by Tegan Kehoe
Museum Textile Services recently acquired a number of issues of “Needlecraft: The Home Arts Magazine.” The magazine was published in the first half of the 20th century and these examples are from the 1920s and 30s. Several articles feature the same needlecraft techniques as those in some of the textiles that we have conserved!
One example, from the February 1934 issue of Needlecraft, shows crewel embroidery, or crewelwork. Crewel, as the article explains, is distinguished from other styles of embroidery because it is done with wool yarn rather than silk or cotton thread. The result is a bold pattern that can be made with a wide variety of stitches. Most articles in Needlecraft do not include the patterns, which were sold separately, but they do include detailed descriptions of the process. This article describes patterns for a set of bookends, a cushion, and a handbag.
One crewel embroidery object that Museum Textile Services has restored is an early 20th century chair. The embroidery was done by the owner's grandmother, who was no doubt exposed to magazine articles such as ours. The family still uses the chair, so the goal of conservation was to repair and stabilize the fabric for continued use.
Both the chair and the patterns from the magazine are reflective of Jacobean style, which hearkens back to 17th-century England but has stayed popular for crewel embroidery over the centuries. This style was especially popular during the early 20th-century revival of interest in colonial-era crafts. Jacobean embroidery features stylized plants and forest animals, such as the flowers, birds, and butterflies shown here.
More recently, the MTS study collection received a donation of crewel-embroidered curtains made by the mother of one of our clients. The client is downsizing her home and can only fit part of her mother's impressive needlework legacy. What makes this donation all the more meaningful is the discovery that the client graduated from Oberlin College in the same class as Camille's mother!
Stay tuned for more examples of textiles conserved at MTS that we learned more about from Needlecraft Magazine.