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Saturday, July 19, 2008

18th Century Crewel Work

So while I was at Hubbardton recently, I decided that I needed to make (or buy) a little bag to carry my camera around in. My new camera is quite heavy and really weighs down my pockets, so I figure if I make a nice looking bag, I can carry it with me still pretty easily. So I asked one of my friends who was a Sutler at Hubbardton if she had any bags for sale. She didn't, but she did have a simple one I could borrow. She also showed me her bag, which had a nice drawstring and some embroidery on it. I decided that I could make one. So she explained to me how to do the drawstring, and I started the planning process.

I knew I wanted to have embroidery on my bag like my friend’s had, but I wasn’t sure where to start. So recently on one of the lists I subscribe to, someone was talking about a wallet they were making their husband where they would be using something called a “flame stitch” to decorate it. Having never heard of it, I asked a few more questions, got a few more answers, and decided it wouldn’t work properly for my bag (but don’t worry I will have a post about the wallet project later).

So eventually on the thread I got the topic around to crewel. This is a type of embroidery that was done in the 18th century. I explained that I had some linen left from making a shirt for my husband, and wondered if they thought it would work for this project I am trying to do. Judith responded with this …

The lightweight linen would be fine for crewel work (then line for strength if your camera is hefty) … on the fine linen you could use real silk or wool crewel embroidery to make a beautiful pocket/bag,

Common crewel stitches used in period are long and short stitch, stem stitch, french knots, satin stitch, couching

There is a dover book of 18th century embroidery designs

Of course this sent me on an Internet search for more information on crewel. I did find a great book on Amazon, which unfortunately my local library doesn’t have. But now it’s on my list of “to get” books. It’s called English Crewel Designs and Norman Bradburn and Frances Bradbury put it together.

English Crewel Designs

It looks like this book provides some period correct patterns that would be easy to trace to fabric.

Some other members also suggested four more books that look very interesting, which of course, my library doesn't have either:

18th Century Embroidery Technique

A Practical Guide to Canvas Work

Plain & Fancy

The Bargello Book (Which, I guess, only has a few patterns that would work, but teaches the methods really well.)

I also stumbled on a great website that had some awesome information and pictures of crewel through the years.

American women in the 18th century took crewel to their hearts producing their simplified but original style of bed hangings, pockets, pocketbooks, petticoat borders, chair seats etc. The amount of crewel remaining in collections today attests to the devotion and industry of American women. Design became regionalized with mounds and prancing animals remaining popular near the seacoast, while blue and white scattered patterns were favored in the Connecticut Valley region. The stitches also changed as they moved from England; long and short to the faster self couching stitch also called New England laid or Roumanian. By the third quarter of the 18th Century, crewel faded as women became overwhelmed with the American Revolution.

So even if crewel was out of fashion by the time I am portraying, it doesn’t sound like it was completely gone, and I may still have a purse from before it went out, so I don’t think it would be wrong for me to carry a little purse with some crewel. Here is a picture from the same site:

I really love this example, the color and design are exactly what I want to do, but I don’t know that I can find a pattern like this particular example. Plus I am sure it was done by someone with much more time, patience, and skill then I have right now, so I will probably need to stick to something more simple for now.

As far as the bag itself goes, I think I will line it with felt, although that’s not period by any means, it’s soft and will give just enough cushion for my camera. The hardest part I was having with making a bag was imagining how the drawstring would go, but now that I have that part thought out, I think this will be a relatively simple project to put together. I haven’t started yet, but I will post pictures and any more research I find on crewel when I do start!

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