It’s Kind to be Crewel
I love crewel art and when I scored my latest vintage piece at the thrift store, I had to find out more about it. This is how I stumbled across Erica Wilson, also known as America’s First Lady of stitchery, who popularized crewel in America. The word “crewel” is an old word that refers to the yarn itself, a two-ply wool yarn (much thicker than embroidery floss) and is traditionally stitched onto a linen background. The thick yarn gives the art an interesting textured effect. My kit was designed by Erica and most likely stitched by a woman in the 1960’s with some serious embroidery skills. I am excited to share more about Erica Wilson crewel.
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Crewel work is an ancient art that has come in and out of fashion over the years. From adorning bed canopies and pillows during the Victorian era, to decorating purses and clothes during the craft revival of the 1960s.
In 1954, Erica Wilson, a graduate of the Royal School of Needlework in London was invited to teach in the United States. When her students couldn’t remember all of the stitches she taught them, Erica wrote her first book in 1962 called “Crewel Embroidery.” It sold over one million copies and she went on to write 16 more books as well as produce and star in two tv shows that aired on PBS and the BBC. She became the exclusive designer for a national kit manufacturer, designed sheets, fabrics and wallpaper, wrote a bi-weekly syndicated column and became the spokesperson for a national organization teaching needlework. She produced four videos on needlepoint, quilting, knitting and cross stitch. She also designed and manufactured exclusive needlepoint kits for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In other words, Erica was an overachiever! She passed away in 2011 but you can still visit her shop (now run by her daughter) on Nantucket.
This piece is huge! I love the designs on the tree trunks and the little details that even include a little snail crawling across the bottom of the canvas. There are lots of stitches (running stitch, straight stitch, stem stitch, chain stitch and on and on) used to create different effects and textures and the woman who stitched my piece was obviously skilled as you can see from the complicated French knots used to make the flowers above.
Find Vintage Crewel Art Here
Crewel has been around for over 1,000 years and it has come in and out of popularity over the centuries. You can still find crewel kits that come complete with everything you need to create your own masterpiece.
This piece really warms up my mantel for fall and what better accessory to go with birds in trees than my collection of feathers displayed in vintage green glass. A brass peacock is the finishing touch.
Have you ever done crewel embroidery? I am dying to get my hands on a vintage pattern and try my hand at it. There are lots of video tutorials on YouTube if you want to give it a try too.
Here’s to putting down our phones and getting back to making things with our own hands. It’s definitely kind to be crewel!
I did crewel in the early 70’s . I have two pieces I gave to my mother and mother-in-law as gifts and 2 small Christmas themed Pictures. Jennifer
I have never done it! I may need to try it!
LOVED Erica Wilson and started doing her kits when I was in high school in the 70’s. I was not overly impressed with the cross stitch the Girl Scouts taught me, boring. And then I tried needlepoint, my mother did various stitches of that, boring as well, same stitch over and over. But Crewel is a variety of stitches so it is fun. I have several finished pieces in my possession, but only one is out. Guess I need to get them framed or made into pillows! I got my kits from a catalog The Stitchery, which I think is still around. I have not done any needlework in decades and what I did complete, I usually gave away as gifts. Check on Etsy too. I did a piece when I was 16, not Erica’s, that was from Colonial Williamsburg. I ran out of 2 colors before completing and could not match the skeins even in embroidery shops. I found the entire kit just about 5 years ago, on Etsy, so bought and now can finish my first piece of crewel embroidery that I ever did. Do one, you will like it. Get a colorful one too. Changes in color and stitches is what makes it enjoyable for me.
Ugh the dreaded girl scout cross stitch! I need to try crewel – not sure I have the patience though
P.S. look for kits by Columbia Minerva https://www.etsy.com/listing/821235680/vintagenoscolumbia-minervacrewel?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=crewel+embroidery+kits&ref=sr_gallery-7-27
I will definitely check this out Lesley! Thanks!
I did a lot of crewel work in the late 70’s. I still have a piece that was almost finished, but I lost interest. Your post might get me to dig it out and finally finish it.
Finish it then send me pics Rosa!
Love this piece and the history behind it. Thanks so much for sharing!
I am so thrilled to have found this Margaret!
Thanks for the history, Kelly. It’s beautifully displayed on your mantle. Love the peacock! And the contrast of the feathers and the blue glass.
Thanks so much Shawn! I recently found the brass peacock so it was fate they go together!
Crewel totally reminds me of growing up in the 70s! I think I might have a piece someone made of me somewhere in the attic (eek!). I also have a small 5×7-ish framed piece I found years ago at a thrift store. It’s a red cardinal and I have it hanging in my craft room. 🙂 I would imagine we’d see a resurgence of crewel since macrame has been making a big come-back the last few years. 🙂
It definitely needs to make a big comeback!
What a pretty piece. I am always fascinated by these as well. That is a lot of time and patience. I have never tried this but one of my aunts used to do these when I was a little girl. Love it for your fall mantle. Just the right cozy colors.
I don’t think I would have the patience either!
It is a great piece, and i love all the different stitches and colors that go into it. I would like to try, i have done embroidery work but, it’s been a while.Thanks, Kelly.
You need to try and let me know how you like it!
so thrilled to see that you are bringing attention back to crewel and the needle arts! I got to actually meet Eric several years ago when she visited my favorite needle shop. Love your posts, and have enjoyed following you for years! Much love, Alda
How fun to have met her Alda! I would love to visit her shop in Nantucket one day!
I have Ericas books and did crewel embroidery in he 70’s. I still have some in the attic! Loved needlepoint too, then counted cross stitch and crochet. From Sugar Land TX.
You need to find those pieces Lucy – I would love to see them!
I love this read on the history of crewel work. I didn’t know there was a Royal Academy of Needlework. Nantucket is on my bucket list, would love to see her shop there.
I’ve never been to Nantucket either Kelly and would love to go!
I am currently working on the Royal School of Needlework’s Certificate and Diploma program, which is now live online! They also have self video courses and live online classes on specific types of needlework or specific designs. It is so fun.
I had no idea there was such a diploma Frances! Sounds like fun!
It is difficult, very challenging, but you’ll be a better embroiderer after doing it. Go to the website and read about it.
thanks for the encouragement!
As always, a beautiful find! Thank you for sharing the history! You are always a wealth of knowledge!
Happy Sunday Lisa!
What an amazing find, I love it!
Thanks Becky! I was thrilled to find it!
Wow! You are so lucky to have found this! She’s a rock star for those who love and do crewel! Enjoy!
I feel very lucky Sharon!
I recently get back into crewel embroidery. Austintatious Offerings is an online site that has vintage crewel work kits. The Crewel Work Company specializes in kits that are reroductions of historic crewel work. They are based in England and have tons of videos. Check them out!
Sorry for the typos lol.
Oh that sounds fabulous Stephanie! Thanks for the info – I’ll definitely check it out!
I hadn’t done much crewel work 40 years ago. But is was a life saver during the worst of the pandemic when I resumed! Now my 11 granddaughter is going to begin an easy kit.
How popular is it now?
I think it’s pretty popular and hope your granddaughter enjoys it Donna!
I took a class with Erica Wilson in her Nantucket shop one summer. Probably about 1975. She was so talented!
How fun to learn from the master!!
Does this beautiful crewel have a name? I’ve been searching for it but can’t find one for sale. I have to have it!!
Sorry I don’t know the name of this crewel Sandie