Embroidery Inspiration – Chenille

Chenille is one of my favorite styles of embroidery, because it creates a lush, velvety surface while being a very easy technique to master. It’s all in the thread, and true chenille thread is as soft and fuzzy as the caterpillars it is named after.

Somewhat resembling a pipe cleaner, chenille thread is made of fluffy silk pile that stands out at a 90 degree angle to a central thread. This is often couched in place on the surface of the fabric, since it is easily damaged when being pulled through fabric. As you place rows of chenille thread side by side, you create a surface embroidery that looks like it’s made of velvet. With care, you can also use short lengths of chenille thread and a chenille needle to make simple surface stitches like woven roses, lazy daisies, and other flowers.

Chenille embroidery can be found on items dating back to the 17th century, though usage really picks up in the 18th century. You’ll see it on clothing men, women, and children, as well as a wide variety of accessories. It fades out of common usage after the Victorian era, though you may still see it in couture gowns and other high-end applications.

18th c. Infant’s cap made of yellow silk and embroidered with silk thread, silk chenille and silver thread, embellished with spangles and metal lace. French or Italian. MFA 38.1311.

Embroidered black velvet cape with matching ruff. The leaves and stems are worked in silk chenille and embellished with crepe flowers. MFA 43.1606a. Early 19th c. silk capelet with chenille embroidery. Charleston Museum. Another muff from the MFA, made of silk satin covered with crepe and embroidered with colorful silk chenille. MFA 43.1818.


A pair of early 19th c. silk garters embroidered with silk chenille. MFA 43.2009a.

Embroidered reticule, 1820-30 embellished with silk chenille embroidery and silk flowers. V&A Museum, T.190-1953.   Reticule c. 1799 edged with fly fringe trim with picot loops of silk chenille. LACMA, M.83.281.2.

Embroidered men’s waistcoat c. 1735-40 embroidered with brightly colored silk chenille. V&A Museum, T.271-1923.

A stunning 18th c. quilted petticoat with a hem embroidered with silk chenille and metal threads. MFA 43.1661.

Silk chenille embroidery on petticoat

An 18th c. stomacher beautifully embellished with chenille flowers, silk ribbons, fly fringe, and gilt-silver thread lace. MFA 43.1913.

Chenille trim makes up the vines holding the bells on this c. 1775 Robe a la Francaise. LACMA, M.2007.211.720a-b.

Evening gown c. 1806-80 embroidered with silk chenille nasturtium leaves and flowers. V&A Museum, T.241&A-1983.

Have you ever tried working with chenille thread? I’d love to hear about it 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.



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