18th Century Embroiderers

Last updated: Dec 01, 2021

Images of 18th century embroiderers at work can help you understand the sorts of frames and tools that were used.

Perhaps even more instructive are unfinished works left behind by 18th century needleworkers. Connecticut Historical Society 1935.10.1 (c. 1750-1755), for example, is an unfinished embroidery of the Pitkin family coat of arms “worked in shades of red, pink, brown, and green silk and silver metallic thread on a black satin-woven silk ground, using a shaded satin stitch and other stitches … The unfinished portions of the coat of arms are outlined in white paint.” The embroidery remains attached to the slate frame on which it was worked: “The ground is whip-stitched to plain-woven linen backing and nailed to a wooden embroidery frame. The wooden frame is constructed of four rails, each with a lap joint at the end that is secured with a removable wooden pin.” Some of the skeins of silk accomany the work: “81 skeins of silk thread wrapped in paper, some with printed text; 3 round bundles of silk floss, in white, pink and salmon; 3 twisted bundles, or sticks, of silk floss in cream, gold and bronze; 6 lengths of metallic thread wrapped around a wooden reel or paper; 3 nails; several needles left in the skeins. The unused skeins of silk were originally wrapped in plain gray paper and tied together in groups by color. The used skeins were rewrapped in blank, hand-written or printed paper.”

Colonial Williamsburg 1997-98 is an incomplete tent-stitched needlework picture by Lucy Palmer of Windham, Connecticut, dated 1757. The ink outlines are still visible on many of the unstitched areas of the linen ground fabric, which is still nailed into the wooden frame on which 15-year-old Lucy was working on it, attached “with rose head nails on its top and bottom.”

MoMu Fashion Museum Antwerp T12/1012/E32 (c. 1780-1800) consists of an embroidery kit and an unfinished embroidered waistcoat front. The cardboard box itself is covered with wallpaper on the outside and lined with domino paper on the inside, like other band boxes of the 18th century. The internal compartments contain embroidery threads, chenille, and ribbon.

Tambour embroidery

Another page on this site links to tambour embroidery on clothing and accessories in the 18th century.