Elizabethan Embroidery

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Almost everyone knows about Queen Elizabeth I and what is possibly the best known of all periods of English History is the Elizabethan era.  Some of her contemporaries were Mary Queen of Scots, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick.  More appealing embroidery of this era was related to home unlike in Opus Anglicanum.  Embroidery during this period was worked as decoration  for wall hangings and costumes.

Women made dresses, items of bed linen, curtains and wall hangings-all decorated with domestic embroidery.  Such elaborated embroidery was confined only to the  elite but did not play a vital role in the poorer homes.  Ladies of the Elizabethan era took a great pride in their appearance and were interested  in costumes.   In well-to-do families, girls were taught how to sew and work embroidery, in order to decorate  their own costumes.

The major items of embroidered costume were the jacket, bodice, smock and waistcoat.  Fine linen cloth embroidered in colored silks were usually  popular during the era. Often gold and silver threads were used for extra decoration.  Designs used for the embroidery were mostly flowers.  Gowns and smocks were worn with large exotic designs embroidered.  Gloves and small bags were popular items for embroidery.

Within the home, quite a lot of time and effort were spent embroidering fabrics for use on or around the bed.  With the bed so beautifully decorated, there was the need to work stool tops and cushions to match.  Window curtains were not very important  and were often made of plain woolen or linen fabrics with no decoration.  Table cloth used to be very heavy in those days and in fact more like carpets than cloths

Now, a little about Mary Queen of Scots.  Mary laid claim to the throne of England and Queen Elizabeth was forced to to hold her in custody, until she decreed her execution.  This custody of, of some ten or eleven years altogether, was spent in the charge of Bess of Hardwick,  For four or five years previous to the confinement, Mary stayed with Bess as her guest, and so the two women were together for some fifteen years.  Although, Bess was much older than Mary, the two ladies spent the first four years together happily employed producing wonderful pieces of embroidery. Together, they designed embroidered the Oxburgh Hangings, one of which is dated 1570.  These are possibly the most interesting surviving Elizabethan embroideries, because of the emblems carefully thought up and worked by the two ladies.  Each of the four hangings was made of green velvet and in the centre of each is a large square of tent stitch embroidery.  They are worked to form emblems, surrounded with their latin meanings, although some have only initials and a motto. 


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