Jacobean Crewelwork: Day 1

Today marks the beginning of my Royal School of Needlework Certificate course with some Jacobean Crewelwork!

Jacobean crewelwork is a 17th century surface embroidery technique that typically depicts exotic flora and fauna and some very comic interpretations of what are allegedly animals. While you do see some squirrels, snails or native English wildlife, many of the beasts were stitched from second-hand descriptions or paintings so are what might be generously described as ‘stylised’.

One things I’ve noticed since I’ve started hunting for Jacobean design inspiration is quite how commonplace it is. Even my own curtains turned out to be Jacobean-inspired!

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The beginning of the day involved sitting down and pawing through some of these wonderful books, making a note of any particular designs I liked or wanted to incorporate in my own work. A lot of these books come with their own templates which makes tracing and copying much easier, rather than trying to work out the outline of a shape from the photographs.

To me, the flowing design of the Tree of Life and the Jacobean style lends itself well to elongated pieces, like screens and scrolls. I had to size the piece within the limitations of my slate frame and to cover enough area to meet the ‘A4 stitch area’ requirement of the Certificate, so the final design has ended up being approximately 40 x 15 cm.

The elements of Jacobean work that I really love are the geometric stitch patterns and the intricate and fantastical flowers. I needed to include at least one insect or beast but I wanted the main focus to be on the flower.

After wrestling with the photocopier to scale up or down certain elements, getting them traced on to paper (tip: much easier with a mechanical pencil – just make sure it makes a dark enough line for easy photocopying) I then had to experiment with placing the main features of the design in the stitching area.

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When that was done, I used another piece of tracing paper on top to experiment with different ways of joining the connecting branches. I’m not much of an artist so some of the curve drawing was a little tricky but it was fun just getting to play around with different constructions to give the piece a different feel. By using an additional sheet of paper over the top, I didn’t have to worry about rubbing out or ruining the original arrangement too.

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Then it was time for tracing number three, incorporating the main trunk and all the individual design elements as well as trying to smooth out any uneven lines. Tracing is quite a slow process and it helps to keep moving around the design, working with the natural curve of your wrist for steadier lines. The final tracing is also on architects’ paper, which is thicker and stronger than tracing paper so you can use a pin to stab the design lines (pricking) without it falling apart. This is for putting charcoal powder through to transfer the design to the fabric.

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Of course, there’s a bit of homework for next time but overall I really enjoyed getting to design my own piece from scratch.  The next part will be thinking about how to use colours, where certain stitches will look best and getting started on the actual fabric. Looking forward to Day 2!

Homework:

  • Pricking the outline
  • Testing colourways for design
  • Making a stitch plan
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3 thoughts on “Jacobean Crewelwork: Day 1

  1. Oh I am so glad I have found you and your blog! I am giving some serious thought about doing the certificate course at the RSN and am very interested in your thoughts on it. Have you ever designed your own work before? This is probably my main concern! It’s a fabulous design, and I’m intrigued to see your posts as you work through it!

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    • I haven’t really done any ‘proper’ design before starting the Certificate but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about or be intimidated by. The way they help you to get started is by first, looking at loads of designs at deciding what you like (e.g. do you really like birds, or round or spikey flowers, bright/dull colours?) and why you like it. Then you can look for designs in books or online to trace motifs from or in embroidery books that often come with lots of templates. You can draw freehand if you like, and some parts of my design I have drawn, but you can use a lot of existing material if you’re not so confident. The RSN does have a brief for all the modules, so for Jacobean you design has to include one beast/insect and one large flower, and the design is expected to be quite traditional, which makes designing a lot easier because you can’t do anything too outlandish.

      I hope that helps but if you have any more questions, just get in touch either here or at astitchornine@gmail.com I think the thing to remember is it is ultimately a taught course aimed at people who have never picked up a needle before, so although everyone else’s work always looks totally amazing (thread envy!) the expectation isn’t that you are already an expert when you start.

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