Logo Embroidery History
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Embroidery and most other fiber and needlework arts are believed to originate in the Orient and Middle East. Primitive humankind quickly found that the stitches used to join animal skins together could also be used for embellishment.

In 1964, a Cro-Magnon hunter’s fossilized remains, 30,000B.C., was found at a dig in Sungir near Vladimir, Russia. His fur clothing, boots and hat were heavily decorated with hand stitched horizontal rows of ivory beads - bead embroidery? You bet!

Chinese bead embroidery in Siberia, 5000 and 6000B.C., include elaborately drilled shells stitched with decorative designs onto animal hides. Mosaics of Byzantium, 500A.D., depict embroidery of clothing with silk thread, precious stones and pearls. It is possible the Chinese thread embroidery from 3500B.C. was the origin of thread embroidery as we know it today.

Recorded history, sculptures, paintings and vases depicting inhabitants of various ancient civilizations wearing thread embroidered clothing date back over 3,000 years including those found in Greece 400B.C., and Babylon and Syria, 700A.D. Archeological excavations in Ur, 1544, revealed high standards of thread embroidery from ancient times such as a pure gold thread embroidered and woven shroud in the tomb of Empress Honorius dating 400A.D. The gold threads were melted down and weighed 36 pounds in pure metal. It is a shame such a historical item was destroyed.

During the 1100’s, smaller seed pearls were sewn on vellum to decorate religious items and from the 1200’s through 1300’s beads were embroidered onto clothing. By 1500A.D., embroideries had become more lavish in Europe, as well as other areas of the world. From this period through the 1700’s elaborate thread and bead embroidery gained popularity. Bead embroidery could be found on layette baskets, court dress, home furnishings and many other items.

Elaborate freehand stitched thread embroidery began to dwindle with the machine age of the 1800’s when Art needlework and Berlin wool-work appeared on the scene and flourished with the Victorian era. Berlin wool-work, a canvas thread embroidery, was popular through the 1870’s only to be replaced in popularity by counted cross-stitch of the 1880’s, using square meshed canvas with stitch-by-stitch thread designs. With the introduction of printed patterns in color, the need for counting each stitch was passé in many instances. Although elaborate freehand thread embroidery was waning in popularity, bead embroidery was beginning its heyday along with the new needlework stitches of the 1800’s.

When techniques for manufacture of smaller beads and drilling bead holes evolved, beads were more commonly used with embroidery along with the invention of fine steel needles. Art movements and social and economical events affected beadwork design including bead embroidery.

Thread and bead embroidery can be found on ornamental wear and home furnishings of people around the world. Thread embroidery encompasses hundreds of stitches. Today, complex thread embroidery patterns, fancy metallic thread and beads can be applied using sewing machines in addition to hand stitching.

Bead embroidery has been around for ages. However, there are no known beadwork samples that closely relate to all the many known thread embroidery stitches. There are hundreds of thread stitches that can be converted to beading and wouldn’t it be great to have a sample of them all? We will begin some easy stitches and add more in future Beadwork issues. We are making beadwork history with this addition of embroidery conversion stitches from thread to beads.

Resources for Historical Information

Gold & Silver Embroidery by Kit Pyman, Search Press, Ltd., Tunbridge Wells, Kent, 1987

Victorian Embroidery by Barbara Morris, Universe Books, New York, NY, 1962

Mary Thomas Embroidery Book by Mary Thomas, Dover Publications, NY, 1983

A History of Costume, by Carl Kohler, Edited by Emma Von Sichart, David McKay Company, Inc., NY, (no date)

The Art of Oriental Embroidery by Young Y. Chung, Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1979

Embroidery and Fabric Collage by Eirian Short, Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1967

Needlepoint, The Art of Canvas Embroidery by Mary Rhodes, Mandarin Publishers Limited, Hong Kong, 1974

The Beading Book by Julia Jones, Lacis Publications, Berkeley, CA, 1993

Designing for Needlepoint and Embroidery, from Ancient and Primitive Sources by Jan Messent, Macmillan Publishing, Co., Inc., NY, 1976

The History of Beads, from 30,000B.C. to the Present by Lois Sherr Dubin, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, NY, 1987

Stitchery, Needlepoint, Appliqué, and Patchwork, a Complete Guide by Shirley Marein, The Viking Press, NY, 1974

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