Ayrshire Whitework

Detail of floral motif worked in Ayrshire whitewwork with central ‘lace’ insets surrounded by satin stitch flowers, stems, leaves, and small eyelets (c. 1825, Scotland) Detail of floral motif worked in Ayrshire whitewwork with central ‘lace’ insets surrounded by satin stitch flowers, stems, leaves, and small eyelets (c. 1825, Scotland) Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, acc. no. CIRC.410-1924.

Ayrshire whitework, or Ayrshire work (from the county of Ayrshire, southwest Scotland), is a form of embroidery in fine muslin, decorated with fine lace filling stitches using a very fine thread with the main design in satin stitch and beading stitch. 

Ayrshire work developed from the Dresden work and tambour embroidery of the eighteenth century. This form of whitework became popular in the early nineteenth century when the fashion for simple muslin dresses became popular. Ayrshire whitework remained popular until the 1860's. In the early nineteenth century fashionable women wore white muslin for wide collars, called pelerines, as well as indoor caps. The muslin then available was considered too limp for the effects required. At the same time, various Scottish manufacturers were producing a firmer but fine muslin and this was seen as suitable for these garments.

At this time a new style of whitework embroidery was being developed, using the firmer, but still fine muslin, by a Mrs. Jamieson of Ayr (Scotland). In c. 1814, Mrs. Jamieson was lent a French christening robe by Lady Mary Montgomerie (d. 1848; the mother of the 13th Earl of Eglinton, 1812-1861) that had an inset with lace filling stitches. Mrs. Jamieson copied these fillings and taught the technique to her outworkers. She later provided pre-stamped muslin for her outworkers to embroider. As demand grew, Glasgow cotton manufacturers sent cotton that was pre-stamped (using small wooden blocks with copper strips) with the required designs in a water soluble blue ink, to Mrs. Jamieson’s workers, as well as other embroiderers in Scotland and northern Ireland.

Ayrshire work was made on firm, but fine muslin using satin stitch, beading stitch and fine lace filling stitches, all made using a needle and thread. The lace filling stitches were worked in cut-out spaces and these became a feature of this type of work. Ayrshire work became known as ‘sewed muslin,’ to distinguish it from plain (undecorated) muslin and tambour decorated muslin.

Ayrshire work is characterised by stylised floral motifs with lace insets, outlined in satin stitch. Ayrshire whitework embroiderers had the nickname ‘The Flowerers,’ because of the pre-dominantly floral motifs that they produced, with the work they carried out becoming known as ‘flowering.’ Ayrshire whitework shows many parallels with the chikan embroidery from northern India. Both forms of embroidery have small flower heads and lace openwork, linked by leaves and trailing stems.

The fashion for Ayrshire work quickly spread and it was exported throughout Europe as well as the British Empire and America. It was used for women’s collars, cuffs, caps, as well as babies’ robes and bonnets well into the middle of the 19th century when fashion changed so significantly that Ayrshire work fell out of popularity. In addition the American Civil War (1861-1865) drastically reduced the demand for Ayrshire whitework in America. Further damage was done by the cheaper Swiss whitework, especially from St. Gallen, which was machine made.

Aometimes also referred to as broderie anglaise.

See also: Louis Ruffini;


  • SWAIN, Margaret (1955). The Flowerers, Edinburgh: Chambers.
  • SWAIN, Margaret (1982). Ayrshire and other Whitework, Oxford: Shire Publications Ltd., pp. 15-21.

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 6 July 2016).


Last modified on Sunday, 17 April 2022 17:54