The History of Embroidery

Welcome back to the Thread and Fold blog where we showcase the very best in our embroidery wall art, handmade embroidery kits and more. Now, if you have been following us on social media you would have seen, aside from our very exciting new fabrics and slow stitch patches, that we are delving into the history of embroidery. For ourselves we aren't just a company that produce embroidery items, we are so much more, and it was important to share our passion for our craft through exploring the history of embroidery as, not only did we enjoy our research, but we thought that it, too, would be of interest to our followers and clients. 

ancient Egyptian embroidery

It goes without saying that embroidery has a rich and detailed history that conjures up many images.  Ever since the dawn of time humankind has expressed its individuality and personality through clothing and embroidery certainly helped this pursuit. From patterns in leather skirts to gold and precious gemstones neatly sowed into a dress, civilisations across the world have sort to craft and create through embroidery, The earliest known records, that have survived we hasten to add, can be traced to around 600 BC, presumably earlier pieces have either not survived the passage of time or the tools and materials simply didn’t exist. Whilst stitching and patterns have been found as early as 1340 BC in Egypt it is unclear whether this was embroidery or a simple, woven design. 

Bronze age embroidery

However, luckily we are able to trace embroidery patterns in the West to the Bronze age in a Celtic grave from the Hallstatt-Period. What’s more, across the Mediterranean there is evidence of the Greeks (pioneers in all aspects of western civilisation of course) using simple techniques and embroideries in both men and women’s clothing. Likewise, across northern Europe there is evidence of stem stitch and various twined and buttonhole stitches in Scandinavian societies. 

A history of embroidery

Fast forward to the 5th and 6th centuries AD, and across the world we see the rise of embroideries and new stitches. The advent of empires, the height of the Byzantine Empire, saw new ideas, techniques exchanged as trade routes began to open up and the world began its early commodification. Not only do we witness new styles but we also continue to see the worlds, cultures and their values reflected in their pieces.For example, continuing forward we see embroideries from Denmark showcasing animal figures and human faces. Embroidery therefore isn’t just a means to decorate clothing but also a way to document life. Stitches used at the time include the stem stitch and herringbone stitch, which have been a fundamental part of embroidery ever since!

Bayeux Tapestry

As we approach the medieval period we see the rise in popularity of tapestries used to decorate stone walls in castles. Again, embroidery here takes on a new life and becomes the rich way to document life. These exquisite tapestries are almost like fabric comic book strips showcasing events, local kings and queens and daily life. Perhaps the most famous tapestry is the Bayeux Tapestry which relates the Battle of Hastings and William The Conqueror's invasion of England. Indeed, the 70m long tapestry, if you haven’t seen it, is simply a fabulous piece of history, art and embroidery and we urge all, Corona permitting, to visit the quaint town to see it (and try Bayeux ham of course!). 

Tudor embroidery

During the 13th - 16th various cultures continued to develop the art and this prolific period gave rise to new techniques and stitches including the Bayeux stitch, the German Brick Stitch, the Bokhara Stitch and the Cloister Stitch. England continued to develop its rich history of embroidery and it is difficult to think of English embroidery without thinking of the Tudors. Geometric patterns and flowers were common themes at the time and appeared on wall hangings, clothing and the period also gave rise to new ways of working including the tent stitch, gobelin stitch, running stitch, detached buttonhole and chain stitch.

machine embroidery

This prolific period of history certainly pushed embroidery forward as the pursuit became popular with both ladies and led to the development of skilled craftspeople. As embroidery continued to evolve so did techniques and materials. With the onset of industrialisation the availability of both materials and tools became more widespread and embroidery began to move away from being a pursuit of the elites to a more widely available hobby and craft.  Likewise, over the course of the 20th century machine embroidery became easier and embroidery was no longer the fashionable embellishment of choice for clothing, it became purely a hobby while at the same time ascending to an art form, with embroidered images being created solely for the joy of owning them.

Phew! We bet you didn’t think that embroidery was so rich? We hope you have enjoyed a brief history of embroidery. At Thread & Fold we believe in bringing back the historic pursuit as a craft and want to encourage all to give it a go! For more information on our pieces or to speak to our team contact us here https://www.threadandfold.com/pages/contact


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