Threads of Traditions – Crewel Embroidery

Threads of Traditions – Crewel Embroidery

Crewel embroidery

I love Embroidery! Whether it is my grandmother’s hand embroidered pillow which I used for many years or my mom’s various cross stiched wall decor….I have treasured them all. I have always been fascinated by the subtlety conveyed in these pieces. A lightness of stitch combined with exemplary technical technique creates a truly unique vision.  Crewel is one such special kind of embroidery done with a hook commonly used for drapery and upholstery. In this embroidery, rows of chain stitches are done with hook from solid patterns,  usually rotating from centre. As a result of it an embossed effect is created which adds richness to the textile.

Crewel embroidery usually carries floral and creeper designs. The designs are available in assortment of colours ranging from a single colour to multi colour embroidery. Its price of course varies according to the amount of embroidery done on the material.

Also known as wool embroidery, Crewel has been around for centuries. The word crewel in fact is derived from an old Welsh term meaning wool. The word referred to the wool yarn used for stitching and not the style of embroidery. Traditionally, heavy wools were used for this type of embroidery. Today we can choose from a wide variety of yarns and threads to get the desired effect.

Different Types of Crewel furnishings

Crewel is one of the most difficult stitchery technique to master universally, aand is considered ideal for pillows, curtains, clothing, and wall hangings. The use of tightly-woven fabrics enables stitchers to create an infinite variety of shapes. There are a great number of stitches which is employed in crewel embroidery. These stitches add texture and depth to the finished piece. 

The History of Crewel Embroidery

It is difficult to narrow down the origins of crewel to a specific region. Fragments have been found in North Mongolia showing a face of a nomad warrior, dating back to 1st century BC. There are biblical references of similar embroidery on curtains, altar clothes, and other hangings. These were embellished with wool embroidery that decorated Jewish tabernacles. Crewel was popular in England from 400 AD to 1400 AD. To sum up it seems wool embroidery has been around for centuries. However, the word crewel or cruell referred to the wool yarn and not the style of embroidery.

It wasn’t until the reign of James I, the first quarter of the 17th Century, that much of the exotic designs we know today were created and refined. Some evidence shows this was caused by the increase in trade between East India company of India and England.

The Art Of Creating Crewel Embroidery

How to make Crewel

The crewel embroidery is similar to stain stitch which is done in the embossed pattern in mostly floral designs. White coloured fabric is used traditionally for this embroidery. The fabric is first washed and ironed to get an even surface on the fabric and also to avoid any shrinkage in future. The design for embroidery needs to be printed on the fabric before starting any needle work. The design is screen printed on the fabric and many other stencil printing techniques are also developed. The temporary printing on the fabric can also be done with a pricking method where the dotted outline is formed by pricking through the design printed on the paper. Once the design is fixed, the crewel embroidery is carried out from centre to the outline to form velvet like finish. A special needle is used for crewel embroidery.

Most of these chain stitch tasks are carried out with the help of hook which is also known as “ari”. The frame or hoop is the prime requirement for this kind of embroidery as it tightens the fabric. This embroidery requires the use of both hands and hence a large rectangular frame is used for large piece of work. 

Kashmiri Crewel Embroidery

Kashmiri Crewel

Crewel or hook embroidery locally known as Zalakadozi, is one of the specialized form of embroidery practiced in Kashmir. Several articles are made using this embroidery. The base cloth is same for these items and that determines what the product will be used for and what manner of decoration will be done. The design range from Persian to French , from Chinar leaf(Chinar is an important tree in the valley and its leaf is amply used for embroidery), to Shikargarh(Hunting Scenes)etc. The base color of the fabric is generally cream or white or similar pastel shades.  The design are traced into the fabric by the professional and then embroider works with the hook needle.The design appear as a chain stitch on the surface.
Kashmir embroidery and shawls are well known for the beauty of colour, texture and design. The wool embroidery of Kashmir is universally famous especially the shawls and woolen garments.

I have immense admiration for the beauty of “Tradition Textiles’ intricately embroidered crewel furnishings. I think of the many hands of expertise that are involved in the creation of those products as well as the legacy of the embroidery itself. I hope by sharing my knowledge of this experience with the customers that we can be more aware of the artisan community.


Barsha Sharma

Barsha Sharma

Editor of The Square - A homemaker at heart, digital marketing enthusiast deeply involved in green gifting as a solution. Loves cooking, also likes to handpick collectibles that stand out as works of art.

Leave a Response