Embroidery 101 an Overview and History

The art of embroidery has been practiced in one form or another throughout the ages. Embroidery is simply defined as thread embellishment on cloth. Practically as long as there has existed cloth, there has existed embroidery.

Some of the most famous civilizations for creating brilliant embroidery creations are the Japanese and the English. They both used embroidery to decorate ceremonial garments as well as decorative home items. While the Japanese are most known for their amazing kimonos, the English are well known for their hand embroidered fabric furniture panels.

Unfortunately for collectors, many of the works of embroidery art of the past have been lost to time and decay. The silk threads and fabrics are very prone to damage by insects and light. It is very unlikely these days to find a work made prior to the mid 1600’s. Examples from earlier than this time only exist in museums, and churches who have taken the care to restore and preserve them.

There are two major forms of embroidery from the past which are collected today; they are: stump work and samplers.

Stump work was made in the mid-seventeenth century and consists of a highly colored, embroidered design on white silk. Often the works are done of scenes of people and carved wooden heads, hands and feet are added to these works of art. Often found with stump work are padded areas which are used to make the designs three dimensional and interesting to the eye.

Stump work was made to depict scenes of live at the time and was used to cover mirror frames, and to cover trinket boxes. These trinket boxes were generally made with many small drawers and with secret compartments for hiding valuables such as tea and jewelry. Often the trinket boxes contained mirrors and were lined with paper and metallic tapes.
Serious collectors today are still discovering wonderful stump work to add to their collections.

In the past, as part of the regular school curriculum of girls, embroidery was taught. These very young students, sometimes as young as seven or eight years old, would show their sewing skills by creating colorful samplers. The samplers would showcase their sewing skills as well as their knowledge of the numbers and alphabets. Many samplers were created which depict the children, their interests and their school buildings as well. Samplers were generally stitched on wool or silk fabrics with very colorful silk and metallic threads and can still be found for purchase today. Very old or very decorative samplers today are worth a lot of money to the collectors who are fortunate enough to own them.

Some of the most unusual embroidery throughout the times has been that of maps. Maps were drawn on silk and then stitched. The names of countries and other places of interest were stitched on the maps.

If you have ever tried any form of hand embroidery, you know it is a slow and tedious process. The results are amazing, but it can take a very long time to achieve even the simplest of designs. This makes all embroidered fabrics from the past very collectable today by those who understand all of the hours and patience which went into creating the works of art. While children around the world no longer do embroidery as part of their school curriculum, the art is still practiced by adults all over the globe.