Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England

Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England

A floor covered in rush in a medieval home

Jacobean Embroidery : We live in our current times in houses or apartments, which are fully furnished, heated in winter, and adorned extensively with textiles for aesthetic reasons and utility.  But there was a time in England and the rest of the world that houses were draughty, furniture scarce, and cloth was restricted to wool, linen, and silk. There were rushes on the floor, which dogs and often people would relieve themselves in, making interiors malodorous. People often shifted from one house to another, an itinerant lifestyle because homes became quickly unhygienic.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, an awareness began to grow about beauty and comfort, both in interiors and dress. This age coincided with a time in England when huge homes were being built, abbeys were turned into residences, and lasting peace meant that they could give attention to aesthetic

These developments meant an increased demand for textiles like curtains, bed covers, cushions, and apparel. With the formation of East India Company in 1600 and Palampores and chintz imports from India, motifs like the Tree of Life became familiar in England. 

Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
A Palampore from the Met
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
A Palampore from Leiden

Enormous progress was made in dyes at this point in history, giving access to a broader range of bright colors. 

Jacobean embroidery, a style based on fanciful motifs

Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England

An illustration from the book Jacobean embroidery by Fitzwilliam and Hands

With this background, Jacobean embroidery came into existence and flourished. Jacobean was the Latin name for King James 1, who ruled England and Scotland in the early 17th century and, after whom this embroidery got its name. 

Jacobean embroidery is not so much an embroidery technique, but far more a style based on fanciful motifs like plants, vines, animals, birds, and mythical creatures like the unicorn in the folklore of England. And of course, the Tree of Life and other motifs inspired by Indian textiles. 

Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
A fanciful bird
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
A mythical bird. Picture from Messy Nessy Chic
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
folklore references. Picture from Messy Nessy Chic

Crewelwork Embroidery 

Much of Jacobean embroidery, but not all, is crewelwork, which is raised embroidery in wool, of which the most famous example is the Bayeux Tapestry, which relates the tale of the Norman Conquest through its motifs. The earlier wool embroidery traditions, especially the church’s tradition, heavily influenced the Jacobean Crewel Work. Much Crewelwork of this period uses blues, lovely greens, and pinks and browns as accents. 

Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Typical colors in crewelwork. Image from well embroidered UK
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
A detail from the Bayeux Tapestry.
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Portrait of an unknown woman by Gheeraerts the younger. Circa 1600

Stumpwork Technique in Jacobean Embroidery

The other vital technique is stumpwork, which is similar to Crewelwork in being raised and layered but uses a combination of metal and silk threads. Jacobean stumpwork is almost three-dimensional and often incorporates wire, seed pearls, beads, and semi-precious stones for its finished effect.  It uses wire and stitches separately to create forms, which are then affixed to the main fabric with more wires, making the unmatchable raised visual effect. 

Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Embroidered panel. Cooper Hewitt. Early 17th century
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Margaret Layton and her jacket. V&A
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Detail of the Chancellor's Purse on display in the Gallery at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire.

Jacobean embroidery was used to adorn furnishings and apparel and caskets, embroidered wall hangings, and frames, many of which have survived in a better condition than clothing.  

Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Stumpwork portrait. Live Auctioneers
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Wilby House casket
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Stumpwork mirror frame. Live Auctioneers.

Jacobean embroidery Atelier

Interestingly, the practice of Jacobean embroidery was by men working in ateliers. Each member of the atelier worked on the work specific to his skill, of course, in keeping with the time’s craft traditions. 

The craft was considered important enough to have a society called “Keepers and Wardens of the Art and Mistery of Broderers” who reviewed finished works and destroyed those they believed below par!

The Jacobean style eventually fell out of favor in the reign of Queen Anne, giving way to lighter and more fashionable embroidery. Its legacy lives on in numerous needlework workshops, home embroidery kits, and organizations like the Royal School of Needlework in England.

Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
RSN archive
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Current Crewelwork by Jess Van der Laan. Love stitch
Jacobean Embroidery a Style Based on the Folklore of England
Margaret Pengelly contemporary work. Love stitch

AUTHOR BIO

Mira Gupta

Mira Gupta is a well known curator and designer in craft based luxury.  She has had working stints with Fabindia, Good Earth and Ogaan to promote the cause of craft.  She is deeply interested in art, travel, architecture and culture.

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