Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Crewel Embroidery in England – Book Review


Amazon Books

Speaking to a friend and fellow stitcher a couple weeks ago, the subject of crewel embroidery books came up. I’m always befuddled when the titles of embroidery books and the names of needlework authors pop into the conversation. Truth is, they always sound familiar. But I suppose that’s because there are only so many titles for books about embroidery, and when you get specific (for example, a book about crewel embroidery), there’s a good chance the same words are going to be used in the title somehow.

So, whether you’re looking for Crewel Embroidery in England or The A-Z of Crewel Embroidery, or even The New Crewel – it’s a safe bet that the word “crewel” is going to occupy part of the title!

So, given the proclivity for needlework book titles to all sound similar, and given my completely disorganized needlework library, it’s sometimes difficult to know for sure if I have indeed seen a specific book, or worse, if I own it.

When the book Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards sauntered into the conversation, I couldn’t say for sure whether I was familiar with the book, whether I had actually seen the book, or whether I owned it.

As it turns out, it sounded familiar. A quick Google search revealed a photo of the cover, and my memory kicked in. Familiar? yes! I’d definitely seen it! Who could forget that big monster lion growling on the front of it? But did I own it? Hmmm…. that took a little more work. Foraging through shelves packed two deep and two high with needlework books, I discovered that I did own this gem of a book.

But I hadn’t yet discovered it was a gem.

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards was published in 1975, so it is out of print. But, good news, it’s available used (I’ve linked to resources at the end of this article).

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

My copy is, sadly, a library reject. While I love getting books for a great price (I paid $1.50 for this one), it’s kind of sad to know that the book isn’t available in that particular library for anyone who might want to use it. The fact that it was at a library book sale demonstrates that it had lost popularity with patrons.

*Sigh* If they only knew what they were missing!

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

The author begins with the history of crewel embroidery in England, starting with the famous Bayeux Tapestry.

Crewel embroidery, you see, was around a lot earlier than that style of embroidery which we call “Jacobean,” which came into fashion under James I of England, in the 17th century. “Jacobean” comes from the Latin name Jacobus, which is James in English. Jacobean refers to a style of embroidery design, and crewel embroidery is not synonymous with Jacobean embroidery, though Jacobean designs were often worked in wool.

Crewel embroidery is simply embroidery worked with wool, or predominantly with wool. The Bayeux Tapestry, worked in the 11th century, was embroidered in wool, so it fits comfortably into the category or wool embroidery.

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

Spattered throughout the section on the early history of crewel embroidery, the author includes black and white drawings of sections of the Bayeux Tapestry. For historical embroidery buffs, these drawings would easily transfer into terrific designs.

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

Moving into the Jacobean look, the author presents pictorial samples of different historical embroideries, and accompanies these with line drawings of the different elements within the samples.

Next to the line drawings, she includes a magnified section that shows the stitches used is the particular element.

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

These line drawings of the different motifs found in the historical samples of crewel work abound throughout the book, and some of them are quite humorous.

Imagine the embroiderer sitting at the frame, concocting different creatures to depict in wool – a great opportunity for creativity and a little fun. These little creatures remind me of the odd little elements that the illuminator included in the manuscript, or the sculptor incorporated into the creatures adorning cathedrals. A bit funny, a bit macabre, a bit bizarre – but always creative.

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

They layout of the historical samples juxtaposed with the line drawings are a terrific catalyst for embroidery inspiration. There’s the line drawing – there’s the original color scheme. Now, what can YOU do with the design?

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

Some of the designs are easily imagined in other types of embroidery. For example, with this particular design, a goldwork motif comes to mind. Wouldn’t it be grand?

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

In the back of the book, the author gets down to the nitty-gritty of instruction, demonstrating, for example, how to enlarge or reduce a design by hand, using a grid. This is a good technique for drawing out a design in a suitable size, even though nowadays, computer graphics programs such as Photoshop, or simply a photocopy machine, can take care of this with a bit less time and effort.

Still, to work it out with one’s own hands does give a clearer sense of the elements in the pattern, and the slowness of the process gives the embroiderer time to really concentrate on stitch, color, and thread choices. Think of it as the difference between hand-writing a letter, which gives you time to really think about what you’re saying and how it will come across to the reader, as opposed to whipping off an e-mail faster than you can really consider the impact of what you’re saying! It never hurts to try your hand at drawing out your own design, using the grid method.

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

The quality of the book revolves around the historical information – which is written in a style that is interesting and easy to read and digest – and the design and technique discussions within the text of the book.

For actual stitching instructions, the book falls a bit short. There are a couple pages that show the types of stitches commonly used in crewel work (as pictured above), but they don’t go much into real instruction on stitching.

Crewel Embroidery in England by Joan Edwards

Still, the book is a wonderful source of inspiration for those interested in crewel embroidery. Though published in the 1970’s, when crewel work enjoyed a notable revival, the book itself is timeless – an excellent study of the history of a technique and the designs and stitches associated with that technique throughout history.

If you’re a fan of crewel embroidery or interested in general about the history of embroidery (especially in England), you will certainly find this book worthwhile to add to your collection!

Where to Find It

Your best bet for finding Crewel Embroidery in England is to find it through used book sources. You can find several copies available through the following book affiliate:

Crewel Embroidery in England is available used here, through Amazon.


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(19) Comments

  1. I remember very well that one of my first comments was about what was crewel embroidery. You gently answered me as usual, I've thanked you, of course, but I've not understand very well what it was. I had already read about Jacobean embroidery and they seemed very similar to me. Following your blog I began to understand better – but don't know how to name them in Portuguese…:(
    That book looks great! I guess it will become more expensive after this post…with your US readers looking after it ! Good luck ladies!

  2. I have to get this book – I'm going to England the end of the month and having a bit more background before I start haunting the museums and historical homes would be great. Thanks so much for a fantastic review.

  3. I commented to you a couple of days ago that I was reading a book about crewel embroidery and the designs in the fabrics you were showing reminded me of that book. Well, that book was "Crewel Embroidery of England".What a coincidence! I learned a lot from it about the history of embroidery in England, and would encourage anyone who can find it to spend some time reading through it and enjoying all the photos and designs. Sandi

  4. Isn't if great when you discover what hidden gems older needlework books can be? I stumbled on one yesterday at the local used book store and almost didn't buy it but now I'm so glad I did. The subject is needlepoint, but there is a hugely comprehensive stitch dictionary and many of the stitches could be used on waste canvas for so many other applications. Great find!

  5. G'day Mary,
    Beaut book. Thanks for the reference.

    Any line drawings or illustrations inspire me. It doesn't need to be the whole design. Zooming in on part can be amazing for a border to border design in its own right. And I think works nicely in crewel as an abstract. How abstract depends of course on how zoomed in you go. You wouldn't want the spaces to be too big for crewel embroidery I suppose.

    The grided design gives me an idea of doing a crewel embroidery 'patchwork', somehow incorporating the squares into different um…how about…mmmmm…the pattern in each square could be…????? Sorry, just thinking 'aloud'. I'm sure it has something going for it, perhaps with a less detailed design, but my brain isn't up to it at this hour. (1.30 a.m., a late run back to Central NSW and had to check the latest good word of yours before bed).

    I love the pages you've shown, even the doodle looking stitches pages. Even though 'untechnical', they have a charm of their own.

    Bye now, Kath.

    ps, I'm not an experienced comment person. Yours is the first blog I've ever had to do with. Please tell me if I go on too much or if there is etiquete I'm dumb to. Or whatever!

  6. Hi, All! Thanks for your comments about the book – it really is a gem. The more time I've spent with it the last couple days, the more I like it.

    Magpie – I'm glad you got the book, too. Too often, I come across across a book and don't get it, and then when I want it, I can't find it again!

    Kath – your comments are always fun to read and inspirational, too. I think the patchwork idea is great, especially because it would give a small enough motif at a time to work on (and finishing each motif would give that great feeling of accomplishment!), plus, moving on to the next motif in the grid would provide variety, but still give the pleasure of working on one piece. Often, when I finish a piece, I'm disappointed that it's over. So with a grid design, with small motifs, you get the best of both worlds! It would make a great sampler! Do keep up the comments – interaction is what makes blogging fun, and at the same time, that sharing of ideas keeps everyone's creative juice flowing!!

    We're getting a gorgeous snowfall here in KS right now – a thick, soft, wet snow that is coating the trees and creating a real winter wonderland! A beautiful winter's day!

    Enjoy your Friday, everyone!


  7. That cover looks familar to me, as well. It doesn't look like I have the book, though. Maybe it's up in the attic or down in the basement? hmmm…I did find quite a few older needlepoint books I forgot I had. I'm having a great time going through them…
    An encyclopedia of needlepoint stitches…

  8. Mary, Thank you, as in,
    the birds are singing louder, the grass is greener (yes, there is grass out here now and it's raining again, enjoy your snow), and I have a nice fuzzy creative feeling all over me.
    Cheers, Kath

  9. Wow that looks great! And it reminds me that I still want to replicate a section of the bayeux tapestry. I have a beautiful huge book as my source for it too. Cost me a pretty penny. The Bayeux Tapesty by David M Wilson. Has every panel in its glorious detail. You can even see the stitching and where the dye lots don't quite match or were changed for a different colour entirely as one ran out.

  10. Ah, Kath – you're cruel! Warm weather sounds rather divine right now!

    Metanoia – I, too, have David Wilson's book on the Bayeux Tapestry. It's a terrific book! The detail in it is incredible. I just wish I had the perfect coffee table space to leave the book out all the time. It's one of my all-time favorite pictorial / history / needlework books!

  11. Another great Tapestry book is "A Needle in the Right Hand of God" by R. Edward Bloch. It talks about how the tapestry was made, how it was likely displayed, and the historical significance of the work.

  12. OK, so I had to immediately buy this book before your other thousands of readers snapped it up. You're such an enabler — I've bought so many books and supplies on your recommendation that I may have to start sending you the bills! :]

  13. Heh heh. Funny, Janice!

    Look on the bright side – to review most of the books on here, I have to buy them, too. So we're in the same boat!!

    The more I look at this book (I keep saying this!), the more I like it. There's something about the earlier embroidery books (from the 70's and earlier) that is very instructional – in a deep way. Not just pictures on "how to," but also the history behind the techniques. This really helps round out one's whole knowledge of needlework.

  14. Oh, that book looks fascinating!

    I'll never forget visiting the Bayeux Tapestry when I was 13 (and already a hopeless needlework addict!). It was absolutely breathtaking. I like the sound of that David Wilson book, too.

    Last summer I was delighted to discover a full-scale replica of the Bayeux Tapestry, in Reading Museum. Have you heard of this piece? It was made in the 1880s by 35 English women, each of whom added an elaborately decorated signature band under her section. It's gorgeous – and an amazing historical artefact in its own right, of course.


  15. I just LOVE it – and recently purchased it (mine is a library reject as well). I loved the designs because they aren't like the ones you find in other historic crewel (or embroidery for that matter) books.

  16. Hallo folks,
    Went to Amazon as soon as I saw the post…and have been fortunate to obtain one! Though secondhand through Oxfam, I feel it is the top book in my ever-expanding needlework library.

    Why? Well, AT LAST a book that takes you on a journey through the many different ages of needlework. I am in love!!

  17. I came across this book doing a google search on Jacobean embr. The book was available at Amazon USA for under $10, the copy being listed as “correct”. The book is heavy! At least 3lbs, it’s not your usual soft cover but a cloth bound book with a dust jacket.
    My copy is in great condition inside, only the dust jacket is a bit torn but I don’t care! I have never seen such gorgeous and plentiful color photos of actual Jacobean embroideries!
    I read somewhere that “crewel” comes from the old English “crull” or “crewl” which means “twisted” (2-ply wool) and if that’s true then the pastry called “cruller” (yum!) has to be so named because of its twisted shape.

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