Top quality embroidery materials is a must. Good silk is the first
requisite - or at least one of the top requirements - for the creation
of great embroidery projects. As discussed by Mrs. L. Barton Wilson, see Theory and Method of Embroidery,
top quality materials were absolutely necessary.
Embroidery materials, especially during the Victorian era, were not
restricted to silk and floss. These materials included beads, baubles,
ribbons or anything else that could be attached to fabric in an
attractive way. Of course, silks and flosses, as well as wool, were the
most common of materials used.
In the late 1800's and early
1900's, silk was used more often than cotton floss for embroidery. The
reason for this was that silk held color better than floss. Very few
flosses were colorfast and when it became wet would "bleed," ruining the
embroidery piece. Good silk was easily obtained, came in many colors,
and held its beauty longer, therefore becoming a favorite embroidery
material of embroiderers.
Embroiderers, at that time, were being offered new and improved embroidery materials at a fast and furious pace. Those who used these products became confused about which product was best for what project. It became clear to the manufacturers that, although they made available a wide variety of embroidery materials, giving suggestions for uses of their product would increase sales.
Soon manufacturers were printing books on embroidery and other fancy needlework. These books not only provided illustrations and instruction on needlework, they provided the "proper" item on which to use a specific type silk, floss or other embroidery material. Ladies found it easy to purchase items from these books feeling confident their final product would be a success as they were using the correct embroidery material for the correct project. Manufacturers, of course, promoted the use of their good silks profusely throughout the book they published.
To help embroiderers become knowledgeable about the different types of silks, flosses and other embroidery materials available and the best uses of each, one could find pages filled with descriptions of each silk or floss and the best uses for each.
The following information is typical of what you would find in manufacturers' needlework books in Victorian times. Those listed below are from the 1899 Brainerd and Armstrong's Lessons in Embroidery" series.
The particular thread to be selected depends largely on the character of the work and the artistic effects to be produced. It is our intention to describe these different embroidery threads, and to enumerate some of the ways in which they may be used to the best advantage.
"Asiatic" Filo Selle - Sometimes
called "ASIATIC" FILO, is superior to any silk in the world for solid
embroidery and fine outline work. It is finer than any other thread and
for this reason gives a larger range to the skillful worker to produce
the most harmonious shadings and artistic effects. It is especially
adapted for floral designs on linen and is unsurpassed for working table
"Asiatic Roman" Floss - Similar to Filo in twist, but a much heavier thread. It covers the ground more rapidly. It also is used for solid embroidery and outline work, but on heavier fabrics. It is a splendid thread .for finishing the edges of linens and similar fabrics where a brilliant and lustrous effect is
"Asiatic Caspian" Floss - This silk is especially designed for finishing the edges of linens and is at present more widely used than any other thread for scallop work on doilies and centerpieces. It is dyed in many plain colors and also in eight shaded colors; in fact it is the only one of Brainerd & Armstrong's collection that was dyed in shaded colors. It is not intended for solid work like the Filo and "Roman," but can be used effectively for outlining and cross stitching.
"Asiatic" Twisted Embroidery Thread - A thread that is harder twisted than any yet mentioned. Its tight twist makes it very durable, and it is a popular thread for general embroidery. It is most used for scallop work until introduction of "Caspian" Floss.
"Asiatic" Rope Silk - A large, loosely twisted silk. It is used for bold designs in outline or solid embroidery on heavy material.
"Asiatic" Mountmellick Silk - This is a hard twisted thread specially designed for Mountmellick Work. It is furnished in four sizes: F, FF, G and H, finest to coarsest in the order named. Size FF is about the size of Twisted Embroidery Silk. Mountmellick Silk is dyed in White only. For Mountmellick Work in colors, Twisted Embroidery Silk is used.
"Asiatic" Art Rope Silk - Similar to Rope, but a trifle harder twisted.
"Asiatic" Outline Embroidery - A desirable twisted thread, finer and harder twisted than the Twisted Embroidery Silk mention above. It is used for outline and buttonhole work, on fine quality linen or other fine fabrics.
"Asiatic" Honiton Lace Silk - A thread somewhat like the one preceding but of a peculiar twist designed for Honiton Lace Work.Insure the permanency of your work by using good silk embroidery threads.
The following is more "generic" information that Victorian women
received in regards to choosing the correct embroidery materials with
which to use to embroider. Unlike those listed above, these are not espousing the excellence of a specific brand. Other embroidery materials
to consider were:
Crewels is a strong
twisted woolen yarn, not at all like zephyr, but finer and firmer. The
English crewels come in lovely soft shades, which blend beautifully.
Zephyr is a soft twisted woolen yarn used on canvas worked in cross-stitch.
Tapestry Wool is an English thread, larger than the crewel, but with the same firm twist; it is used on heavy linens, tapestry cloths and friezes. It comes in dull art tones, and is much affected by the Art Societies.
Arrasenes, both silk and wool, have been very popular and are still employed in some kinds of embroidery. It resembles a very narrow piece of silk which has been ravelled out on both sides, having one thread left in the center.
Chenille is a velvety-looking round thread, made in two sizes, large and small.
Smyrnasene is a coarse, round thread, resembling chenille, but having a rough, fuzzy surface; used sometimes to work thistle leaves and begonia foliage.
Ribbosene is a narrow, crinkled ribbon, used in the needle in the, same manner as arrasene. No blending of shades is possible with this material. We will speak further of the method of using ribbosene under the heading of ribbon work.
Feathersene is a thread much resembling arrasene, except that the silk has been ravelled only on one edge, and the remaining threads have been left on the opposite edge instead of in the center. It is designed to sew around the outline of designs, and is not used in the needle. It is very perishable, and should not be employed upon articles that are for use rather than ornament.
Embroidery Cotton is used for French embroidery upon linens and cottons, and for initials. It comes in various colors, but red and white are the only ones recommended.
Embroidery Wash Silks, made in four sizes, as follows: Etching Silk, very fine, with a firm twist. Wash twist, larger than etching silk, out with the same twist. Filo Floss, a soft, untwisted, fine silk. Royal Floss, a soft silk resembling filo floss, but about twice as large. Rope Silk, the largest size of silk to be used in the needle, has a slight twist.
Couching Silk is a large, cord-like silk, but with a soft, loose twist; it is used for couching around outlines, etc.
Art Cord is a small silk cord; can be used for fancy filling stitches of certain kinds, for lacing, etc. .
Real Scotch Linen Threads, made in four sizes, as follows: Bargarren Linen, the largest size made. Rope Linen, corresponding to rope silk, and the size next smaller than the Bargarren linen. Flourishing Thread No. 4, which is finer than the rope, comes next. Flourishing Thread No.8, which is the finest of all, and corresponds to filo floss in silk, comes last.
Tyrol Cord is a twisted linen, and to be used in the same manner as couching silk.
German Cord, not art cord, is a white linen cord used for button-holing over in Roman embroidery.
Embroidery materials can be found in a wide range of quality. Buying the
best quality that one can will not only save hours of aggravation from
working with materials that fray, split or break but will also help
ensure that your final product will be as beautiful as you hoped it
Return to top of Embroidery Materials page.