Crewel Wool and Jacobean Embroidery

Crewel embroidery is a beautiful type of surface embroidery that’s been around for over a thousand years. Traditional crewel work is both about a certain design of embroidery and about the threads that are used.

Crewel thread is a strong thread spun from wool; it is the fiber that technically makes an embroidered item crewelwork.

Crewel work has become increasingly popular, and on this page you will find links to various patterns of crewelwork, stitches used in crewel embroidery, crewel embroidery yarns, and the difference between crewel work and Jacobean crewel embroidery.

Crewel Work

As we said, crewel work is embroidery that is done using wool threads.  Because the threads are much heavier than embroidery flosses, the finished designs are much thicker and heavier than that of traditional embroidery.

The rich, textured effect is due to the wool yarn. Unlike cotton embroidery threads, crewel wool is thicker and creates a raised, dimensional feel to the work.

Crewel Embroidery by C. Sabath 1979 - Goods StoreCrewel Embroidery - Dry Goods Store by C. Sabath - 1979

Like most embroidery, crewel work involves the use of an embroidery hoop.  Depending on the size of the piece, small portable embroidery hoops up to some larger, free-standing embroidery frames, which are also known as slates, may be used.

Using these hoops or frames to stretch the surface material tightly before stitching ensures that there is an even amount of tension in the stitches and that the pattern is not distorted.

Crewel embroidery is traditionally done on woven linen twill which has a looser weave than most other fabrics. The looser woven fabric is best able to accommodate the thick crewel yarn, and a firm fabric is required to support the weight of the stitching.

Tightly woven fabrics can be used, but this makes the process more difficult and the yarns will wear much more quickly.

The stitches used in traditional embroidery are also used in crewel work. There is no difference between stitches used in other types of embroidery and those used for crewel embroidery.

Some of the traditional embroidery stitches are used more often in crewel.  For example, filling stitches with lattice patterns are very common in crewelwork since many patterns have large surfaces to fill.

Some of the techniques and stitches used are listed below:

  1. Satin stitches, used to create flat and filled areas within the design
  2. Couched stitches, used to create a trellis effect within an area of the design
  3. Outlining stitches such as the stem stitch, the chain stitch, and the split stitch
  4. Seed stitches applied to give an area of the design a lightly shaded effect
  5. French knots, used for added texture
  6. Long and Short soft shading
  7. Laid and Couched Work

History of Crewel Embroidery

The origin of the word “crewel” is unknown, but many believe it comes from an ancient word describing the curl in the staple, which is the single hair of the wool. Crewel has a long staple; it is fine and can be strongly twisted.

In the early seventeenth century, the word “crewel” meant “worsted” which was a wool yarn with a twist.

Because of this, at the time, crewel embroidery was not identified with particular styles of designs, but rather was embroidery with the use of this wool thread.

Crewel embroidery is often associated with the late sixteenth and the first quarter of the seventeenth centuries during the reign of King James I in England. During this time, large and grand houses were built.

Wealthy ladies used crewel embroidery to create elaborate and expensive bed hangings, cushions, and curtains for their upper-class homes.

They used a method known as the “pinprick and chalk” or “prick and pounce” to transfer the design outlines.

The outlines were printed on paper, and by pricking the outline with a needle to make perforations along the lines, they could then force powdered chalk or “pounce material” through the holes onto the fabric.

This method then replicated the design onto the material.

Jacobean Embroidery

Jacobean embroidery is a term used to describe a style of embroidery design or pattern, rather than an embroidery technique.  It is often associated with crewel embroidery. 

The pattern, which features strong Eastern influences, was inspired by the ancient Tree of Life, and was designed with fanciful and exotic birds, plants, stags, squirrels and other familiar animals.

Pattern of a slip with flowers taken from a 17th-century embroidered curtainPattern of a slip with flowers taken from a 17th-century embroidered curtain[2]

The name “Jacobean” has its roots in the reign of King James I of England. (In Latin is “Jacobus”).  Under his reign, this floral textile design became popular.

Jacobean embroidery is often confused with crewel work, which, as you now know, is surface embroidery done in wool. 

Some Jacobean designs were worked in wool, but they were also worked in silk and might incorporate metal threads.  Today, Jacobean embroidery designs are worked in a variety of fibers combined to create a stunning effect.

Modern Crewel Work

Although crewel embroidery was most popular in Britain in the seventeenth century, it has come in and out of style many times since then. Today, crewel work continues to be used to adorn curtains and wall hangings, but it is also used to decorate cushions, clothing, lamp shades, and handbags.

The use of a strong wool thread found in crewel work is perfect for upholstered items.

One major difference in traditional crewel work and crewel embroidery today is the large range of colors and kinds of yarn that are available. There are many different kinds of wool and wool-blends to choose from.

You can find traditional Appleton wool, the beautifully smooth Merino wool, and even hand-spun wool mixed with silk, mohair, or alpaca fibers.  The color range of the crewel yarn today is at times overwhelming but definitely makes the most beautifully shaded designs.

In regards to crewel patterns, traditional crewel work designs focussed on flowers, leaves, and other motifs from nature; it is now used in modern and abstract patterns as well.

Crewel Embroidery by C. Sabath - SeasonsCrewel Embroidery by C. Sabath - Seasons

Nearly any design can be crewel embroidered, but you will find that the designs are larger than those of other types of embroidery to accommodate the thicker fibers.

When thinking about the fabric you will use, keep in mind that classic crewel embroidery is worked on linen.  However, modern crewel work fabrics consist of jute, silk, cotton, wool, and sometimes even synthetic fabric.

You will also need a special crewel needle. These needles are long and have a large eye to accommodate the thicker yarn.

And be sure not to forget the ever-important tool: your embroidery hoop!  The fabric will need to be kept taut just like in any embroidery work.

Crewel work is lovely and is a great way to expand your skills and experience with embroidery.

Take a look at all of the wonderful links below to get you started!!

Crewel Wool and Jacobean Embroidery

Supporting Products and links: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. We make a small commission on sales through the affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your purchase and your support! Please see our full Affiliate Statement for more information.

 Big Embroidery

Big Embroidery #ad


Big Embroidery is all about stitching beautiful designs up fast using yarn instead of embroidery thread. by Nancy Nicholson - Paperback - Published 2018 Affiliate Link to Amazon

 Crewel Birds

Crewel Birds #ad

This book has six projects, each explained with detailed step-by-step instructions and clear photographs, with design templates and a full stitch gallery providing everything readers need to recreate them with ease. The projects comprise a phoenix, rooster, common pheasant, mallard duck, flamingo and golden pheasant. by Hazel Blomkamp - Paperback Affiliate Link to Amazon

 Crewel Embroidery

Crewel Embroidery #ad

In this beautiful book, the reader will learn how to create seven stunning crewelwork embroideries inspired by traditional fairytales, including The Wizard of Oz, Karolcia, the Wild Swans and Cinderella. by Tatiana Popova - Paperback - Published 2020 Affiliate Link to Amazon

 Crewel Twists

Crewel Twists #ad

Fresh Ideas for Jacobean Embroidery!

Crewel Twists shows needle artists how to be creative with fabric, threads, beads and alternative stitches, borrowing techniques from other forms of needlework, and still producing a product that is typical of the crewel or Jacobean style of embroidery.
by Hazel Blomkamp - Paperback - Published 2019 Affiliate Link to Amazon

A-Z of Crewel Embroidery

A-Z of Crewel Embroidery #ad

Presented in an easy to use style, this book is overflowing with hundreds of step-by-step photographs and invaluable hints for creating over 16 original designs. by Country Bumpkin - Paperback - Published 2015

Basics - Crewel Embroidery (Video)

A video with clear instructions on the introduction to crewel embroidery and its shading. You Tube

Block Your Crewel Embroidery

Sometimes a visual demonstration is handier than written instructions. Watch this YouTube video on how to 'block' your crewelwork using a corkboard, pins and a water spray. The Crewel Works Company via YouTube

Blocking - How To

After finishing a crewel piece, it is time to get all those creases out of the linen without squashing the wool. Learn how with this tutorial. Anna Scott Embroidery

Blocking Your Crewel Embroidery

Blocking your completed stitching will remove all these marks and creases. This article will explain how. Trish Burr

Crewel Yarn - Separating

Knowing how to correctly separate your yarn for crewel projects will ensure that you have the right weight of yarn for your project. Watch this video. By eHow Crafts at YouTube

Embroidery Threads

What is the best type of thread to use for your next project? Crewel Ghoul

Jacobean Embroidery Tutorial

Learn background, instructions and common stitches used in Jacobean embroidery. The Sewing Directory

Jacobean Embroidery vs Crewel Embroidery

What is the difference between these two types of embroidery. Jacobean is often referred to as a type of crewel embroidery. Needle Thread

Laid work

Laid work is a common element in crewelwork. Here is information on laid work. Fulford Tapestry

Needlework Blocking and Care

Time to block your completed needlework piece. How to take care of a needlework piece. Learn here! Tipnut

Pattern - Hanging Flower

A free pattern in the Jacobean style of hand embroidery. Needle 'n Thread

Pattern - Hot Air Balloon

A free jacobean embroidery design for beginners to practice crewel stitches. Owl Crafts

Pattern - Jacobean Fuschia

A little embroidery pattern in the Jacobean style. Needle 'n Thread

Pattern - Pansy

This tutorial will explain and show how to thread paint pansies. Crewel Ghoul

Pattern - Primrose

A free tutorial on how to crewel stitch a primrose. Stitch Floral

Pattern - Rose

Pattern - Rose #ad

This embroidered rose is a joy to stitch. Download it now. Affiliate Link to DMC

Pattern - Single Flower and Leaves

A Jacobean style free hand embroidery pattern. Needle 'n Thread

Pattern - Summer Wreath

Pattern - Summer Wreath

Add this blooming summer wreath pattern to a tote bag, pillow or other household accessories. DMC

Pattern - Tulip

A free pattern and tutorial for a tulip. Stitch Floral

Satin Stitch How-To

The satin stitch is a common crewel stitch. Here find step-by-step instructions with illustrations on how to do the satin stitch. Sublime Stitching

Stitch - Buttonhole Stitch

A tutorial on how to do the buttonhole stitch. Treasurie

Stitch - Chain Stitch Tutorial

Stitch - Chain Stitch Tutorial

This video and photo tutorial demonstrates how to stitch the chain stitch. Staff

Stitch - Couching

Couching is used in crewel and hand embroidery as a colorful filling stitch. Learn more about couching here. Needle N Thread

Stitch - Fishbone Stitch

Fishbone stitch is used to capture the shape and delicate form of leaves, feathers and other parts of a picture that may need to use a filling stitch. Treasurie

Stitch - Laid and Couching Stitch

Excellent illustration and explanation on how to embroider the laid and couching stitch. AIC Wiki

Stitch - Laid and Couching Work

A video tutorial demonstrates laid & couched work. The Crewel Works Company via YouTube

Stitch - Long and Short Stitch

Want to fill in an area on crewelwork with stitches? Try the long and short stitch. Sublime Stitching

Stitch - Satin Stitch

Satin stitch is a basic crewel stitch used to feature dimensional elements. The Spruce Crafts

Stitch - Satin Stitch

Learn how to embroider the satin stitch with this tutorial.

Stitch - Seed Stitch

Seed stitch embroidery, also known as rice stitch, is very aptly named. It looks like a farmer scattered seeds on the embroidery. Treasurie

Stitch - Stem Stitch

How to do the stem stitch. Sublime Stitching

Stitch - Stem Stitch Tutorial

How to do the stem stitch embroidery. Treasurie

The Crewel Work Company

The Crewel Work Company are crewel work specialists - designer, tutor, author, Phillipa Turnbull researches designs in Castles and Country Houses throughout the UK to create crewel work kits in the style that she and her many followers enjoy. Learn more and purchase crewel kits. The Crewel Work Company

Thread - How to finish thread

Learn how to end threads when hand embroidering. Stitch Floral

Vintage Crewel Pattern

A free crewel pattern to download. Two Kitties

What is Crewel Embroidery?

This articles explains crewel embroidery. Wikipedia

Yarn - Crewel Yarn

What is Crewel Yarn? What type of yarn is used for crewel embroidery? Wise Geek

Yarn Yardage Leftover

Crewel is a great way to use those last bits of yarn. Kristin Roach explains how she uses leftover yarn in crewel embroidery. By Kristin Roach at Makezine

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