Artists Magazine

A Stitch in Time

Defined simply as “needlework,” the origins of the word stitchery can be traced back to 1600 A.D. Prior to this, as early as the eighth or ninth century, amateur needlewomen produced embroidered textiles. In the Middle Ages, European artisans used silk thread infused with fine metals to embroider elaborate religious scenes on satin or linen canvas for use as church vestments, as seen in Chasuble (Opus Anglicanum), left.

As wealth spread beyond the church and the monarchy in Europe and into a broader swath of the population, a larger segment of society could afford to buy or make richly embroidered clothing and other domestic items. For example, the lush set of valances depicting the Garden of Eden (opposite top) was probably used to decorate a bed.

Before the Industrial Revolution, all textiles were made by hand and required the efforts of a diverse range of people, both men and women.


The history of embroidery in America predates the Pilgrims. Native American women were particularly skilled at porcupine quill embroidery, using the animal hair, teeth

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