FashionMuse: e – embroider

From Medieval French – embrouderie 
1. Decorative needlework, in threads of silk, cotton, gold, silver, or other material, upon any woven fabric, leather, paper,etc., with a needle. Often depicting a picture or pattern.
2. Elaboration or embellishment, as in telling story.


BUY NOW:  No need to be so winter weary. Embellish your woolly-wear with a pair of embroidered boots 

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WHY NOW: An intriguing mix of heritage, folklore and subversiveness; embroidery is as interesting as it is artistic. A treasure to trove for it’s;

Cultural Worth:

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Chinese embroiderer at an embriodery frame                      Ashmolean Museum, Oxford


In various forms it has existed as long as man has been able to produce fabric. From the Chinese Imperial court, to Ancient Mexico, from the Romans, to the Vikings this ancient craft is found in many countries and cultures. However embroidery didn’t really develop in Europe until the 11th century. Leading the way were then were the Christian Church and Royal Courts, who demonstrated their power and wealth with richly decorated garments and ornaments, like wall hangings and tablecloths.



The Bayeux Tapestry


The Bayeux tapestry depicting the Norman conquest of England in 1066 is one of the world’s most famous works of embroidery and a testament to the craft’s longevity. The tapestry is 70m long and consists of some fifty scenes embroidered on unbleached linen with coloured woollen yarns.  Depicting the events leading up to and during the Battle of Hastings, from a Norman point of view, it was meant as a tribute to William the Conqueror and his successful invasion of England, (so ending the Anglo-Saxon reign of England and the start of the Norman claim to the crown).It is likely that it was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William’s half-brother, and made in England—not Bayeux—in the 1070s.



Social Expression:

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History of Samplers – V&A Museum

Embroidery became much more popular as a woman’s activity in the Middle Ages.  But what else was a girl do to do? They weren’t allowed to be educated and reading was also prohibited. And so embroidery samplers (stitch books – to record embroidery stitches and practice patterns and decoration) became a rite of passage for young girls. A vital way for women to display their craft skills (and so domestic ability) but also an important outlet for social comment and artistic expression.


Political Statement:

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Suffragette March (1897)

In the late 19th century women were becoming increasingly frustrated women by their restricted lives but interestingly they used embroidery to display their discontent. Haunted by the stereotypical image of the “strong-minded woman” in masculine clothes, pebble-thick glasses and galoshes created by the cartoonists of the day, The Suffragette Movement chose instead to present a fashionable, feminine image.  And this extended to their marches and meetings; for which exquisitely crafted, carefully appliqued and decorated flags, banners, rosettes and sashes were used to display their demands for ‘Votes for Women’ ‘Deeds not Words’ and ‘Democracy Begins at Home’.


Love Letters:  

Archive: Library of Birmingham
Embroidered notes, whispering sweet nothings, reached the height of popularity during the First World War 1914-1918. Strips of silk organza were originally hand-embroidered by French and Belgian women in their homes or at refugee camps, but as demand increased, (an estimated 10 million were made), production was moved to Parisian factories.  They were hugely popular with British and American soldiers who bought the cards as momentos to send home to loved ones.  Depicting forget-me-nots and pansy flowers, bluebirds, patriotic messages and symbols; these beautiful greetings would have been sent home giving no indication of what the soldiers were experiencing, sparing mothers and wives from the true horrors of war.


Communal Activity:  


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Passing on traditional craft skills in Sanjiang Dong

Women sewing in groups here usually conjures up images of the WI but all over the world today women come together to embroider. From Egypt to the Ukraine and from the Palestine to huge competitions in China


And finally as a

Subversive Story-Teller:



Controversial artist, Tracey Emin has used embroidery throughout her career to move the traditional to question the modern.  From the tent embroidered with the names of Everyone I Ever Slept With 1963-1995 (since destroyed in a fire) to her 2014 exhibition, The Last Great Adventure is You,  which featured large embroidered hangings with mis-spelt rantings and musings on her early adulthood. Plundering her personal emotions for display, Emin’s message is not as much a political message, as a universal one.

And where the subversives lead, the fashion houses follow.  Today embroidery has become a leading fashion trend, seen on runways everywhere. From Alexander McQueen to Stella McCartney, the top lot are all stitched up.

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And if you need yet more convincing try;

SEP Jordan’s hand-embroidered shirts and accessories – blending Middle-Eastern craftsmanship with modern Italian style. SEP creations are one-of-a-kind ethical fashion accessories, distinguished by their intricate embroidery, geometric patterns and sophisticated colors.

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Each piece is hand embroidered by women continuing a cross-stitch technique that has been passed down from generation to generation.

SEP Jordan’s pieces are produced by Palestinian women in the Jerash refugee camp in Jordan, otherwise known as the Gaza camp. SEP stands for “social enterprise project”,




Featured Image:  New Series Artwork by Chilean artist, Jose Rhombus. Source:



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