Craft Textile

Jacobean Embroidery of 17th century

Going back in time, can you recall the history classes in ninth grade where we studied something about Jacobeans? So, Jacobean embroidery was a style that became popular during the Jacobean ear under the reign of James I of England in the first quarter of 17th century. The word Jacobean came into use since the name James translates as Jacobus in Latin.

‘Jacobean embroidery’ is sort of an oxymoron since it is not a technique but merely a style that includes elaborately stylized flowers, veins, branches, leaves, animals, birds, plants, etc.(Ideas derived from the surroundings- the flora & fauna). Popular motifs included the Tree of Life, exotic plants, etc. and the types of stitches used were satin, chain, blanket, stem, darning, french knots, etc. Some characteristic features of the style included the exaggerated and curvilinear leaves & branches along with soft shading on flower petals & leaves.

The patterns incorporates around 10 different stitches like chain stitch, stem stitch, darning stitch, button-hole stitch, herringbone stitch, french knots, etc.

The trend started with scrolling floral patterns, home furnishings and decor  items(curtains, cushion covers etc.) and later worked on embroidered jackets for men & women from 1600-1620. It was initially done on linen with coloured silks. This embroidery style was later carried by British colonists to the newly discovered America where it flourished for a long time and was revived in later years. (The Deerfield Movement of 1890s).

Embroidereed linen jacket 1614-18
Embroidered linen jacket 1614-18

Quoting a text from the book ‘Jacobean Embroidery, by Ada Wentworth Fitzwilliam and A. F. Morris Hands: Mons de Farcy, author of La Broderie du Onzième siècle jusqu’à nos jours, remarks that “it seems that the position of England, surrounded by the sea on all sides, has provoked in its inhabitants the passion of travelling over the sea, and they came to know, before continental nations, of the parrots and other birds of brilliant plumage so often reproduced in their needlework”.

When compared to Crewel Embroidery (Early Medieval period) – a surface embroidery technique worked with wool on heavy weight fabrics in a variety of stitches- Jacobean embroidery can be done in other mediums as well like silk. Crewel work became known after the Bayeux Tapestry (Pictured below). The tapestry measures 3 metres in length and 50 cms in height and it took 12 months to complete the tapestry involving over 400 stitches. Crewel work was traditionally done on tightly woven linen twill since a firm fabric was required to support the weight of the yarn. Some evidence with regard to the origins of crewel work is that the Greeks & Romans used wool for embroidery. Crewel is an old Welsh word meaning wool.

Alderney's completed Bayeux Tapestry Finale measures 3 metres in length and 50 cms in height. It took just 12 months to complete involving over 400 stitchers photograph by Jake Woodnut
Alderney’s Bayeux Tapestry, photograph by Jake Woodnutt on Flickr

So the bottom line is,

Jacobean Embroidery : Style of design & could be any medium

Crewel Embroidery : Embroidery technique with wool as the medium

1970s jacobean
1970s Jacobean embroidery
Machine embroidered Jacobean embroidery of contemporary times

Reading references:

  1.  Jacobean Embroidery by Ada Wentworth Fitzwilliam and A. F. Morris Hands


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