A brief History of Drawn Thread Work

A brief History of Drawn Thread Work

Today we are looking at the history of Drawn Thread work, a whitework technique. By definition, Drawn thread is where the weave and or weft threads have been withdrawn from the linen fabric. Patterns and designs are then woven into the threads that have been left to create rich and intricate borders.

Drawn thread work borders are extremely varied and the earliest come from countries bordering the Mediterranean, later spreading to the rest of Europe. The earliest examples of needleweaving can be seen in fragments of linen from the Egyptian period. Arabic borders on fine linen also include needleweaving but these were worked in silk, as well as elaborate borders of Spanish and Italian embroidery of the sixteenth century.

Delicate and fine Drawn thread work decorated the elaborate ruffs shown in the Elizabethan portraits that were reserved for the wealthy.

Linen Vestments from the Elizabethan period also displayed Drawn thread work. The samplers of the same period record variations of stitches, patterns and designs. These samplers would be made up of a collection of the workers’ personal favourite patterns which had been passed from one embroidery to another. There were few pattern books or prints and a sampler was the best method for learning the intricacies of the stitches and counted patterns.

Linen cushions which also displayed Drawn thread borders and were a new luxury that carried a status of wealth. These cushions were not made for sitting on though and instead were used to present small gifts of books, gloves and other precious articles. They showed involved borders and insets of Drawn thread work, leaving the centre of the cushion in plain linen.

Drawn thread examples from around 1200 AD from Germany and Switzerland incorporate and open mesh background with figures of plain ground material which have details such as faces, drapery and surrounding patterns in stitches such as stem and chain. The work has an intricacy and craftsmanship which surpasses all linen work of the time and it illustrates stories of saints, birds and animals.

It was once thought that, during the centuries leading up to the fifteenth, Drawn thread work embroidery was worked in the seclusion of convents, acquiring a mystique as there was no other embroidery of such intricacy. In the fourteenth century noble ladies wished to learn the embroidery techniques so they were taught by the nun’s, which led to the use of this fine embroidery for secular and domestic purposes.

In the later and nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries an enormous quantity of Drawn thread work was produced on linen and cotton to decorate bed linen. Trailing designs of stem stitch, satin stitch and crochet borders added to the richness of the designs.

Below you can see my first attempt at a Drawn thread border.

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