What is crewelwork?
Crewel embroidery, or crewelwork, is a type of surface embroidery using wool. A wide variety of different embroidery stitches are used to follow a design outline applied to the fabric. The technique is at least a thousand years old.
The origin of the word crewel is unknown but is thought to come from an ancient word describing the curl in the staple, the single hair of the wool. The word crewel in the 1700s meant worsted, a wool yarn with twist, and thus crewel embroidery was not identified with particular styles of designs, but rather was embroidery with the use of this wool thread.
Crewel wool has a long staple; it is fine and can be strongly twisted. Modern crewel wool is a fine, 2-ply or 1-ply yarn available in many different colours. Crewel embroidery is often associated with England in the 17th and 18th centuries, and from England was carried to the American colonies.
The crewel technique is not a counted-thread embroidery, but a style of free embroidery. Crewelwork had its heyday in Britain in the 17th century but has come in and out of fashion several times since then.
Designs range from the traditional to more contemporary patterns. Traditional design styles are often referred to as Jacobean embroidery featuring highly stylized floral and animal designs with flowing vines and leaves.