Embroidery styles are never purely identifiable to one era or century alone. Design evolves through a correlation between styles that results in gradual changes of taste and a mixture of influences. Crewel embroidery, or crewel work, usually denotes a specific type of embroidery: flower and animal motifs worked in wool, with a variety of colors, shades, and textures, using a variety of associated stitches. Surface embroidery is an imitation of crewel work that uses threads other than wool, but crewel wool is what distinguishes crewel work.
It is often the traditional motifs or stitches themselves that make a style of embroidery unique. What makes crewel embroidery unique from other styles is the materials, and specifically the wool threads or yarns. True crewel embroidery uses a 2-ply wool thread that is called crewel, which gives the embroidery its name. Known for its large, bold designs and wool threads, this traditional embroidery style dates back centuries. In days gone by, crewel showed up on tapestries, curtains, and even clothing. In recent years, this type of embroidery has been framed as art, sewn onto pillows, and more.
The History of Crewel
It's difficult to know the full history of crewel work, but it dates back to Medieval times, if not earlier. Perhaps the oldest and most well-known piece of crewel is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is nearly one thousand years old. It was made in England and given to France. Crewel rose in prominence in Jacobean England during the 16th and 17th centuries, and because of that, traditional crewel often displays motifs popular of that era. Jacobean embroidery is a style in itself, but it's also typically crewelwork.
A huge revival of this embroidery style occurred in the 1970s. You can even find kits for stitching your favorite childhood characters with these pieces. This era was characterized by bold colors and giant flowers, and also fun phrases. With the evolution of crewel embroidery, you can find designs and kits with modern patterns and materials.
Materials Used In Crewel Embroidery
Because the wool yarn is what makes crewel the thing it is, getting the right thread is a good place to start.
Crewel wool is almost always labeled as such, and most often it's two-ply, but sometimes comes in one-ply. Unlike standard cotton embroidery floss, this thread cannot be separated, and it is much thinner than tapestry wool. It's possible to find a variety of needlework brands at a needlework shop, including the famous Appleton wool from England. You can also find lots of options online. By mixing different brands, you can get different textures out of your stitching, which is great if that's what you want. Otherwise, stick to one brand for your project.
Crewel embroidery is most commonly done on linen and linen twill. These fabrics have a close weave that keeps the stitches in place while being open enough for the larger crewel wool to pass through. Additionally, they are sturdy fabrics that make a good base for all the wool stitches.
Crewel is defined by the wool thread, but fabric can vary, so if another material would work better for you, go for it. Regardless of the thread you choose, do a few tests before committing to a fabric type.
Crewel needle has a large eye and a sharp point. As long as the eye passes through the thickness of the crewel wool, it is possible to work with more than one piece at a time. The sharp point is good for not only working through the fabric but also piercing through the wool from previous stitches. These needles are labeled as crewel embroidery needles, typically with other embroidery needles.
- Crewel Embroidery Stitches
You can use all your favorite embroidery stitches for crewel embroidery. The wool thread gives your stitches added thickness and texture, so as you choose stitches, play into that. The padded satin stitch works well for creating dimensional elements in crochet designs. Another favorite stitch for crewel work is laid stitch.
You'll find lots of patterns designed specifically for crewel embroidery, but you can also use patterns for standard surface embroidery. Bear in mind when selecting a pattern that isn't designed for crewel that the thickness of the wool thread makes thicker stitches, which means you can't always work fine details. Patterns with large areas to fill are perfect for crewel!
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