When I was a kid in the 1960s, I embroidered a tea towel to give to my grandmother every year for Christmas. By the time I got to high school, I found I could make decent money embroidering designs and scenes on other people's clothing, because few of my peers knew how to do it. Not many crafters practice the art anymore, although at one time it was almost required for young ladies.
In today’s Etsy Era, in which everyone aspires to be an artisan (or at least shop like one), embroidery is an exotic handicraft, as incomprehensible to most consumers as blowing glass or brewing beer. But from the 16th century on, girls were schooled in the mysteries of needles and thread by creating samplers, which taught them simple stitches as well as their ABCs.
By the end of the 19th century, the ways of embroidery were virtually encoded in every woman’s DNA. Coincidental to embroidery’s ubiquity were improvements in printing technologies, which spawned a proliferation of women’s magazines and catalogs published by thread companies, each packed with embroidery patterns for throw pillows, table runners, and decorative panels. Through embroidery, the first modern do-it-yourself movement was born.
Laura Euler, the author of Arts and Crafts Embroidery, explains the rise and fall of the craft of embroidery, and what to look for in collecting antique examples of the art, at Collectors Weekly.
(Image credit: Laura Euler)