What is Crewel Embroidery?
Crewel embroidery is a form of embroidery that traditionally uses 2-ply worsted wool yarn wool on natural, evenly woven fabric. This style of embroidery creates a textured, almost 3 dimensional look.
According to Crewel Embroidery by Audrey A. Francini, “Although wool embroidery was worked in many European countries long ago and other forms of embroidery date back into early China, Coptic Egypt, and Greece, crewel embroidery as we know it today originated in England in the sixteenth century”. (Francini, 7)
You can read even more about it’s history in this article from the Textile Research Center.
What is the difference between crewel and embroidery?
There are many traditional designs that you can see in museums and in old books that are characteristic of crewel work. However, the only thing that truly differentiates crewel work from surface embroidery is the yarn that is used!
There are a few types of needles, yarns, and fabrics that fair better for crewel work as compared to some that can be used for modern surface embroidery, but for the most part both styles are very similar to one another in technique.
Crewel Embroidery Tools
Best Fabric For Crewel Embroidery
The best fabric to use for crewel work are natural, evenly woven fabrics.
- Irish linen
- linen twill
- twill weave wool
Fabrics that are closely woven and more durable are ideal to use so that the fabric doesn’t pucker or tear under the tension of the stitches.
A general rule of thumb is to match the weight of the fabric to the weight of the yarn you are using. (i.e. use heavier / more durable fabrics for thicker yarns)
Crewel and chenille needles are the best types of needles to use for crewel embroidery. Chenille needles have a large/elongated eye while crewel needles are longer and have an eye that is slightly smaller than chenille needles. Both are sharp at the end and have a large enough eye to fit thicker threads through.
If you are making stitches that require weaving in and out of stitches, tapestry needles are helpful to have. They have a blunt end which won’t snag or split yarn as easily.
The needle size you will need will depend on what weight of the yarn you are using. DMC has a helpful size chart.
Crewel work was historically done using 2-ply twisted wool yarn. There are many yarns to choose from today. Some are even made of cotton or synthetic materials.
Here are a few common yarns:
Depending on the yarns you purchase, they may be anywhere from 1 to 4-ply. (The ply is the number of single pieces of yarn twisted together.) I have personally used acrylic yarn, which is what I used for the floral design pictured in this post and it worked perfectly fine!
You can experiment with different weights of yarn and different kinds of stitches. If you want something to be a bit more intricate or you want to add in fine detail, consider using embroidery floss or a lighter weight yarn!
How To Do Crewel Embroidery
Just like modern surface embroidery, it is helpful to use an embroidery hoop or frame to secure your fabric while you are working.
The same techniques for transferring embroidery patterns to fabric apply to crewel as well.
Once you have set up your embroidery hoop and transferred the pattern, you can get started stitching.
Crewel Embroidery Stitches
Crewel embroidery uses the same stitches that modern day surface embroidery uses. For example, there are several identifiable stitches in the vintage crewel design pictured.
I took several photos of the process of stitching a simple crewel floral design. For the leaves, I used the fishbone stitch.
The stem of the leaves uses a stem stitch.
The flower petals were stitched using the satin stitch.
Lastly, the center of the flower uses French knots.