands of years for both fabric and yarn. Today, embroidery thread is manufactured in cotton, rayon, and novelty yarns as well as in traditional wool, linen, and silk. Ribbon embroidery uses narrow ribbon in silk or silk/organza blend ribbon, most commonly to create floral motifs.
Surface embroidery techniques such as chain stitch and couching or laid-work are the most economical of expensive yarns; couching is generally used for goldwork. Canvas work techniques, in which large amounts of yarn are buried on the back of the work, use more materials but provide a sturdier and more substantial finished textile.
In both canvas work and surface embroidery an embroidery hoop or frame can be used to stretch the material and ensure even stitching tension that prevents pattern distortion. Modern canvas work tends to follow symmetrical counted stitching patterns with designs emerging from the repetition of one or just a few similar stitches in a variety of hues. In contrast, many forms of surface embroidery make use of a wide range of stitching patterns in a single piece of work.
Much contemporary embroidery is stitched with a computerized embroidery machine using patterns digitized with embroidery software. In machine embroidery, different types of "fills" add texture and design to the finished work. Machine embroidery is used to add logos and monograms to business shirts or jackets, gifts, and team apparel as well as to decorate household linens, draperies, and decorator fabrics that mimic the elaborate hand embroidery of the past.
City and Guilds qualification in Embroidery allows embroiderers to become recognized for their skill. This qualification also gives them the credibility to teach. For example the notable textiles artist, Kathleen Laurel Sage, began her teaching career by getting the City and Guilds Embroidery 1 and 2 qualifications. She has now gone on to write a book on the subject.
- St. Galler Stickerei Muster c.jpg
Extremely fine underlay of St. Gallen Embroidery
- Turkish embroidery.jpg
Traditional Turkish embroidery. Izmir Ethnography Museum, Turkey.
- Croatian embroidery.jpg
Traditional Croatian embroidery.
- Korean embroidery patterns.jpg
Brightly coloured Korean embroidery.
- Uzbekistan embroidery.jpg
Uzbekistan embroidery on a traditional women's parandja robe.
Traditional Peruvian embroidered floral motifs.
- Woman headdress Kalash.jpg
Woman wearing a traditional embroidered Kalash headdress, Pakistan.
Decorative embroidery on a tefillin bag in Jerusalem, Israel.
- Bedouin bookmark.jpg
Bookmark of black fabric with multicolored Bedouin embroidery and tassel of embroidery floss
- Woman's Robe a l'anglaise with Petticoat LACMA M.66.31a-b (4 of 6).jpg
Chain-stitch embroidery from England circa 1775
- Gillow and Bryan 1999, p. 178
- Gillow and Bryan 1999, p. 12
- Coatsworth, Elizabeth: "Stitches in Time: Establishing a History of Anglo-Saxon Embroidery", in Netherton and Owen-Crocker 2005, p. 2
- Marie Schuette and Sigrid Muller-Christensen, The Art of Embroidery translated by Donald King, Thames and Hudson, 1964, quoted in Netherton and Owen-Crocker 2005, p. 2
- Levey and King 1993, p. 12
- Power, Lisa (27 March 2015). "NGV embroidery exhibition: imagine a 12-year-old spending two years on this...". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
- Saudi Aramco World : Mughal Maal
- Saudi Aramco World : The Skill of the Two Hands
- Knight, Charles (1858). Pictorial Gallery of Arts. England.
- Röllin, Peter. Stickerei-Zeit, Kultur und Kunst in St. Gallen 1870–1930. VGS Verlagsgemeinschaft, St. Gallen 1989, ISBN 3-7291-1052-7 (in German)
- Gillow and Bryan 1999, p. 198
- Embroiderers' Guild 1984, p. 54
- Berman 2000
- Readers Digest 1979, p. 112-115
- Readers Digest 1979, pp. 74-91
- van Niekerk 2006
- Readers Digest 1979, pp. 1-19, 112-117
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- Berman, Pat (2000). "Berlin Work". American Needlepoint Guild. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Caulfield, S.F.A., and B.C. Saward (1885). The Dictionary of Needlework.
- Embroiderers' Guild Practical Study Group (1984). Needlework School. QED Publishers. ISBN 0-89009-785-2.
- Gillow, John, and Bryan Sentance (1999). World Textiles. Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown. ISBN 0-8212-2621-5.
- Lemon, Jane (2004). Metal Thread Embroidery. Sterling. ISBN 0-7134-8926-X.
- Levey, S. M. and D. King (1993). The Victoria and Albert Museum's Textile Collection Vol. 3: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750. Victoria and Albert Museum. ISBN 1-85177-126-3.
- Quinault, Marie-Jo (2003). Filet Lace, Introduction to the Linen Stitch--Instruction book to learn How to do Embroidery on a Knotted Net - FILET LACE BY THE SEA. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1-4120-1549-9.
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- van Niekerk, Di (2006). A Perfect World in Ribbon Embroidery and Stumpwork. ISBN 1-84448-231-6.
- Wilson, David M. (1985). The Bayeux Tapestry. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-25122-3.
- Crummy, Andrew (2010). The Prestonpans Tapestry 1745. Burke's Peerage & Gentry, for Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust.