The history of embroidery is almost synonym with the history of humankind. Scientists have traced back its origin to the Cro-Magnon era (30,000 B.C.). Recent discoveries from that dawn of time were downright impressive. Archeologists found the fossilized relics of richly decorated and hand-stitched clothes, footwear, and hats.

If you wondered back in 2017 why famous fashion magazines happily announced the comeback of fashionable embroidery on runways, in homes, and the streets, it was because embroidery knew times of hype and times of shadow. Today, we will discuss the history of embroidery in brief, emphasizing on its present uses and trendiness.

What is Embroidery?

We have talked about embroidery and its modern uses (monogramming, especially) many times before. Our loyal customers also use our embroidery services to bring in a personal touch to bathrobes, towels, and even slippers – particularly when they plan to offer customized gifts to their loved ones or to add a note of elegance to their hotels’ accessories. But what is embroidery?

The definition is rather simple: embroidery is both art and science – the craft of decorating fabric and other materials with threads or yarn while using a needle to apply them.

History of Embroidery: Where it all began

Ancient History

According to experts, the craft of embroidery started in the Orient and the Middle East. Stitching was at its beginning, as primitive humankind was joining pieces of animal skins to make garments. However, as primitive as they were, our ancestors used their early needles and threads to embellish their clothing, as the need, respect, and longing for beauty are as old as time itself. Plenty of antiquities (vases, engravings, and paintings) originating in humanity’s earliest ages and gathered from inhabited cradles of ancient civilizations show people wearing clothes enhanced with hand-stitched embroidery.

All that glitters…

In 5000 and 6000 B.C. Siberia, archeologists found animal hides featuring shells stitched onto them. The stitches were more than elaborate. The seashells had small and carefully drilled holes in them. Moreover, the shells formed clear patterns and decorative designs to embellish the hides. The idea of adding extra elements to embroidery spread like wildfire.

There is no wonder, thus, that around 3500 B.C., in ancient China, clothing embroideries were featuring silk threads, stones, beads, and genuine pearls. According to the discovered recorded history of embroidery – pictures, vases, engravings – the Chinese were using chain stitch embroidery with silk threads back in 5th-3rd century B.C. and were having a penchant for adornments to boot.

It is safe to say, at this point, that embroidery as a form of crafty art endured and developed. Proof stands in the historical record of all ancient civilizations. As time went by, embroidery became more complex and present in peoples’ lives.

A Way to Celebrate

The history of embroidery and religion shared a common path for hundreds of years. For instance, during the 1000’s, religious garments and items sported small pearls sewn on vellum, together with beads and other small stones embroidered onto clothes, headwear, and ceremonial attire.

However, the popularity of embroidery went beyond the religious realm and entered peoples’ homes and daily outfits. In Europe, as well as in other parts of the world, sophisticated and lavish embroidery characterized layette baskets, court dress, home fittings, folk costumes, footwear, hats, capes, and home accessories.

By 1700 A.D., embroidery accompanied by pearls, beads, small golden tokens, precious stones, and fine threads (silk, golden or silver threads) were virtually everywhere, from clothes to drapes, and from leather boots to towels and washcloths.  

Embroidery as an Icon of Social Status

As you can see, from animal hides’ stitching to adding pearls and diamonds to clothes, embroidery walked a very long path. Consequently, elaborately embroidered dresses, household items, and formal outfits became a sign of wealth, power, and social status. Roman generals wore pearls embellished in their garments to show status, while ancient Persia, India, China, Japan, Byzantium, medieval and baroque Europe were all about enhancing their embroidery techniques.

Today, even if we enjoy the results of the industrial revolution and have computer-based embroideries, we still have artisans of the old who pass the tradition of hand embroidery from generation to generation in countries such as Mexico, Vietnam, and Eastern Europe. People all over the world insist that the history of embroidery should endure and should gain newer and newer chapters.

A Brief History of Embroidery Techniques

Medieval England set the tone for what we would later call fashion embroidery. Back then, professional workshops and guilds were competing with each other for making the most intricate and delicate needlework. They contributed to the birth and rise of the Opus Anglicanum or “English work,” – an embroidery technique famous all over Europe.

The Industrial Revolution changed the face of embroidery, however. The elaborate freehand stitched thread embroidery saw a downfall together with the rise of the machine age in the 1800s. It was the time for Art needlework and Berlin wool-work to take the scene.

Berlin wool-work kept its popularity through the 1870s only to take steps back and allow the counted cross-stitch of the 1880s to take its place on the podium. Moreover, during those times, history recorded the introduction of printed patterns in color, the new needlework of the 1800s, and bead embroidery.

The shuttle embroidery discovery changed the game again in the clothing industry. We owe many innovations to Joshua Heilmann, who worked to improve the design of the hand embroidery machine. It snowballed into the invention and development of sewing machines in the 1860s and to the invention of hand-powered embroidery looms in the 1870s.

Where we are today

If you ever had monogramming services to personalize your luxury bath towels or customize your 5-star hotel terry velour bathrobes, you know that nowadays, embroidery machines work with the aid of computers, which make the process easier and faster. Besides offering a myriad of designs, they also allow the mass production of elaborate artworks.

While you should follow the monogram etiquette when it comes to embroidering personal items such as handkerchiefs and pillowcases, bathrobes, towels, and slippers, clothes, and other accessories, there is no stopping you when it comes to embroidering. Companies and brands embroider their logo on promotional items, while clients with an artistic eye and mind choose elaborate designs to turn their clothes and accessories into real works of art.

As we said, since embroidery now can take shapes, form, patterns, and colors that mesmerize the mind and fill the hearts with joy, no wonder embroidered clothes and accessories come back into fashion to everyone’s amazement.

Designers like Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, and others highlighted their embroidered fashion clothes on runways in 2017 and 2018, gaining worldwide praise. If you want to shop the embroidery trend, you can find easily nowadays anything from street-smart jeans to evening gowns.

If you somehow think that only women clothes and accessories feature colorful and intricate embroideries, you should check out Dolce’s and Alexander McQueen’s collections for men.

Final Thoughts

The history of embroidery does not and will not stop here and now. On the contrary, more and more fashion houses emphasize embroidery as an art form. Artisans all over the world strive to keep their traditions alive and pass them to future generations.

Embroidery helped humankind develop, revolutionized industries, and make history. Whenever you want something that is truly unique and special, with added value and intrinsic worth, you can always ask for embroidery services to help you design an artwork that represents you through and through.

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