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From Domestic Craft to High Art: The Evolution of Embroidery in the Arts and Crafts Movement

Home embroidery on display
Deborah Upshaw journalist

by Deborah Upshaw

Professional social media advocate. Devotee of the 1900's arts & crafts movement. Inquisitive lover of the finer things.


Welcome to our latest issue, where we explore the fascinating world of the Arts and Crafts movement and the pivotal role embroidery played in it. The Arts and Crafts movement, which emerged in Britain in the late 19th century, was a reaction against the mass-produced goods of the industrial revolution. Its proponents championed the value of traditional craftsmanship and sought to revive the art of handmade objects. Embroidery, with its rich history and artistic potential, was a natural fit for this movement.

In this article, we take a closer look at the role of embroidery in the Arts and Crafts movement of 1902. We'll explore the different styles of embroidery, including needlework tapestry, broderie peinte, and miniature framed embroidery, and examine the ways in which they were used in decorative arts and home decor. We'll also delve into the history of embroidery as a hobby and how it became a popular pastime during this time. Join us as we journey back in time to explore the beauty and significance of embroidery in the Arts and Crafts movement.

Embroidery from the arts and crafts movement may have been created over a century ago, but their designs and techniques are still relevant today. In fact, many modern home crafters continue to incorporate these traditional embroidery styles into their projects. From creating one-of-a-kind pillowcases and wall hangings to embellishing clothing and accessories, the possibilities are endless. Whether you're a seasoned embroidery enthusiast or a beginner looking to try something new, exploring the world of arts and crafts era embroidery can be a rewarding and inspiring experience.

Needlework tapestry

Needlework tapestry, also known as canvas work, is a type of embroidery where stitches are made on a sturdy, open-weave canvas or fabric. The canvas creates a grid that guides the placement of stitches, resulting in a structured, geometric design. This style of embroidery was popularized during the Arts and Crafts movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I write more about needlework tapestry in our Home Arts & Crafts journal.

The technique of needlework tapestry has a long history, with examples of similar stitching techniques found in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. During the Middle Ages, tapestry was a popular medium for depicting biblical scenes and heroic tales. However, it wasn't until the Arts and Crafts movement that needlework tapestry became popular for domestic use.

In needlework tapestry, various stitches are used to create texture and depth, including tent stitch, cross stitch, and long stitch. The canvas is typically worked in wool, silk, or cotton threads, and the colors used are often bright and bold. The final product can be used for wall hangings, cushions, or other decorative items.

During the Arts and Crafts movement, needlework tapestry was used extensively in home decor, with designs ranging from traditional to modern. Notable examples include the intricate designs by William Morris, a prominent figure in the movement, and the bold, graphic designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Today, needlework tapestry remains a popular form of embroidery, with modern crafters using the technique to create unique home decor items, such as throw pillows and wall art. The structured grid of the canvas lends itself well to modern, geometric designs, and the variety of stitches available allows for endless creative possibilities. Whether creating a traditional tapestry or a modern interpretation, needlework tapestry continues to inspire crafters of all levels.

Broderie peinte

Broderie peinte, also known as painted embroidery, is a style of embroidery that involves painting on fabric before embroidering on top of the painted design. This technique creates a unique look that is both colorful and textured. I cover Broderie peinte in our Home Arts & Crafts journal.

Broderie peinte originated in France in the late 19th century, during the Arts and Crafts movement. It was popularized by the painter and embroiderer Émile Bernard, who used the technique to create vibrant, textured designs. The technique quickly spread throughout Europe and became popular among artists and craftspersons.

To create broderie peinte, a design is first painted onto the fabric using fabric paints or dyes. Once the design is dry, embroidery is added on top of the painted areas. The embroidery thread is typically chosen to match or complement the colors used in the painted design. The embroidery can be done using a variety of stitches, such as satin stitch, chain stitch, or French knots.

Broderie peinte was used extensively in the Arts and Crafts movement, particularly in France and England. The technique was often used to create decorative items such as table linens, wall hangings, and clothing. The embroidered designs were often inspired by nature, with motifs such as flowers, leaves, and animals.

Broderie peinte remains a popular technique among modern craftspersons. Its unique combination of painting and embroidery allows for endless creative possibilities, and the vibrant colors and textures make it a great way to add a pop of color to any project. From embroidered clothing to home decor items, broderie peinte is a technique that adds a unique touch to any craft project.

Miniature framed embroidery

Miniature framed embroidery is a beautiful and intricate form of embroidery that has been used for centuries to adorn homes with delicate and detailed artwork. This type of embroidery typically involves creating small pieces of embroidery and framing them in equally small frames. The result is a charming and delicate piece of art that can be displayed in any room of the house. I dive into this fascinating artform in my crafting miniature embroideries article.

Miniature framed embroidery was particularly popular during the Arts and Crafts movement, when handcrafted items were celebrated for their beauty and unique character. It was during this time that the technique of miniature embroidery really took off, as artisans sought to create small but detailed works of art that would fit seamlessly into the cozy, warm interiors of the day.

The technique of miniature embroidery requires a steady hand and a great deal of patience. Artists use fine threads and tiny needles to create intricate patterns and designs on small pieces of fabric. Because the pieces are so small, the stitching must be extremely precise and careful, with no room for error.

Examples of miniature framed embroidery from the Arts and Crafts movement include small floral designs, depictions of nature scenes, and miniature portraits. Many of these pieces were made to be given as gifts or to be displayed in homes as treasured heirlooms.

Today, miniature framed embroidery is still a popular craft, with many modern artisans using the same techniques and materials to create their own unique pieces. Whether you're looking to create a charming and delicate piece of art for your home or to give as a gift, miniature framed embroidery is a beautiful and timeless craft that is sure to delight and impress.

Embroidery as a hobby

Embroidery as a hobby has a rich history in the arts and crafts movement. During this period, embroidery was widely popular among hobbyists who sought to express their creativity and artistic vision through this craft. Embroidery as a hobby provided a creative outlet for individuals of all ages and backgrounds, and it was a popular pastime for both men and women.

The techniques and materials used in hobby embroidery were diverse, and they varied based on the individual's skill level and preference. Many hobbyists used traditional embroidery stitches such as the chain stitch, blanket stitch, and cross-stitch, while others experimented with new and innovative techniques.

Examples of hobby embroidery in the arts and crafts movement included embroidered household items such as table runners, napkins, and handkerchiefs, as well as clothing and accessories like blouses, jackets, and bags. These items were often decorated with intricate and detailed designs, showcasing the hobbyist's skill and creativity.

Embroidery continues as a popular hobby, and many modern hobbyists continue to explore and experiment with new techniques and materials. Whether creating traditional designs or pushing the boundaries of this ancient craft, hobby embroidery provides a fulfilling and satisfying creative outlet for those seeking to express their artistic vision.

Continental style furniture is an English manor
Continental occaisonal table
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Patterns and colors in arts and crafts era embroidery

Arts and crafts era embroidery is known for its intricate patterns and bold use of color. Floral and nature-inspired motifs were popular, as were geometric shapes and patterns. The designs often incorporated a combination of these elements, resulting in a unique and visually striking finished product. The color palette used in arts and crafts embroidery was typically earthy and muted, featuring shades of green, brown, blue, and rust. These colors were often complemented by brighter accents, such as red or gold, to add interest and depth to the design. Examples of patterns and colors in arts and crafts era embroidery can be found in the work of William Morris, who was a leading figure in the movement. To incorporate this style into modern embroidery projects, consider using natural color palettes and incorporating floral or geometric patterns.


Embroidery in the Arts and Crafts movement was a reflection of the era's embrace of traditional craftsmanship and beauty in everyday objects. Throughout this article, we've explored the different types of embroidery popular during that time, including needlework tapestry, broderie peinte, miniature framed embroidery, and embroidery as a hobby. We've examined the history, techniques, materials, and examples of each, providing a glimpse into the rich world of Arts and Crafts embroidery. As we reflect on the significance of this art form, we see how it brought beauty, craftsmanship, and individuality to even the most mundane objects. As modern hobbyists and crafters, we can take inspiration from the past and create our own unique pieces of embroidery, infusing them with our own personalities and styles. We encourage our readers to explore the world of embroidery, and perhaps even join the ranks of the millions of hobbyists who have found joy and relaxation in this timeless art form.

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