Broderie Anglaise, French for English embroidery, is a cutwork /whitework technique.

•  Open Spaces Or Eyelets - varied sizes and shapes.
• Eyelets - oversewn with buttonhole stitch and overcasting.
• Beading - a very narrow ladder made using a stiletto for the holes.
• Cutwork - ladder work, rectangular or crescent shape. .
• Designs - simple, floral motifs and scrolls.
• Edges - wavy or scalloped in buttonhole stitch.
• Stitches - running, overcasting stitch, buttonhole, padded satin stitch.
• Threads - tightly twisted thread.

Its origins are uncertain. According to Weldon, Broderie Anglaise originated from Czechoslovakian peasant embroidery and was brought to England in the 9th century. Mary Thomas says it is also known as Artier, English, Eyelet, Madeira or Swiss work, also notes the work from Czechoslovakia, though does not offer Broderie Anglaise origins. Pamela Clabburn states it is “a type of cutwork embroidery which evolved in Britain about 1850 from the earlier Ayrshire embroidery”. Certainly it became very popular at this time.

The work consists of open worked spaces, varying in size and shape. The design is traced onto closely woven fabric. Running stitch is first worked around the round or oval holes (eyelets). Each hole is made as work progresses, either cut or pierced with a stiletto, a sharp-pointed tool. The edges are then stitched with overcast stitch or buttonhole stitch. In time, the holes became bigger, which meant they had to be cut out. This was done by snipping with sharp pointed scissors, from side to side and top to bottom of the shape without cutting the outline thread. The fabric flaps were turned under, then the edges over-sewn.

‘Beading’ was a fine ladder effect, made by withdrawing a thread and making tiny eyelets along the line. In the 20th century, the holes became larger and ‘laddering’ – rectangular or crescent shaped – developed. At this time, the stems of the flowers were surface stitched – much less work. Still later padded satin stitch and trailings were used, padded dots and needle-lace fillings in the larger holes, creating lighter designs.

Later strips of fabric with the holes cut was available. However these became loose and the standard of work declined. Still later the multiple machine could reproduce eyeleting and raised satin stitches remarkably well.

The embroidery was time-consuming, worked by women in their homes as poorly paid out-workers. Used as Victorian underwear, nightwear, trimmings, and for babies’ clothes and linen.

1950s saw a resurgence in popularity, used as a trimming on dresses and underwear. Brigitte Bardot wore a wedding dress of gingham with Broderie Anglaise trim when she married Jacques Charier in 1959.

Madeira embroidery was based on Broderie Anglaise, and made for the tourist trade. In Czechoslovakia, the eyelets are worked in different colours on the sleeves of national costumes.

Clabburn, Pamela The Needleworkers’ Dictionary, Macmillan, London, 1976
Dawson, B, Whitework Embroidery, Batsford 1987
Swain, Margaret Ayrshire and other Whitework, Shire Publications, No 88, 1982
Toomer, H The Baby Wore White: Robes for Special Occasions, published .by H. Toomer, Antique Lace
A-Z OF WHITEWORK Book 1 Surface Embroidery, Inspirations Bks, Ed. Sue. Gardner
Batsford Encyclopedia of Embroidery Techniques, Batsford, London, 1984.
Mary Thomas’s Embroidery Book, Hodder & Stoughton, London 1952

© Valerie Cavill 2012

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