Harry Davies
Harry Davies
@harry_davies
Craft

What is Crewel Embroidery?

  • by Harry Davies @harry_davies

Discover the characteristics, materials, and origins of this embroidery technique

Crewel or crewelwork embroidery is characterized by the use of thick wool instead of delicate threads, as in other types of embroidery. This technique is at least a millennium old, and can be found on decorative objects such as tapestries and curtains, as well as luxury clothing. Recently it has been incorporated into contemporary embroidery in pieces such as cushions, clothing or decorative embroidery for walls.

Origins

The origin of the word is uncertain, but it comes from the name of a special type of wool that is used, which tends to twist.

The Bayeaux Tapestry, or Queen Mathilde's Tapestry, is one of the oldest known pieces, and was embroidered in the 11th century. It recounts the events of the Battle of Hastings. This impressive piece has about 70 scenes from the battle, and is approximately 68 meters long.

Bayeaux Tapestry
Bayeaux Tapestry
Bayeaux Tapestry
Bayeaux Tapestry
Bayeaux Tapestry
Bayeaux Tapestry

Evolution

Crewel embroidery is a versatile embroidery technique in which all kinds of stitches can be used. It has had various renaissances throughout history. It was very popular in England in the 16th and 17th centuries, when Jacobin embroidery was developed.

This decorative piece in the Victoria & Albert Museum shows stitches like French knot and stem stitch. It dates from approximately 1630.

V&A webteam
V&A webteam

Linen dress with crewel embroidery made with chain stitches. It dates from 1760 and was made in France.

LACMA
LACMA

In the seventies, it saw a resurgence, this time with colorful floral motifs and a sense of humor or made for children.

Today, the styles vary, but most pieces are characterized by their use of color.

Crewel work contemporary by Jjhwangnw, from South Korea
Crewel work contemporary by Jjhwangnw, from South Korea

Materials

It is essential to work with the right kind of yarn for this technique: it is known as crewel and made of wool.

It is a little thinner than carpet wool, and each brand offers different choices of thickness and color. One popular brand is Appleton, which offers more than 400 colors. It's usually two-threaded, and it's sold by that name. You can identify it by its twisted presentation:

Crewel wool
Crewel wool

The ideal fabric is linen, the thickness of which supports the wool yarn. However, you can try different types of fabric, such as cotton, jute, silk, wool and synthetic fibres.

The needle is also called a crewel, and is characterized by its sharp point (needed to puncture thick fabrics such as linen, or re-stitch previous stitches) and wide eye (needed for the thickness of the thread).

Crewel needles
Crewel needles

Stitches



To make it crewel embroidery, all you really need to do is use the wool thread. The stitches you make will depend on your taste.
Crewel Intent
Crewel Intent

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