Embroidery is an age old art form that has decorated clothing, bedding, and household goods for hundreds of years. Using colored threads to create patterns has dated back to the time of ancient Egypt, when women sewed metallic threads into clothing for decoration. The trend caught on with Babylonians, Phoenicians, and Hebrews, who all began incorporating embroidered pieces into their clothing.
The oldest embroidered piece in existence is the world famous Bayeux Tapestry, dating from approximately 1066. Although the piece is called a tapestry, it is actually as embroidered composition reaching an astounding 231 feet long. Recalling the Battle of Hastings, the piece still hangs in the town of Bayeux in the province of Normandy in France. This beautiful embroidered piece is though to have been created by over 100 noble women in the town and is speculated to take several years to complete.
European embroidery changed a great deal over the years, but became a highlight of fashion during the 18th Century in France. These elaborate embroidery designsÂ—often made with metallic and silk threadsÂ—decorated everything from womenÂ’s dresses to menÂ’s breeches. This style soon caught on in popularity with the rest of the continent and soon men, women, and children were wearing heavily embroidered fashion. The decoration also served as a symbol of status and wealth in addition to simply adding glitz and glamour to the garments.
Embroidery continued in popularity and soon became a right of passage for girls to be taught by their mothers the time tested stitches and often completed a lovely sampler to showcase the different stitches and techniques. These samplers were passed down for generations and have been sold at auction for phenomenal amounts. Another popular use of embroidery was to dress up homely clothing. Often, homespun cloth or poor quality purchased cloth was the most a family could afford to outfit the members, so the matron of the house embroidered the clothing to make the outfits look fancier.
The end of the 19th Century saw founding of embroidery shops where scores of women completed the delicate stitches by hand. The year 1880 saw the advent of the first embroidery machine, which further mechanized the embroidery shops and produced even more products. Switzerland soon became the forerunner in embroidery designs and technology, with the United States in second, as shops popped up in New York City and Chicago.
Although the times have changed, the embroidery stitches and techniques have remained the same. Technology has greatly advanced and left the 1880s embroidery machine in the dust. TodayÂ’s machines can replicate thousands of pattern by just a simple push of a button.
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