Over the centuries, crewel has
been stitched in palaces, hovels, and tents by queens and empresses, slaves and serfs.
It has been stitched in joy and sorrow, in celebration and mourning.
Far from being a dying art, crewel continues to be a vital medium of personal expression the world over.
Crewel has incorporated techniques and materials from many cultures and genres along the way, including silk highlights and couched metallics, to become the most versatile of needlearts--as at home amid chrome, glass, and leather as surrounded by family antiques and the gleam of old silver.
rewel embroidery, the art of working wool on linen, is the mother of all embroidery, flowering thousands of years ago in the Fertile Crescent where the materials were common and plentiful. The technique and motival vocabulary was borne both East and West, the materials and symbology evolving as crewel was embraced by various cultures.
In the Roman supply trains, and later in the caravans of Silk Road merchants, crewel arrived in the British Isles, where it flourished in the fertile imaginations of native needleworkers. From the Middle Ages through the Jacobean era, British crewelists refined both materials and execution, and crewel achieved a drama and impact rivaling the finest Asian silk embroidery. Prior to the introduction of silk embroidery to Europe, crewel enjoyed a prestige that reduced all other needlearts to mere fancy work. Falling into disuse, crewel experienced a renaissance when the Arts and Crafts movement adopted it as an artistic medium due to its romantic history, drama, warmth, informality, and versatility.
For the needleartist, crewel embroidery has a number of
inherent attractive qualities:
Crewel affords the needleworker more creative freedom than any other genre of needlework. Instead of having to wait for someone to design and chart a work,
a crewelist without any drawing or painting ability whatsoever can extrapolate motifs from a variety of existing sources, such as porcelain, wallpaper, and carpets, to create stunning crewel patterns.
Crewel showcases the needleartist’s individual ”hand,” which is as
uniquely distinctive as one’s penmanship.
The number of graduated shades available in each color of crewel yarn
allows for the creation of subtle highlights and shadows to rival that of
the finest silk embroidery.
SPEED AND EASE
The relatively small vocabulary of easy-to-master stitches lends works remarkable textural variety and allows for a great deal of open, yet embellished, areas within a design. Thus, large ambitious works can often be completed in less time than smaller-scaled pieces worked in denser embroidery styles.
Crewel offers incredible drama and presentation, due to the larger scale
at which it can be worked.
HEIGHTENED SURFACE RELIEF
Crewel offers a tangible dimensionality that is inherent in the lush wool stitches. Even unpadded crewel achieves a noticeable relief on the background fabric.
Since the beginning, crewel has been applied to a wide variety of purposes.
Besides framed works and cushions, it can adorn upholstery, draperies and tie-backs, valances, duvet covers, bed hangings and canopies, wall hangings, and ottomans, clothing, and purses, among many other items.
The sturdiness of the materials insures crewel is an ideal adornment for items subject to handling and wear, where many other forms of needlework would be far too delicate for such use.
Crewel is probably the least expensive needlework to produce per square inch.