Silk Embroidered Postcards

Embroidered postcard with the Dutch text: Vroolijke Paaschen ('Happy Easter'). Early 20th century. Embroidered postcard with the Dutch text: Vroolijke Paaschen ('Happy Easter'). Early 20th century. TRC 2017.2297

1. Introduction

Embroidered postcards were popular in Europe from the early 1900's until the 1950's. Many of these were made in France. The cards  were decorated with a wide variety of designs and messages worked in floss silk in various colours. It has been suggested that some ten million embroidered cards were produced.

This digital exhibition focuses on the embroidered postcards that were produced during and just after the First World War. Comparable cards were also produced in printed or woven forms, but the embroidered cards have become the most appealing.

The cards were made with machines that imitated hand embroidery, and they were often provided with embroidered texts with a patriotic, romantic or religious message. They were sent home by the officers and soldiers that lived and fought in the trenches of northern France. They were addressed to parents, brothers, sisters, wives and girl-friends. Texts were embroidered in the diverse languages of the Allied forces, but comparable cards with German texts were also produced, and sent home from the opposite side of the front. Some of the cards in the collection of the TRC still include the names and addresses of the people they were sent to, and sometimes even with a longer hand written text in pencil on the back. 

2015.0448 2Embroidered postcard from World War One, with the flags of the Allied forces, from left to right those of Russia, Italy, Britain, France and Belgium (TRC 2015.0448). Click illustration for TRC catalogue entry.

The cards that are discussed in this digital exhibition and that are shown in the picture gallery, are all housed in the collection of the TRC in Leiden. They provide a very different glimpse of life in the trenches, a glimpse that the soldiers perhaps intentionally presented to their loved ones so not to worry them.  It was a glimpse that provided a somewhat fanciful and sentimental impression of the war, very different from the harsh circumstances, the cold, the dampness, the dangers and the boredom, of life in the trenches.