The Invention And Evolution Of Embroidery

embroidery photoWhat Is Embroidery?

Embroidery is a handicraft or art of decorating a fabric with thread/yarn and needle. It is a technique practiced for decades to enhance the appeal of a dress and fabric.

Materials For embroidery

The yarn and fabric used in traditional embroider differs from place to place. Linen, wool and silk has long been used as the most preferable fabric for embroidery. The thread used for embroidery could be rayon, cotton, silk and organza blend ribbon that is mostly used for floral motif designs.

Classification Of Embroidery


The technique of embroidery can be classified on the basis of designs and fabric it is stitched upon. The free embroidery design can be applied anywhere, regardless of the fabric. The examples of this technique include Japanese, Chinese and crewel stitch.

The counted-thread embroidery pattern is developed by creating the stitches over a defined number of threads in the fabric foundation. The counted-thread technique works the best on fabric like aida, canvas, cotton and linen. These techniques are also named as needlepoint and black work embroidery.

History Of Embroidery

embroidery photo

The origin of this beautiful handicraft can be traced back to the Cro-Magnon period of 30,000 BC. An archeological find discovered the remains of decorated clothing, hat and boots. Around 5000 BC in Siberia the yarn decorated shells that were stitched with animal hides were found. The thread embroidery of Chinese tradition can be traced back to the 3500 BC, of images that depict decorative clothing with precious stones, pearls and silk thread. The example of Chain stitch, which is a Chinese technique can be found dating back to the Warring States period.

The needlework art is believed to come from Middle East. The primitive human kind was quick in establishing stitches used to connect together animal skins and used for embellishments. The history of sculptures, vases and paintings depicts how ancient civilization wore the embroidered clothes.

Embroidery was also used on household clothing, religious objects and other household items like bed sheets, curtains, vases holders and more. It was also a mark of class differentiation where the elite culture of India, China, Persia, Byzantium, Japan and Baroque Europe enjoyed the trend of embroidered clothes. The guilds and professional workshops started in the Medieval England. These workshops were often called the English work. The manufacturer of the first embroidery machine was St. Gallen from Switzerland who introduced it in the 19th century.

The process of embroidery used to patch, mend tailor and reinforce the cloth with all its decorative possibilities. The sewing technique initially led to this craft of embroidery. Detailed freehand stitched thread design started to mix between the age of machine work when the wool-work and needlework of Berlin appeared. The Berlin wool-work embroidery became popular in no time. The introduction of printed color patterns for the need of calculating stitches became popular. The freehand embroidery introduced new techniques like using beads and ribbons in the 1800s.

embroidery photoIn the canvas work, the threads were stitched with a fabric mesh to develop dense patterns which completely covered the fabric foundation.  The traditional canvas work like Bergello is a thread technique. Ever since 19th century, the hand painted and printed canvases were used as the guide to place the location of thread and colors. It eliminated the stress of counting threads. It was more suited to the pictorial designs rather than more geometrical designs, the craze of which began in the early 19th century.

In the drawn cut-work and thread work, the fabric foundation is cut way and deformed to develop holes which are them decorated with embroidery. Mostly with the same color of thread as that of the foundation fabric. This technique is the forerunner of needle lace. It is developed from white thread and is applied on white cotton or linen. This art work is referred as white work.

Embroidery artisans continued to practice this craft in the 19th century.  Many artisans revived this art instead of developing new designs and methods. Slowly, the quality and standard of the designs started to decline because of the new trend of modern machines and mass production of sample designs. The 19tth century is also thought as the period in which women started to work outside their homes. Domestic crafts started to decline and ready-made costumes became much more popular. The machine appeal took over and the hand crafted start decreasing.

Sample patterns were replaced with multiple other free hand techniques. During this period, the samples followed a picture and a rhyme to decorate fabric.

Embroidery Today

The traditional embroidery today can only be traced in some few Asian countries, as otherwise the technique has been replaced by machine made work that is faster, more pattern oriented than motif oriented. You may have to travel long way in the rural settings to find the artisans of traditional embroidery.

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