Gathering Threads

Book Review: Art of Crewel Embroidery by Mildred Davis

Posted by on Feb 07 2015, in Book Review, Embroidery

I’m a glutton for punishment.  One of my resolutions for 2015 was to improve my embroidery skills and try more surface embroidery.  With that in mind, I enrolled in the Embroiderers’ Association of Canada’s Basic Crewel correspondence course at the beginning of January.

Thus far, I’m underwhelmed.  I’d been a member of the EAC a number of years ago, and even attended a couple of retreats.  The ladies were lovely, the instruction excellent. Sadly, that experience hasn’t carried over into their distance education.  But I’ve decided to stick it out and if my impressions improve, I’ll let you know.

crewelsample (2)

None the less, I *really* want to take the Intermediate Whitework course, so I’ve decided to stick it out.   I will use this course to earn points for my SAGA Artisan card in Embroidery because that at least is of value to me.

crewelsample (5)

I’ve completed the samples for both of the first lessons and will bang off the research reports this week.  I also started to build up my reference library (another expense!) because I need the books to write the reports.   And this leads me to the book I’m reviewing today:  The Art of Crewel Embroidery by Mildred J. Davis (1962).


Because for all my groaning about the EAC’s correspondence course strategy, I am delighted I found this book.  In a nutshell, I think this is perhaps the best embroidery book I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across.   It is the complete and total package, whether or not you’re interested in crewel work or just surface embroidery generally.  Oh, at it’s available to everyone, for free, through the Internet Archive!  Hooray.

The book opens with a comprehensive history of the technique of crewel.  The bibliography is extensive, with a plethora of primary sources from the Tudor through to the Georgian period. This is no fluffy history, but a substantial and well-researched essay, which includes a good selection of photographs of historical stitching, including a ton of close-up detail shots.  Given the age of the book, many of the photos are black and white but whether they’re grayscale or colour, they’re clear and easy to study, with the museum and collection info easily at hand, should you wish to hunt them down on the internet and see if more recent photos exist.



 Then the book gets into the meat of things.  It includes more than 300 stitches, grouped by type (running stitch, looped stitch, filling stitches etc).  There are black and white photos of each and every stitch, plus clear and easy to follow diagrams for all 300 stitches.   Whether you’re working in wool or doing a crazy quilt for example, there are a plethora of interesting surface stitches to try.


There’s a  full colour image of traditional colour schemas:colourwool

Then, Davis gives several different projects, designed specifically to allow the new stitcher to try out a range of techniques.  For example, the first project is a little purse.  The stitches and steps to working the project are all spelled out in such meticulous detail that anyone with a modicum of patience could tackle it successfully.


 Here you can see the design as it would be traced on the fabric.  I love how clear all of the steps are.


All of that would be great and more than enough, but Davis still isn’t finished.  There’s still more.   She gives more than 100 sample shapes, with stitch and colour suggestions for how to work them.  This allows the stitcher to design their own, or personalize an existing pattern.  It’s logically organized by type of shape:  small leaves, medium leaves, large leaves, flowers, fauna, stems.  It is absolutely brilliant – I wish every book was as thorough.



I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  It really is the complete package and I’m so glad I found it!


  • I am impressed.
    About the book and about your dedication 🙂