Crewel is a type of embroidery that has been around for hundreds of years. The term crewel came from the Welsh word the type of yarn used, “kura” which means wool. Originally, the term crewel referred to the material used for the stitching and not the embroidery style.
Crewel, or crewel embroidery, only used heavy wools in the earlier years. Today, there is a wider selection of yarn used to crewel. Sometimes, depending on the desired design and effect, thinner threads are also used.
To do crewel embroidery, a pointed hook is used. Crewel embroidery is done on thick materials that are commonly used for drapery and upholstery. These thick materials are often hand-woven. Some of the thick materials used on crewels are Linen, Jute, and Cotton Duck.
The most common designs are flowers, leaves, and creepers. The designs are rows of chain stitches done with the pointed hook. These chains give the design a solid, embossed look. The resulting fabric is very rich and durable.
Crewel embroidery uses wool that is either single- or double-ply. The hooked needle pierces through the thick fabric with the thread of wool and then back again.
Table of Contents
1. History of Crewel Embroidery
- Crewel embroidery has allegedly existed even earlier than the Medieval Times. Out of all the crewel masterpieces made, the oldest and most famous piece may be the Bayeux Tapestry. It is estimated to be over 1,000 years old.
- The Bayeux Tapestry is actually a piece of crewel embroidery. This is because the wool is stitched, not woven, on the linen fabric.
- There is no written record about who made the Bayeux Tapestry. It was most likely commissioned by the half-brother of William the Conqueror, Bishop Odo of Bayeux. The Bayeux Tapestry is 70 meters long and is currently displayed in Normandy, France.
- Sometime later, during the 16th and 17th centuries, crewel embroidery became well-known in the Jacobean era in England. The crewel pieces during this period reflected popular Jacobean themes and motifs.
- The first ones of these Jacobean designs came from Asia. The designs were printed or painted by the East Indian Company and then sent to England. The designs were called “palampores“.
- A popular theme for the designs was the Tre of Life. The Tree of Life was a stem growing from hills or mounds called “terra firma”. It featured elaborate foliage and flowers. Among the leaves and branches frolicked birds and other wildlife.
- Crewel embroidery during Jacobean England did not have a fixed set of stitches. Studies of the works from that time showed that some of the common stitches used were herringbone, feather, knot, running, and chain.
- The wool threads used that time had few colors because of the limited options of dyes and the high production cost. The thread colors that were normally used were green and blue. The more expensive colors, red and yellow, were sparingly used.
- When King James I was the king of England, crewel embroidery was introduced to the United States. When crewel embroidery was introduced to the United States and other countries colonized by the British, it was scaled down to fit the context of the colonies. The quality of the yarn used was also different.
- Crewel Embroidery experienced a rebirth during the 1960s and the 1970s. Mildred Davis and Elsa Williams discovered crewel embroidery and developed a deep love for the craft. They paid particular attention to textiles preserved in museum collections.
- The rediscovery of crewel embroidery inspired embroidery artists to reminisce about the past and imagine the future of the art.
- The book Plain and Fancy by Susan Swan encouraged many to do studies and conduct research about textiles. A new modernized type of crewel embroidery was also slowly made popular by Erica Wilson.
- At the same time, Betty Ring’s book called Girlhood Embroidery appealed to many women who felt a connection to their heritage through embroidery.
- Proof of this revolution lies in the constant advancements and the fond reminiscent of the crewel embroidery designs.
- Crewel embroidery has faced continued reinvention through different periods in time. Each phase of reinvention has a distinct characteristic from the others. Today, crewel embroidery lives on as both a hobby and a means to preserve culture.
2. Uses of Crewel Embroidery
Crewel embroidery has several uses. Thanks to the nature of the handicraft, crewel embroidery produces textiles that are thick and sturdy.
This textile is ideal for drapes, throw pillows, and bags.
3. How to Choose Fabric for Crewel Embroidery
Fabric plays a major part in crewel embroidery. Choosing the right fabric is important to ensure the best experience while sewing. The right fabric will also greatly affect the final output.
Here are some points to consider when choosing the right fabric for embroidery.
3. 1. Be Aware of the Fabric’s Thread Count
Thread count is the number of threads in one square inch. The thread count of fabric will dictate how tight or how lose the threads are woven together. For crewel embroidery, look for fabric with a lower thread count so that the weave of the fabric is not too tight. Loose fabric weave is important in crewel embroidery because this will allow dense threads to be easily pulled through. Fabric with thread counts under 150 like Aida, cotton, linen, muslin, and Osnaburg is perfect for crewel embroidery.
3. 2. Lean Towards Natural Materials
Fabric made from natural materials like cotton, linen, wool, silk or a blend of these materials is better for embroidery. Natural textiles are soft yet sturdy enough to support the heft of the embroider. The fibers of these materials run horizontally and vertically which allows needles to easily pass through.
3. 3. Wash the Fabric Before Starting to Tighten Weave
Washing the fabric will tighten the weave of the fabric. This will make the quality of the weave consistent throughout the fabric. Washing the fabric also pre-shrinks it which is perfect for outputs that need to be washed.
3. 4. Stabilize the Fabric
Some crewel embroidery designs are heavier or have many layers. To support the fabric, adding a stabilizer may be necessary. Stabilizing the fabric means attaching a sturdy material in the back of the fabric to prevent puckering or stretching.
3. 5. Sample the Fabric First
The best way to choose which fabric to use for a project is to test the fabric out. Try to get a sample of different textiles and stitch on a part of the design. This will help make the best choice for the project.
4. How to Choose Threads and Needles for Crewel Embroidery
Threads and needles determine the look the design embroidered on the fabric. These two often go together. This is because thread gauge determines the size and type of needle needed.
Crewel embroidery needles look similar to tapestry and chenille needles. Crewel embroidery needles have distinctly long and narrow eyes with very sharp points. These needles are of medium length. Traditional crewel embroidery only used wool yarn. In modern crewel embroidery, different kinds of threads other than wool yarn are used.
Here are twelve kinds of threads used for crewel embroideries.
4. 1. Embroidery Cotton
Embroidery cotton is also called embroidery floss. This is the most common thread used for embroidery. It is also used in cross-stitch. One skein of embroidery floss is made of six strands. The six strands can be separated. Depending on the design and the pattern, all the six strands can be used.
4. 2. Perle Cotton
A single strand of Perle thread is heavier than a strand of the cotton thread. A skein of Perle thread is made of one strand of two intertwined fibers. It comes in different weights. The Perle thread has a textured effect because of its fibers. This makes this thread ideal for adding interesting details to the fabric.
4. 3. Metallic Hand-embroidery Thread
Metallic threads are the embroidery equivalent of make-up highlighters. It emphasizes other embroidery techniques and brightens up the fabric. For all its merits, metallic threads can be very difficult to work with. The thread can snag and tangle easily. It can also quickly lose its shininess. The thread can also quickly fray.
4.4. Tapestry Yarn
Tapestry yarn is a thick and soft yarn variety. Tapestry yarn is best paired with thick fabrics like canvass. One kind of tapestry yarn is felted wool yarn.
Felted wool yarn is made from pure wool. The strands undergo a process that gives its distinct fuzzy texture. Read more
Ribbons can also be used in embroidery. Just like other threads, ribbons are threaded through a needle and used to stitch on patterns and designs. Ribbons are usually used for floral designs.
4.6. Silk Threads
Silk threads have the most color options. However, though silk threads have the most colors, they fade easily through time. The color of the thread may even bleed into the fabric and other threads.
4.7. Knitting Yarn
Knitting yarn is the yarn used for knitting, as implied by its name.
4.8. Variegated Threads
A variegated yarn is yarn with an ombre touch. The colors transition along the length of the thread in the same skein. Variegated yarns can be made of different fibers.
4.9. Cord for Beading
There are some instances when a design requires beads to be added to the embroidery. Most of the plain threads could not hold the tension and the weight of beads. This is where the beading cords come in.
Beading cords are stronger and more durable threads. There are different kinds of beading cords with different uses. The beading cord used for embroidery is made of nylon. This cord can come in a variety of thickness depending on the need. There are even cords in different colors.
4.10. Crochet Thread
Crochet yarn is a specific kind of yarn that has a shine to the thread. There are some modern crochet patterns that call for the use of other materials.
4.11. yon Floss
Rayon floss gleams like silk. It also has the brightest color selections among all the threads. Rayon floss may look appealing, however, it is the thread that is most difficult to work with. This thread can tangle easily and get into knots.
4.12. Crewel Yarn
Modern crewel yarn can be made from natural wool or from two-ply acrylic strands. crewel yarn is easy to use in different forms of needlework. One strand of crewel yarn is as thick as two strands of embroidery floss.
5. Crewel Embroidery Stitches
Crewel embroidery can have different patterns. Some show nature sceneries. Others depict the everyday life of people. These patterns have different textures and strokes.
There seven major stitch classifications that have been used in crewel embroidery for hundreds of years. Each classification includes several specific kinds of stitches. The seven major classifications are as follows:
5.1. Line Stitches
A line stitch is a series of stitches that are straight or curved. This is the most basic stitch an embroidery artist will first learn. Line stitches make up the outline and the border of different elements in a piece of embroidery. Examples of line stitches include the stem stitch, outline stitch, chain stitch, and coral stitch.
5.2. Solid Filling Stitches
There are two Solid Filling Stitches that are used the most in crewel embroidery. These stitches are the Satin Stitch and the Long and Short Stitch.
Satin stitches are used to cover spaces in the design that need a solid filling. Begin the satin stitch by sewing a split stitch along the line of the design. Next, fill in enclosed space by working in the satin stitch over the split stitch.
Satin stitches can loosen over time, so it is recommended that this stitch be used for small spaces. Satin stitches should be used for spaces that are less than an inch at its widest point.
Satin stitches can still be used for larger spaces as long as they are anchored on to the fabric with an additional stem stitching. Without the stem stitching, the satin stitch can become loose over time.
Adding padding to the satin stitch can increase the friction behind the satin stitch so that it will not shift. This also makes using satin stitch over larger spaces possible because it reduces the possibility of shifting.
The long and short stitch is ideal for crewel embroidery because these offer depth to the pieces of work. The wool threads used in this kind of stitch create an ombre effect over both small and large areas.
5.3. Seed Stitch Filling and Isolated Stitches
Seed stitches are short, straight stitches that are worked randomly over a given space. This is a common light filling technique that is often used in crewel embroidery.
The effects that seed stitches make can be easily altered. If an artist wants to present a heavier filling, the seed stitches can be sewn closer together and more compact. Sewing the seed stitches farther away from each other create the visual of a lighter filling.
There are other stitches that can be considered as light filling. For example, French knots and the daisy stitch can both be used as a light filling, depending on how dense they are embroidered on.
5.4. Couched Stitches and Laid Work
Couching is an embroidery technique that uses two threads. When couching is used in embroidery, the smaller thread is used to secure the longer thread onto the fabric. This type of embroidery technique is used for line stitches in crewel embroidery. However, couching is more commonly used on laid work.
Couching is used to secure two long threads meeting together at the intersection using another thread. When two long threads meet in embroidery, this is called a lattice stitch. This is done to create patterns that will fill up larger spaces.
Couching and lattice stitches can create different patterns for laid work embroidery.
Most people who are new to embroidery are intimidated by French knots. French knots are actually very easy knots to make.
To make a French knot, start by inserting the needle in the fabric where the knot will be. Wrap the thread around the fabric once or twice, depending on the size of the knot you want to achieve. Avoid wrapping the thread more than twice.
Secure the knot by inserting the needle close to the initial hole. Carefully pull the needle and adjust the thread through the loops to complete the knot.
The French knot is the most common knot used in crewel embroidery. Other knots, like the bullion and Chinese knots, can still be used.
5.6. Tufted Stitches
The most common tufted stitch used in crewel embroidery is Turkey work, also known as the Ghiodes knot. To make this tufted know, sew into the fabric while leaving long loops out. After securing the thread, cut through the loops to make tufts.
This stitch is great for adding a fluffy texture to different embroidery elements like animals or flowers.
5.7. Other Surface Stitches
Depending on the design you are working on, there are many other surface stitches that can be used. Buttonhole stitches, for example, are useful alternatives for satin stitches.
6. Choosing a Crewel Embroidery Pattern
- There are many patterns specifically made for crewel embroidery that are available. However, if there is a pattern for standard surface embroidery that catches your attention, you can use this for crewel embroidery, too.
- Traditional crewel embroidery patterns show rich foliage and sprawling vines. The flowers juxtaposition against the branches and the leaves. Other patterns show delicate flower arrangements as runners or bouquets.
- Some patterns include birds in the design. The feathers of the birds are in complementary colors with the rest of the pattern, sometimes in the same color as the leaves.
- Modern crewel embroidery patterns are more flexible in terms of design. The patterns can be abstract works of art in geometric shapes. It can also include funky animals in bright colors, like owls and cats.
- The themes for modern crewel patterns are whimsical and often include humorous turns. Crewel embroidery is used to make pieces about space and the solar system. It can be used to show characters and scenes from beloved fairy tales. It is even used to make art featuring quotes and monograms.
- Modern crewel patterns also include portrait making.
- Always take into consideration the type of fabric and the type of thread that you will be using when choosing patterns. If you are using the thicker wool threads, make sure to choose patterns that have larger spaces to fill. Thicker threads will make detail work difficult to do. Otherwise, be prepared to compromise by shifting to thinner, finer threads for the details.
- It is also important to remember the purpose behind the art. For example, if you are making pillowcases and upholstery, it may be best to use fabric that is not too rough. The patterns and stitches will also be affected by the purpose of the project. Decorative pieces offer more freedom. However, if the final product will be going through more strain, sturdier fabrics and thicker threads are recommended.
- All in all, crewel embroidery is a fun handicraft that can be enjoyed by everyone. It continues to give joy to both the old and the young thanks to its versatility.
- It has served as a means to preserve the culture for so many people and for so many countries. Old works of crewel embroidery also became windows through which we can examine the story of our ancestors.
- Different variations in crewel embroidery have shown how times have changed as generations adapted the art. In this way, studying crewel embroidery assisted in the analysis of different periods.
- Younger generations have also made crewel embroidery into their own. By bending the rules of this artwork, more and more youth are encouraged to try out crewel embroidery. It has successfully turned from a hobby for housewives to a means for creative expression.
- By evolving into something that the youth are interested in, crewel embroidery will be preserved for the years to come
Crewel embroidery has inspired many artists throughout the ages to create something extraordinary using only fabric, a needle, and thread. It will continue to be a source of inspiration for many more as the art is revolutionized by enthusiasts around the world.