A crewel embroidery in blue and white, made principally in United States of America.

White fabric
Blue and white threads
Stitches and designs of crewel embroidery

Deerfield embroidery developed from the European crewel work in a small New England village, Deerfield, in western Massachusetts, USA in 19th century. Here in the 1890s, Margaret Whiting and Ellen Miller, discovered a few pieces of moth-eaten, colonial wool crewel embroidery in the local museum and set about learning the stitches in order to reproduce the original as a matter of record and to preserve the designs for posterity. This resulted in the formation of the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework in 1896 which lasted only until 1925.

The first linen used was only a little heavier than a handkerchief. Gradually linen of different weights and textures was introduced depending on the purpose. Table linens and coverlets were smooth and firm, while wall hangings and curtains were often made of Russian crash, usually unbleached or grey and very coarse.

Attempts were made to match the blues of Canton china, and the English crewel designs, married to oriental influences of the time.
The original embroideries of the Blue and White Society were done in three values of blue (light, medium, and dark) plus white. Blue was an easily attainable color, using the readily available indigo dye. The number of repeat dips determined how deep the color would be. Later natural dyes of madder, indigo, fustic and native barks were used.

With an eye toward increasing the longevity of the items they stitched, linen thread was chosen over the wool threads used in the original pieces. The Society’s first threads were almost as fine as sewing cotton. Soon the heavy linen threads from Scotland dyed in the blue tub in Deerfield, made it possible to approximate the crewels of the 18th C.

Stitches used were outline and stem stitch, honeycomb, cross stitch, herringbone, lattice, chain, satin, feather, blanket stitch, fly, seed, darning, coral, and Rumanian stitch, a couching stitch, which was always called New England Laid Stitch in Deerfield, is a filling stitch that is worked so that thread use is economized, thereby making it typically “Yankee.” Buttonhole stitch, sometimes called blanket stitch, was referred to as the “spike” stitch in earlier times. This stitch was used most often for depicting tendrils.

Designs of roses, tulips, pinks, clover and grapes are more easily recognisable than the acanthus leaf, pineapple and pomegranate.

The letter’D’ in a spinning wheel, became the mark of all Deerfield reproduction pieces.

Howe, Margery Burnham, Deerfield Embroidery, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976.
Clabburn, Pamela The Needleworkers’ Dictionary, Macmillan, London, 1976
Batsford Encyclopedia Of Embroidery Techniques, Batsford, London, 1984

© Valerie Cavill 2011