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Embroidery Inspiration – 17th Century Embroidery Styles

For this week’s Embroidery Inspiration, let’s talk about the different styles of embroidery used in the 17th century. This is a particularly fascinating century for me as a historical costumer, since there are times when embroidery is lavishly used on clothing, and other points where it seems not to be used at all.

At the end of the 1500s and heading into the 1600s, Blackwork was still incredibly popular. However, it has moved beyond the simple, geometric designs we’ve seen earlier in the 1500s, and is now dominated by large, flowing florals filled with intricate patterns and textures.

This fragment from the Met is dated 1590, and shows large flowers and leaves filled with a variety of tiny patterns, as well as fills in gold thread. While the smaller fill stitches are still formed on a geometric grid, the overall design is more organic.Late 16th c. Blackwork

These two examples from the Museum of London show two styles of blackwork from the early 17th century. The jacket is dated to 1610-20 and has a small, all-over pattern of leaves and vines with simple shading and fills. The garment shape and embroidery are very similar to the Maidstone Jacket at the Maidstone Museum. The skirt shows a larger design of flowers inside scrollwork, which is another common embroidery motif during this era. Early 1600s jacket and skirt

In addition to blackwork, redwork, and other single-color embroideries, you will also find the same motifs worked in colorful silk threads combined with goldwork. This particular combination of knotted silk and braided goldwork is commonly called Elizabethan Embroidery, although the technique remained popular past the end of the Elizabethan era. Motifs include every aspect of nature, from birds and bees to flowers and berries, as seen in this detail of a jacket at the Met. Detail of jacket with Elizabethan embroidery

These same styles of embroidery could be found on household items just as much as clothing. Below are examples of a redwork curtain and a cushion decorated with Elizabethan Embroidery. From only these detail shots, it would be impossible to tell whether it was an image of a jacket or a bedspread.

 

 

 

As we move further into the 17th century, the floral motifs and fills become increasingly complex and fanciful. A new style emerges, commonly referred to as Jacobean Embroidery. However, it’s important to note that Jacobean Embroidery is commonly used on household goods such as bed curtains, sheets, cushions, and other items, but NOT on clothing. Below is just a small sampling of the styles of fills that might be used.A sampling of Jacobean Stitches

Another important distinction is that Jacobean is a description only of the particular style, and the motifs were worked in a variety of mediums, including wool, silk, and gold threads. It was very popular for these designs to be worked in wool, which leads people to incorrectly use the terms Crewel Work and Jacobean Embroidery interchangeably. It’s helpful to remember that only the designs worked in wool thread can also be called Crewel Work. Below is an example of a Jacobean embroidered bed hanging that is also Crewel Work. Jacobean Crewel Work

Another style of household embroidery is petit point. This resembles needlepoint or cross-stitch, but is worked in impossibly tiny tent stitch on linen canvas. Petit point is typically 16-20 holes per inch, but can have as many as 45 holes per inch! This could also be combined with gros point, which typically has 7-16 holes per inch. The example below from the late 17th or early 18th century combines both petit point and gros point. From Chorley’s Auctioneers via Pinterest. Detail of petit point and gros point armchair

Stumpwork is another technique that developed during the 17th century. It takes many of the braided and knotted stitches of Elizabethan Embroidery and the same motifs of flora and fauna, and then combines them with padded and raised stitches and pictorial elements. It was used extensively on decorative items such as mirror frames, small boxes, books, and more. Below is a decorative casket dated to 1662, that depicts the Biblical story of Queen Esther, as well as a variety of birds, insects, and flowers. Minneapolis Institute of Art. 17th c Stumpwork casket

There was an enormous amount of beautiful embroidery throughout the 17th century. However, these last few styles – Jacobean, petit point, and stumpwork – were not used on clothing. So what was happening on clothing at this time? You see a lot of smooth, sumptuous silks, gold braid, lace, and ribbons from around 1630 through the early 1700s. The focus is on the fabrics and trims, rather than on embroidery.

When you do see embroidery during this later period, expect it to be on accessories, such as shoes, gloves, or muffs, like the one below from the MFA. Late 17th c embroidered muff

Do you have any questions about 17th century embroidery that I didn’t answer? Please let me know in the comments!

I’ve pinned many more examples of to my Pinterest page, and will be sharing some of them throughout the week on Facebook.

Resources:

  • If you liked this brief overview, my online class covers the history of embroidery styles from 1500-1950, including more examples from the 1600s not shared here.
  • Check out this YouTube channel to see how to work some common Elizabethan Embroidery stitches.
  • This PDF details many more 17th century jackets and the recreation of one jacket undertaken at the Plimoth Plantation.

Books:

*Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you choose to make a purchase. These are marked with an * after the product name. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers, and I do not recommend products solely to get a commission.

 

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