Chinese silk hand embroidery art from Suzhou

Bookmark and Share

online since 2004
high quality silk embroidery artworks
by Chinese embroidery artists in Suzhou

        Home        About        Products        E-shop        Custom Embroidery        Enquiry        Contact        FAQ        Chinese hand embroidery ABC
safe shopping guaranteed


Recommended Reading

a close look at Su embroidery

quality introduction of Su embroidery 

Chinese silk embroidery paints beautiful life

tips to judge Su embroidery

Differences between hand and machine embroideries

Chinese double sided embroidery

how to buy

our customers

our distributors

PayPal verified


telegraphic transfer

worldwide shipping

Home > Articles >

The History of Crewel Embroidery 

The origins of crewel will probably always be lost. There is some evidence that the Greeks and the Romans used wool to embroidery with. Fragments have been found in North Mongolia showing a face of a nomad warrior, dating to about the 1st. Century BC. Biblical references are made to curtains, altar clothes, and other hangings. These were embellished with wool embroidery that decorated Jewish tabernacles. Crewel was popular in England from
400 AD to 1400 AD.

It seems wool embroidery has been around for centuries. However, the word crewel or cruell referred to the wool yarn and not the style of embroidery Crewel is an old Welsh word meaning "wool." Traditionally heavy wools were used, but today there is a wide variety of yarns to choose from, depending upon the desired effect.

buy Chinese silk embroidery online

At one time crewels were a two-ply, tightly twisted or worsted wool yarns. Fine embroideries were worked and manufactured during the Middle Ages. Silk on silk, linen, wool and linen canvas was very popular at the time of Elizabeth I. Very little was worked with wool alone.

It wasn't until the reign of James I, the first quarter of the 17th Century, that much of the exotic designs we know today were created and refined. Some evidence shows this was caused by the increase in trade between East India company of India and England.

Much of the traditional style of crewel also came from the manufacturing of steel needles in England. Even though steel needles had been used in Germany for 150 years, it was the greater supply of less expensive needles, in England that greatly contributed to the wide spread popularity of crewel in this era. Most popular were wall and bed hangings. The unheated stone castles and wood structures of that time were cold, drafty, and basically unpleasant to the eye. Anything that would add to the warmth and charm of the home was greatly appreciated. Many other items were embroidered and cherished as well; table carpets, seat covers, bed spreads.

Queen Elizabeth was a highly regarded embroideress and did much to formalize embroidery. During the Elizabethan times most embroiders came from the highest social circles. In 1561 Queen Elizabeth granted a charter to the Broiderers' Co., also known as the "Keepers and Wardens and Society of the Art and Mistery of the Broderers of the City of London." These craftsmen(yes, they were all men) were the broiderers of some of the great pieces from this time period. At the completion of each piece it was presented to the Guild Hall for inspection to receive the guild's seal of approval. If the piece did not meet the rigid requirements, it was cut up and burned!

James I came into power in the early seventeenth century. In the formal Latin tradition of that day, he was called Jocobus Brittaniae Rex. From this name crewel became known as "Jacobean Embroidery." Most of the 17th century was lavished with crewel embroidery. However, near the end of this century the favor of silk embroideries took precedence over wool. Crewel was of little interest in the 18th century.

In America, embroidery was for the wealthy only. The settlers had other priorities in developing this new land. There was farming, spinning, weaving, sewing, candle and soap making were only some of the basics that took much of their time. It was necessary to work pieces that were more for the home rather than to wear. Pieces much as rugs and quilts were in higher demand. From this time grew a new era of embroider, it was known as the "Blue and White" era. The woman had to card, spin, weave, and dye their own flax. Supplies were not readily available so these women had to grow their own indigo plants to dye the wool. The white came from the natural color of the wool. As more became available, the American women developed a unique style of their own. Crewel was back in full force. Girls as young as six were making samplers. By their teens they had become experienced needleworkers.

Then again in the early 18th century crewel was replaced with many other forms of needlework. By the end of the century it was back once more. Schools were established in London and New York creating a new revival of crewel.

Crewel design elements that came out of this time include the tree of like, billocks, imaginative flowers, huge leaves and small animals. As America was establishing itself, colonists search for ways to decorate their homes. The settlers found it easy to create their own fabrics and dyeing home spun yarns. From this a new style of easier and more elegant crewel became a truly American technique.

Unfortunately, changes in lifestyles caused crewel to be obsolete. In 1898, a short lived revival brought crewel back. Only to fade once again. But once more the new century brought a loss to this art. The war of 1914, the emancipation of women, WWII, and TV were only a few of the activities that preoccupied women's time. By the mid 1900's Crewel or creative stitchery was revived again. The use of cotton, linen, silk, gold, silver, feathers, jewels, buttons, beads and anything a stitcher wishes to use is only limited by her own mind.

Traditionally, linen is the best to use but any material that is firmly woven and the threads separate easily when sewn. However, lightweight cottons such as muslin or percale are not suggested, because the material will pucker when sewn with heavy wools. Cotton twill weave was used in the 18th century. Linen and cotton twills were hand woven. With a smooth surface and a slight diagonal rib was a wonderful contrast to the worsted thread. Occasionally, the linen twill was brushed creating a raised nap and a softness to the touch. This process originated in Fustat centuries ago and became known as "fustian," quite likely the origin of velvet. Brushed wools, acrylic and nylon fabrics are excellent for crewel embroidery and contrast well with the wool threads. Modern stitches do prefer all natural fabrics, but don't allow your imagination to be limited by others. Crewel can be worked in silk, mercerized cotton, wools or metal threads. Traditional crewel was painted on linen with very fine stitching - today the possibilities are unlimited. There are no traditional crewel stitches just basic embroidery stitches.


  Home  -  About  -  FAQ Blog - Terms & Conditions  -  Privacy Policy

Su Embroidery Studio (SES) © Copyright. All Rights Reserved.