Among the two classifications of the craft of embroidery is what we refer to as free embroidery. Free embroidery is characterized as having designs that are applied without any matka regard whatsoever to the weave of the fabric used. The most well-known example of free embroidery is crewel embroidery, or crewelwork, which appeared more than a thousand years ago and is still popular today.
Crewel embroidery is a form of free embroidery that uses wool and various embroidery stitches to make designs that are usually raised and dimensional. The stitches specifically follows a design outline applied to the fabric. The design outline is either screen printed onto the fabric, or transferred to the fabric by using modern transfer pens. It can also be ironed on using transfer sheets. This is not to disregard the old methods like the “prick and pounce” method. The old methods work just as well as the new ones. The “prick and pounce” involves pricking the design outlines on paper with a needle to make holes along the lines, and then forcing powdered chalk or pounce material through the holes to make the outline on the fabric.
Traditional crewel embroidery designs are often considered as Jacobean embroidery. Jacobean embroidery originally refers to the styles that flourished during the reign of King James I of England back in the 17th century. Today it is more commonly used to describe embroidery used to furnish plant and animal designs by working a variety of stitches with two-ply wool on linen.
For the fabric used, linen or cotton is usually used for the crewel technique, although recently it is also done on other fabrics like the Matka Silk, Cotton Velvet, Rayon Velvet, Silk Organza, Net Fabric and Jute. Crewel embroidery is done on firm and closely woven fabric like these because they can support the weight of the stitches of the crewel technique.
Special materials are also required for crewel embroidery, like the need for crewel needles and an embroidery hoop. Crewel needles are similar to the general sewing needle. The difference between the two is that the crewel needle has a longer eye than the sewing needle. This is for easier threading of multiple embroidery threads and thicker yarns, which crewel wool is. The embroidery hoop is needed to stretch the fabric and keep it secure for the stitching. It gives some amount of tension on the stitches, and the design does not come out distorted.
The variety of stitches used in crewel embroidery is to create the textured and colorful effects needed on the whole design. The crewel wool used for the stitches is thicker than silk and cotton embroidery threads, meant to create the raised and dimensional look to the design. There are also a variety of techniques as to the combination of stitches involved.
Crewel embroidery is most often and best used for decorating curtains, wall hangings, pillows and cushions. It is still one of the most used forms of embroidery today because of its stylish essence, colorful effects, and dimensional feel.