Fish Scale Embroidery

Fishscale reticule from around the 1830's. Fishscale reticule from around the 1830's.

Fish scale embroidery is a technique that was popular in nineteenth century Britain. The fish scales usually came from carp, goldfish or perch, as their scales were regarded as the most iridescent. Fish scale embroidery was worked on silk, satin or velvet ground cloth and the scales were used to imitate flower petals, bird feathers and butterfly wings.

The scales were prepared by scraping them from the fish, steeping them in cold water until they were soft and pliable, and then two small holes were pierced with a needle near the base of each scale.

The scales were sometimes coloured with a mixture of varnish and powdered colour. Once ready the scales were arranged in an overlapping pattern and then sewn down. Stems, veins, tendrils and other fine details were worked in stem stitch using a fine chenille thread, gold thread or a filoselle. The centre of the flowers was often filled with French knots worked in silk or with beadspearls or spangles. This type of embroidery was only suitable for places where it would not come into contact with friction.

See also the TRC Needles entry on beetlewing embroidery.


  • CAULFEILD, Sophia F. A. and Blanche C. SAWARD (1882). The Dictionary of Needlework, London: Upcott Gill, pp. 207-208.
  • MORRIS, Barbara (1962). Victorian Embroidery, London, Herbert Jenkins, Ltd., p. 162.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 9th July 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 18:15
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