A brief history of embroidery
It seems that ever since humankind learned to make needles and thread to stitch together clothes, we’ve
seen the potential of stitching to go beyond the utilitarian and into high art. Archaeological evidence
shows that the use of stitching as decoration goes as far back as our Cro-Magnon ancestors 30,000 years
ago, and has become a booming industry today. What’s the history of this ancient, universal art, the
history of embroidery? This article will give you a brief look at some of the developments in embroidery
throughout history that lead to the art as we know it today.
While the precise time period people began practicing embroidery is unknown, the earliest surviving piece
historians know of is from china’s warring states period. It’s an embroidered silk gauze garment made
with luxurious materials and freehand techniques we still see used today. Most embroidered pieces in the
ancient world were clothing items, but there is evidence that embroidery as pure art was practiced as
far back as the iron age, or 1300BC – 600BC.
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
In the 1900s, the cheaper materials and streamlined processes of the industrial revolution allowed
embroidery to spread beyond just the wealthy. Printed catalogs allowed techniques to spread quickly, and
pre-made patterns such as those by Berlin wool work allowed anybody to easily create beautiful works of
embroidery. It’s also at this time that we saw William Morris’ Arts & Crafts Movement, a backlash to
the automation of the Industrial Revolution and a revival of hand-crafted needlework.
The above-mentioned automation also laid the foundation for the type of embroidery most common today:
machine embroidery. Sewing machines and later specialized embroidery machines were used by punching
designs on paper tape, but it wasn’t until 1980 that the first computer graphics system for making
embroidery designs was developed by Wilcom. Graphic systems like this are what most commercial
embroidery companies use to stitch clients’ designs onto garments and other branded products today.