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The Underrated Haute Couture of Jacobean Needlework

You know how you see painted portraits from 400 years ago, and the subject is wearing clothing with a fancy print? That wasn't printed fabric, but more likely hand-stitched embroidery, an art form available only to the wealthy. The needlework artists developed ever-fancier techniques, such as 3D relief stitching, that incorporated not only thread, but pearls, precious gems, and metal sequins.  

The “Jacobean” style of needlework isn’t so much a kind of sewing technique as it is a vibe (and a reference to the Latin translation of King James I). It refers to a kind of mood board wherein highly stylised mythical creatures, plants, and maidens reign supreme. The Tree of Life was a popular motif. So too were cherubs, chivalrous scenes, or imagery inspired by England’s most recent trade partner: India.

“Crewel” and “stump” work sewing techniques created complex layers of metal, silk and wool threads, adding a richness and dimension to the designs that made them, quite literally, rise from the surface. This included not just clothing and accessories, but precious boxes called “caskets” and hand-sewn “paintings,” frames, and wall panels.

See a selection of this incredible embroidery style from the 17th century at Messy Messy Chic. And don't miss the gloves.

(Image credit: Flickr user Kotomi_)

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