Selasa, 03 November 2009


The History of Embroidery

The desire to ornament and embellish fabric surfaces seems to have been with us a very long time. According to legend, when Menelaus took Helen home from Troy after the Trojan Wars, they stopped in Egypt where the rulers presented Helen with an embroidery basket as a token of their esteem, proof that embroidery was a serious activity even then. Traditionally, women have always been associated with embroidery. Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror, is reputed to have worked the Bayeux Tapestry in the 11th Century; Mary Queen of Scots in captivity embroidered exquisite pieces and Marie Antoniette in France made lace from the threads she pulled from sacking in her cell while in prison. These Women, and many million more, have experienced the tremendous pleasure, satisfaction and even comfort that embellishing fabric with stitches can give.

Embroidery has to be done with a needle. According to the Roman historian Pliny the Elder in the first century the Phrygians were the first people to use a needle to embroider. Early needles were made from bones, quills or bronze. Steel needles were in use by the 16th Century, introduced by traders from China.

The purpose of embroidery in the past falls into many different categories:

Religious embroidery- The Bible makes numerous references to decorated materials in gold and silver on priestly robes, tabernacle veils and clothing. In Europe, it was patronised by the churches, with many of the patterns and techniques dispersed by returning crusaders and warriors. Religious themes were combined with flowers, fruit, birds and animals for use by the church and in heraldry. This declined after the 14th century and the Black Death, although Henry VIII made an extravagant prestigious spectacle with his army in 1520 at the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’. The heraldic garments worn over armour and the trappings for the horses made such an impact that it is recorded to this day by reference to the splendid gold embroidery.

To denote rank and power- By using exstravagant embroidery on clothing with precious metals and jewels. It reached its peak in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

To record events- As in the Bayeux Tapestry, showing the live of King Harold and the conquest of England by the Normans. It is comparable to a graphic account in a present day newspaper. In the 17th century it became customary for young girls to work samplers or ‘examplars’. Which usually give the name and age of the person who worked it as well as the date it was worked. Samplers were supposed to be pieces of work to practice different stitches, but they often included a scriptural text to improve the young girl’s mind. Samplers were also worked by adult women, especially if they were hoping to be taken on by a large household as the seamstress/embroiderer. They needed to show all their different sewing skills as wells as embroidery stitches.

For functional and practical use- To strengthen fabrics use on furniture and for decorating and adding weight to wall hangings and curtains, which helped to keep some heat in the cold stone-walled mansions. This was particularly strong during the reformation in Europe, when embroidery moved from ecclesiastical domain into general use. Great householders always had a professional embroiderer in their retinue of servants.

In recent history, embroidery has had sporadic journey-enthusiasm for domestic needlework increased under Queen Anne (1702-1714), but then waned until ‘Berlin Work’ appeared around the 1800s and became very popular. This system gave us our first ‘kit’! Mr. Philipson of Berlin had the idea of copying ‘Old Masters’ on graph paper. He allocated one stitch to each square and indicated the colour to be used on woven canvas, often using bright colours produced by new chemical dyes.

Along with this revival was on going enthusiasm for ‘fancy art needlework’ or embroidery done with threads on china ribbon depicting fish-scale, feathers, beads and silk gauze, etc

In late 1890s the art and craft movement brought in traditional and modern design worked in the wool, silk, linen or velvet. Design was influenced by William Morris and Lewis T. Day, often based on Elizabethan and Jacobean design, using soft, natural colours based on vegetable dyes.

In 1920s stitches were re-discovery for their own sake. Slowly in 1960s , they gained importance, challenging the printed and woven fabrics that were mass produced. Here in late 1900s, with a shrinking world, we are fortunate to have at our disposal a wealth of fabrics, threads and information from every continent, to give us the greatest choice ever. All we need is to add is our own enthusiasm and willingness to learn from the past and we can discovery and form the future.

From : Introduction to Embroidery by Anna Griffiths

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