Introduction to Embroidery

Crewel – Oil Painting

Crewel is an excellent introduction to embroidery as the wide variety of stitches are useful for many other techniques, including Goldwork and Whitework.  The freedom of this technique allows for individual artistry and imagination.

A Little History

Crewel began as a method for Needlepainting, using wool rather than silk thread. Its effect is more naturalistic than realistic. The oldest surviving example of Crewel embroidery is the Bayeux Tapestry, made in England in the 1070’s. Crewel embroidery was very popular in the 16th and 17th Centuries, used for home furnishings in the grand houses of England. The design influence of these textiles came from the colored textiles that the East India Company brought to England, depicting Trees of Life and exotic flora and fauna. In the 17th Century, these imported textiles formed the basis of Jacobean designs. As dyes were produced, they imitated the colors of the imported textiles. In18th Century England, Crewel designs took their influence from paintings and became more refined, while at the same time, the Tree of Life designs made their way to America.  Colonists in America spun and dyed their own wool, and uniquely created many works in blue and white.


El Khalidi, Leila. The Art of Palestinian Embroidery. London: Saqi Books, 1999. Print.

Seba, Anna. Samplers: Five Centuries of a Gentle Craft. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1979. Print

Staples, Kathleen. British Embroidery: Curious Works from the Seventeenth Century. Austin: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Curious Works Press. 1998. Print

Staples, Kathleen and Hogue, Margiet. Samplers in the European Tradition. Curious Works Press. 2000. Print

Synge, Lanto. Art of Embroidery: History of Style and Technique. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2001. Print