Art Embroidery: An Expression Of The Common

By May Sembera

Art embroidery was a popular trend in Victorian America from the year 1877, and began to fade out in 1907.  Women turned to decorating their homes instead of just keeping them neat and orderly.  Art embroidery often conjures up images of society women in stitching circles during their leisure time, but in fact women at the opposite end of the financial spectrum were those practicing art embroidery.  It was an innovative opportunity for women to earn their own living, not only by producing decorative works to sell, but also by becoming teachers.  There were even experts who worked as traveling teachers.  There were embroidered magazines for many of these women that offered premiums programs so they could create their works with little or no cash outlay.

There were auxiliary societies all over America and Canada that taught the art embroidery style.  Art embroidery can be recognized by its distinctly Victorian design characteristics and motifs.  The most common motifs were floral and the most common items were centerpieces, doilies, tablecloths, napkins, tray cloths, sofa pillows, and “novelty items” like picture frames.  It also is characterized by extreme botanical realism, and natural, intricate shading by use of the Kensington stitch (a shaded flat stitch worked in many different shades of the same color).  Fine white linens or tinted brown linens were embroidered with silk.

It came into vogue when in 1877; it was featured at the first World’s Fair in Philadelphia.  Works from the Royal School of Art-Needlework of South Kensington were put on display.


Cardwell, Donna. Silk Art Embroidery: a Woman’s History of Ornament & Empowerment. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub., 2008. Print.

Crewel Embroidery, Old and New,. New York: Hearthside, 1963. Print.

Symonds, Mary. Elementary Embroidery. London: J. Hogg, 1915. Print.

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