Celtic Revival Embroidery

Lily Yeats and her assistants in the embroidery room at Dun Emer Guild, Dundrum, 1905. Lily Yeats and her assistants in the embroidery room at Dun Emer Guild, Dundrum, 1905.

The Celtic Revival was part of various artistic movements that sprang up in the 1840's and reached a peak in various parts the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Groups involved in this revival included the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Glasgow School

The Celtic Revival developed out of a growing interest in various aspects of European Celtic culture. In most cases, people became interested in the early medieval written and art forms associated with Celtic groups who live(d) in Northern Europe, notably in northwestern France, Ireland and Scotland, as well as in Spain (Galicia).

Followers of the Celtic Revival movement(s) came from many parts of the world, notably Australia, North America, Europe, New Zealand, where the diaspora from various, modern Celtic cultures had come to settle. Embroidery designs associated with the Celtic Revival include Celtic crosses, particular forms of interlacing and geometric forms such as the pelta (four connecting spirals, an ancient shield design) and the triscale (triple spiral), as well as stylised animals, birds and plants, and so forth. These designs can be found on a wide range of objects, including household furnishings, clothing, and accessories such as bags and fans. In addition, from the latter half of the nineteenth century onwards, Celtic Revival motifs were widely used on ecclesiastical vestments as well as church furnishings, such as altar covers.

One type of embroidery that was of particular importance for Celtic Revival decorative needlework was developed by Alice Hart. In the early 1880's, she developed a form of working and a range of designs that she called Kells embroidery. It was inspired by the designs in the Book of Kells, an illuminated Gospel containing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which is now in Trinity College Library, Dublin (MS A. I. (58). The original manuscript was produced in about AD 800.

An important Irish group that helped to promote Celtic Revival forms, especially embroidered patterns, was the Dun Emer Guild (based in Dublin). In particular, it is associated with Lily Yeats (1866-1949), a daughter of the Irish artist John Butler Yeats (1839-1922). Her siblings included John (Jack) Butler Yeats (artist and Olympic medallist), William Butler Yeats (the famous Irish poet) and Elizabeth Yeats (artist and co-worker at the Dun Emer Guild and later the Dun Emer Industries). Lily Yeats became a well-known designer and embroiderer in her own right.

Celtic Revival designs remain a popular art form at the beginning of the twenty-first century and a source of designs for as diverse as tattoos (‘tribal motifs’).

See also the TRC Needles entry on Celtic cross stitch embroidery.

Source: BROWN, Karen E. (2011). The Yeats Circle, Verbal and Visual Relations in Ireland, 1880-1939, Farnham: Ashgate, especially Chapter Two.

Digital source (retrieved 27 April 2017).

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 27 April 2017).


Last modified on Thursday, 27 April 2017 14:29
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