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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The Crewel Work Company Embroidery Kits – Review


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Over the next several weeks, I’ll be reviewing embroidery kits for you, from designers around the globe who sell their own kits through their own small embroidery businesses.

If you’ve been hanging around here on Needle ‘n Thread for a bit, you might remember that back in April, I published a very short starter list of places where you can order quality embroidery kits directly from designers. I’ll be adding to that list in the near future.

Ordering kits directly from designers ensures that you get a good quality kit directly from the person who made it, who designed the project, worked it from the ground up, and knows all about it.

These types of kits are a great way to learn a technique well, and they often come with a good support system. If you are having trouble with your kit, you can often email the designer directly and get good tips that will see you through the project successfully.

Today, I’m going to show you, up close and personal, what you get in a kit from The Crewel Work Company, Phillipa Turnbull’s business in the UK that specializes in historically accurate crewel embroidery designs and materials.

The kit I’m reviewing here is the Mellerstain Firescreen kit. It’s lovely, and I can’t wait to get started on it!

Mellerstain Firescreen Crewel Embroidery Kit from the Crewel Work Company

The kits from The Crewel Work Company are packaged quite attractively in a gift-type bag with nice, clear photos of the project on the outside of the bag.

The bag, besides making a great presentation, serves a purpose – it makes a terrific project bag, where you can keep all your supplies for the kit while you’re working your way through it.

(I love bags!)

Mellerstain Firescreen Crewel Embroidery Kit from the Crewel Work Company

Inside the project bag, you’ll find everything you need to work the crewel kit, with the exception of a hoop and scissors.

Phillipa recommends a sit-on hoop stand like this one, and they sell them for a very reasonable price through The Crewel Work Company. If you live in the US and aren’t keen on paying the overseas shipping for bulkier items, you can find them through needlework shops that stock goods from Access Commodities. Needle in a Haystack in California carries them.

Personally, I’ll just be using a regular hand-held wooden hoop – a thicker Hardwicke Manor hoop. My plan for this project is to be able to easily tote it around wherever I want to take it, so a hand-held hoop will work better for me. But if you want two hands free, you can’t go wrong with a sit-on hoop for this type of embroidery!

The kit comes with very high-quality, durable linen twill, preprinted with the design on it; the project booklet; a booklet for beginners to crewel work, full of stitching tips; Appleton crewel wool in 31 shades (some with more than one skein per shade); beads; and needles.

Mellerstain Firescreen Crewel Embroidery Kit from the Crewel Work Company

The project pamphlet opens up nice and flat, and starts off with general information about the project itself and setting up the project for stitching.

Mellerstain Firescreen Crewel Embroidery Kit from the Crewel Work Company

The instructions in the pamphlet are very clear and easy to follow. Even if it’s your first time doing crewel work, if you have a little experience with surface embroidery, you shouldn’t have a problem following the instructions.

Speaking of first timers, the Mellerstain Firescreen is a level three kit on The Crewel Work Company’s website. I think this is because of the quantity of long and short stitch shading and also the scope of the project – it’s a big piece! But really, the techniques are not difficult, so if you have even a little experience with embroidery, I think a determined beginner can do it. (If you want it badly enough to persevere through the large project, that is!)

Mellerstain Firescreen Crewel Embroidery Kit from the Crewel Work Company

The other instruction booklet that covers the essentials of crewel work is also very clear and easy to understand.

Diagrams map out everything you need to know about starting your threads, ending your threads, working stitches and techniques. Everything is there that you need to know, and it’s laid out simply and directly, making it very easy to grasp.

Mellerstain Firescreen Crewel Embroidery Kit from the Crewel Work Company

Along with the kit, you’ll also receive a full-size diagram and layout map for colors and stitches, as well as a list of the crewel wool shades and numbers of skeins needed to complete the project.

Mellerstain Firescreen Crewel Embroidery Kit from the Crewel Work Company

And finally, there’s the fabric itself, pre-printed with the design. What I especially love about the way The Crewel Work Company prepares their fabric is that the pre-printed design includes all the directional lines, which assures the stitcher of an accurate and much easier stitching experience. This is especially handy for those who are new to long and short stitch shading. And hey! It doesn’t hurt with any of the lattice work, either! It makes it super easy to achieve even line spacing!

No worries about the blue – it covers up well with the heavier wool threads.

The twill from The Crewel Work Company is a specially woven z-twist twill, which is historically accurate for the re-creation pieces available through them. It’s a heavy duty fabric, very sturdy. I plan to use at least a 7/8″ thick hoop with mine. It’ll handle the heavier fabric well.

So that, my friends, is a Crewel Work Company kit for you, in case you’re considering purchasing one of the many beautiful crewel kits offered through them. They are high quality all around, and a great way to learn or advance your skills in real crewel embroidery.

Speaking of Real Crewel Embroidery…

I think this is a good place to note or re-note (I’ve said it before!) that real crewel embroidery is embroidery done with crewel wool, which is a strong, long-staple thread spun from wool. Although we see a lot of designs and kits emerging these days that include “crewel” in their name, if they aren’t done in crewel wool, they aren’t really crewel embroidery.

Crewel embroidery is not a design style, although there are certain types of designs that are typical of crewel work. Crewel embroidery is surface embroidery worked with crewel wool, usually on linen, and often involving certain families of stitches.

A while ago, I wrote an article for Craftsy on what makes crewel embroidery crewel embroidery here, if you’d like to read more about it. Just be aware that some of the photo samples show embroidery that’s worked with other threads besides crewel wool, just to demonstrate families of stitches.

The crewel kits from The Crewel Work Company are authentic crewel embroidery kits, from tip to toe!

Where to Find Crewel Work Company Kits

If you’re keen to learn crewel work and you want to learn the authentic, real stuff, a kit from The Crewel Work Company is the way to go!

You can find their crewel work kits here on The Crewel Work Company website. There are three different levels of kits, but mostly, the techniques are similar in each level. It’s the scope of the project that places them in their particular levels.

Join Me?

I’ll be working this kit off and on over the next who-knows-how-long, as a grab-and-go project. I’ll share project updates as I work through it, and any little bits of learning (or accidents and corrections!) along the way. If you’ve been hankering to take this particular kit on, or to work through an epic crewel kit, feel free to join me!

I should warn you in advance that there’s never any time table with my grab-and-go projects. They develop as I have time for them. But that’s the joy of this kind of project – the journey may be slow and meandering, but it’s lots of fun, and one day, it will be finished!

Have a terrific weekend!


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(27) Comments

  1. I started this kit a couple of years ago but put it aside as I didn’t think I had the skill to stitch it! I plan on working it again this summer, I am intrigued that you will use a round hoop – I thought I needed a large floor frame for this one – will the embroidery you have completed not get damaged as you move around the piece?

    1. Hi Elaine. I have completed one project from them, and have two more in the queue. I ordered their lap frame and use it all the time. The embroidery doesn’t get damaged because I follow Philippa’s advice, which is to put a piece of plastic wrap between the hoop and the fabric, making a sort of fabric sandwich. So: outer frame, plastic wrap, fabric, inner frame. Once you’re all set up, and your fabric is tight in the frame, you simple snip away the portion of the plastic wrap covering the bit you want to work on. Not only does this prevent the embroidered sections from rubbing when they are enclosed in the frame – as you move it around – but it also prevents really deep frame marks in the fabric. As Philippa explains, because it protects the fabric from direct contact with the wooden frame, you can actually leave the fabric in place for extended periods if you have to with no adverse affect. Try it. It really does work.

  2. Since I discovered your website, I’ve been on a fabulous needlework journey! So far I’ve visited Alison in AU and started her Golden Bee. I had to give Hazel’s “Autumn Harvest” a try (after seeing your beautiful work); and now it would seem I’m off to the UK!

    Thanks so much for expanding my horizons-I’m thoroughly enjoying the trip.

  3. Hi, Mary,

    I simply adore Phillipa Turnbull’s kits. Her instruction book is a wealth of information for a newbie to crewel work (like me!). I also have her CD “Level One, Basic Stitches” which is a great resource. I do not live near a needlework shop, so I have to rely on other manners of instruction – hooray for the internet & you tube!!

    Thank you for this review and for your wonderful site and all of it’s instructional info. BTW, your site inspired me to purchase La Serenissima, rather daunting, but with the help of my online friends I can do this!!

  4. Mary, I love your blog, it is so inspirational and informative! Thank you!
    I have a question for you. In today’s article on Crewel Work embroidery I see that you stressed (twice) that true crewel embroidery is only done with crewel wool. What is crewel wool exactly? How is it different than other wool that might be suitable for embroidery? Other than through Appleton, where would you find it, and how would you know it is crewel wool? Thank you so much!

    1. Hi, Michele – crewel wools is a fine, two-ply wool made for embroidery. Appleton is probably the best known brand, with a huge range of colors and shades, but there are other brands of wool as well that work great, too. I like Fine d’Aubusson by Au Ver a Soie, as well as Heathway wools. There’s also a wool called Bella Lusso that is quite nice to work with. Most wool made specifically for hand embroidery is crewel wool – but it’s not to be confused with stuff made for needlepoint, which is heavier and often not as sturdy (it shreds more quickly after passing repeatedly through the fabric).

    2. Michele –
      Although I’ve done other kinds of embroidery and needlework, I’m pretty new to crewel – but I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it.

      Mary has a wealth of info about crewel on needlenthread. The Crewel Rooster project that Mary did is fabulous. (https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2010/04/crewel-embroidery-project-step-by-step.html).

      Mary also did a comparison of several varieties of crewel wool (https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2010/01/comparison-of-wool-threads-for-crewel.html).

      The Unbroken Thread (Kathy Andrews ) also did a lovely sampler type project where she compared different threads (http://www.theunbrokenthread.com/blog/2010/08/10/sping-in-italy-sampler-links/)

  5. Hi Mary

    I’ve ordered a number of kits from The Crewel Work Company and I can attest that the instructions are very easy to follow for newbies, which I was. I’m not much more now in terms of crewel work but I love it, I love the look of it, the patterns, the exuberance of it, so I will persevere.

  6. Dear Mary

    The Mellerstain Firescreen kit looks like a great project and I look forward to your progress on it. There’s certainly a lot of stitching in the project and I like all the colour of the threads and the animals and flowers in the project, there’s a lot to keep you busy. How is the Late Harvest coming along. Thanks for showing your latest project with us and for your review on the Crewel Company projects they look really great. I hope you have a great weekend.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  7. Hi Mary!

    I ordered a crewel kit and the hands free hoops from The Crewel Co. last year. I loved it! I choose a simple design because I wanted to be able to work the design accurately and not get overwhelmed. I’m sorry now that I didn’t get the one I really wanted because it was a delight to work. The lap stand comes with three different size hoops and is so convenient. It comes apart and I was able to fit it into the provided bag when I went to visit my husband in the hospital. The lap stand is a beautiful work of art in itself. The design came with more than enough crewel wool to do the project and I had a ton left over. I loved that! Since I’m kind of a thread horder! I’m glad you’re doing a series on designers. They work so hard on their beautiful designs and I agree the quality of the kits are outstanding. I currently am enamoured with Carolyn Barrani’s kits, sold through her company The Tapis-Tree! She’s a very accomplished artist and since I’m not, I still get to create a beautiful piece because of designers like her and Phillipa. I think it’s been about six years that I’ve been following you and everything I know about embroidery is because of you. Thank you for providing such a wonderful service.

    Melissa Bird

  8. I love those kits, but stylistically they don’t fit me. I’ve gotten a couple of kits from thistle needle works specifically the Blanche Virgien collection. They’ve got a retro 50’s/60’s look, which is definitely more my style….. But that doesn’t stop me from lusting after those Crewel Work Company kits….

  9. Mary –

    I have the Mellerstain kit from Crewel Works. It’s a beautiful design, and I’m looking forward to working on it. I’m working on small crewel project now to ‘train’ for the big project. Yes, I’d love to join you!


    Thank you for pointing out that crewel work is done with crewel yarn. I have a problem with needlework magazines and kits which call Jacobean designs not made with crewel yarn or even are just any surface embroidery including same not made with crewel yarn as crewel work.

    I recently sent a letter to “Piecework” magazine about an article in which the author specifically says that crewel work does not have to be made with crewel yarn any longer. “Piecework” in particular should know the difference as they published an article by me on this subject in 2009. Then again I don’t think they understood the article at the time as I had to argue to get photos of Jacobean work in other than crewel yarn and photos of designs other than Jacobean work which were done with crewel yarn included with the article.

    The piece you are to do looks lovely and I will look forward to seeing your progress on it.

    I would love to do something similar as I demonstrate 18th century embroidery at reenactments, but not only is too far beyond my budget, I have too many WIPs and projects waiting to be WIPs to even think about something this large.

  11. Dear Mary, Love Your website and check it frequently. I was wondering if you were concerned about using a hoop on this crewel work piece? I’m always concerned about smashing my stitches with a hoop, but to use a slate frame would make it non-portable and hence never completed. Love you thoughts on this. Thank you, jane

    1. Hi, Jane – they recommend a hoop, actually. As long as you don’t leave the hoop in one place for extended periods of time (say, if you abandon the project for a while and then go back to it), you shouldn’t have a problem. At the end, if you damp stretch it, and if you take care while you’re stitching (Phillipa recommends covering the ground fabric with Saran Wrap while its in the hoop and then cutting away the area where you’ll be stitching), it will work out fine.

  12. I have had the Mellerstain Fire Panel in my stash for several years now and have a fairly good start on it. I am an advanced crewel embroiderer, and I would recommend this for an intermediate to advanced stitcher. If you are less experienced, I think you might find this project overwhelming, and it’s too large an investment for the piece to remain undone. But feel free to prove me wrong! (I happened to come by my kit on the day that the previous Burford Needlecraft shop was clearing out their shopworn kit online for half price–what a find!) This design is incredibly intricate and takes a very long time to make a “showing.” You all know what I mean, so have patience and more patience. But that said, I have never worked on such a piece where, as Phillipa Turnbull puts it, “I hope you enjoy . . .seeing each feature, as it evolves, gradually revealing the beauty of the design.” You get the feeling that you are truly releasing a splendid design. Remember in crewel embroidery to work from the back to the front of the design, and save the most prominent motifs until last thing, when your stitching on this piece will be its best. I don’t think that it will make it out of my unfinished pile this year, but it will someday be magnificent!

    By the way, if you have not seen Phillipa Turnbull’s DVD, “An Introduction to Crewel Embroidery,” be sure to track down a copy and check it out. (Remember, North America and Europe have different video formats.) There is also an older VHS version. This DVD features the Mellerstain Fire Panel, has lots of good information, and you get to see how Phillipa Turnbull sets up for stitching. Enjoy!

  13. Dear Mary,

    Thanks for reviewing this kit. I keep gravitating back to this company and think one day i will take the plunge. I do have a question I hope you can help me with, while I’m sure any of their kits would be fine for dining chairs, I am wondering about a chair that gets more ware than that. I would love to do one to upholster my weaving bench with. Do you think they are sturdy enough for that?
    Many thanks Judy

  14. Just thought I’d say the following regarding the purchase of Phillipa’s kits:

    I had the great pleasure to do a workshop with her in February (I think it was) and she emphasised that buying directly from her would always be more expensive then purchasing from one of the shops which stock her kits.

    In New Zealand you can get them from The Ribbon Rose. (There may be other stockist here too, I don’t know.)

    Look forward to watching you work this project!

  15. Have the lap frame and have send it successfully with small projects. Am concerned about smashing and stretching and even tearing out existing stitches as we progress through the project as crewel work needs to be drum tight for stitching.

  16. I don’t know what it is, but since discovering your website, I have been running into such a large amounts of embroidery floss and then yesterday a box with a 2.5 gallon zip lock type bag full of embroidery floss plus several more bags of crewel/needlepoint wool. I’ve done one crewel project about 35 years ago although I have found a few skeins of the wool now and then that I thought I might be able to use in other projects. Now due to this site I have a wealth of ideas and instructions and due to the thrift store and yard sales in my area I also have a wealth of supplies.

  17. Just wondering if The Crewel Company is offering any discounts to your blog readers?
    I’m very tempted to do it. I have also researched their bed cover which I think is spectacular but I this the fire screen is a more
    likely to get finished before I go to the land of happy stitchers!

  18. I already have just barely begun my Mellerstain Firescreen. I would love to stitch along with you for the winter. Also thank you for the discount code. Going to order the newest addition from Crewel Work CO.

  19. I have been doing self taught crewel for about 3 yrs and absolutely love it but find it so very hard to find ways to purchase kits but ESPECIALLY A good quality twill and would be so very happy if you could for now tell me how I could find a REALLY good linen like the Jacobean kits use. Thank you so very much

  20. Thank you for this! You took the fear, complexity and overwhelming feeling of this type of embroidery! I think i will try this now!

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