Crewel Embroidery

Late 17th century bed hanging decorated with crewel embroidery. Late 17th century bed hanging decorated with crewel embroidery. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK, acc. no. T.13B&C-1929.

Crewel embroidery (or crewel work) literally is any embroidery worked using crewel thread, which is a fine, strong, worsted form of thread. Crewel embroidery on a linen ground has been worked in Europe since the early Medieval period, although the term crewel embroidery/work, as far as is known, dates back only to the seventeenth century.

The Bayeux tapestry, dating to the late eleventh century, for instance, is an example of crewel embroidery. Crewel work was also very popular in seventeenth century Britain, where it became known as Jacobean work. It has long been popular in India where its many forms are sometimes identified in general terms (the use of a worsted embroidery thread) with Kashmir embroidery.

Crewel embroidery on any ground (linen or other types of cloth) again became popular as a form of free style embroidery in late nineteenth century Britain, North America and elsewhere. Crewel work was developed as part of the Art Needlework movement and was a deliberate revival of early embroidery forms popular in Britain. The revived form of crewel work was regarded by the authors of the The Dictionary of Needlework (1882), to be of particular importance and as such they included an entry about its nature, designs, working methods and even how to wash it, which was over five pages long.

This revived version started to appear in the 1870's in the form of designs based on historic examples. The ‘new’ version was generally worked in crewel wools, but the ground material could be just about any form of cloth, including cotton, silks, wool serge’s, velvet, etc. One of the stitches used for this type of work was known as the crewel stitch. This is an irregularly worked stem stitch with the direction of the stitch following the shape of the motif or pattern being embroidered. In the USA and Canada, this crewel stitch was known as Kensington stitch.

In modern days, the term crewel embroidery/work is also being used for a type of free style embroidery that uses a wool thread of some kind (not necessarily crewel thread), but the designs are based on much older, 'real' crewel embroidery pieces, as found, for instance, in Jacobean work.

See also: crewel needle; crewel work bed hanging.

Also known as krewel work.


  • CAULFEILD, Sophia Frances Anne and Blanche C. SAWARD (1882), The Dictionary of Needlework, London: L. Upcott Gill, pp. 97-102.
  • CLABBURN, Pamela (1976). The Needleworker’s Dictionary, London: Macmillan London Ltd, pp. 71-72.
  • MARSH, Gail (2006). 18th Century Embroidery Techniques, Lewes: Guild of Master Craftsman Publications. Paperback edition 2012, pp. 146-157.
  • MORRIS, Barbara (1962). Victorian Embroidery, London: Herbert Jenkins, p. 124.

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


Last modified on Wednesday, 04 January 2017 17:36