Embroidery is the use of needlework to enhance a piece of fabric through the use of sewing. Traditionally this has been done by hand but more recently machine embroidery has become more popular.

History of Embroidery

Evidence of embroidery has been found leading back centuries by archaeologists from Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, and Ancient Greece with pieces dating back to the fourth century BC. Embroidery artefacts have also been found all over the world, from needles made from bone in South America to needles made from metal in China.

As the trade routes developed, the variety of fabrics used for embroidery increased along with the variety of colours and stitches used. Whereas in the 9th and 10th centuries embroidered robes were worn as church vestments and in court, by the Crusades noble women were wearing rich silks embellished with heraldic embroidery.

Large tapestries were a way of telling a story through the medium of embroidery, the Bayeux Tapestry being one remarkable example of how working together on a sewing project has brought large groups of people together. The community working together in this way was a regular occurance in times gone by, and is sometimes still seen today in certain circles, particularly as a fund raising event.

By the 16th century, embroidery has moved on yet further as the young nobles of Europe had a love of wearing decorated clothes. This can be witnessed by viewing portraits of the time of nobility and royalty such as King Henry VIII and his courtiers. Catherine of Aragon particularly admired embroidery which was worked in a traditional Spanish style, which through encouragement from her becamse a definative style or embroidery in the Tudor period.

Embroidery wasn't just for the upper classes. The lower classes developed their own style of embroidery too which was done on cloth which was woven locally. These designs were mostly exhibited on special occassions such as weddings and traditional holidays and were worked on up continuously from when a wedding was announced until the wedding day itself from patterns which were passed down from generation to generation throught the female line.

The industrial revolution was one of the major reasons that traditional peasant embroidery became neglected until the 19th century when textile dealers with a lack of morals bought up the majority of traditional pieces from families for a small price as the lower classes didn't realise the importance of the traditional pieces until it was too late.

Types of Embroidery

There are many different types of embroidery, each with their own characteristics and methods. There is some cross over between styles, but each style has distinctive methods, stitches and colours from which it can be recognised.

Embroidery Stitches

A BA(Hons) in Fashion and Textile Design
Teach Yourself Embroidery by Jean Kinmond

Em*broid"er*y (?), n.; pl. Embroideries ().


Needlework used to enrich textile fabrics, leather, etc.; also, the art of embroidering.


Diversified ornaments, especially by contrasted figures and colors; variegated decoration.

Fields in spring's embroidery are dressed. Addison.

A mere rhetorical embroidery of phrases. J. A. Symonds.


© Webster 1913.

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