Victorian Embroidery Frames

Embroidery frames are as necessary to most fine embroidery as the silks and needles used. Whether the frames are free standing, used on a table or held in the hand, they are indispensable to the embroiderer.

All the best kinds of embroidery, such as Church Embroidery, Crewel Work, Embroidery with silk, Tambour Work, and Berlin Work, require that their foundations shall be stretched in embroidery frames, as the stitches are apt to draw the material together when the work is embroidered in the hand, whereas the frame keeps the foundation evenly and tightly stretched in every part, and renders it almost impossible to pucker it, unless the Embroiderer is very unskillful. 

Types of Embroidery Frames

Frames were (and still are) of two makes: the best are those upon stands, as their use prevents habits of stooping being acquired by the worker, leaves her hands free, and gives unimpeded access to the back part of the work, without the artificial aid of slanting the frame from the corner of some piece of furniture to her hands, or the holding that is necessary with the other kind. But as these stand frames are cumbersome and expensive, the smaller frame which could be held in the hand or leaned against a piece of furniture was most used.

Click on image to see more detail.

In the late 1800’s, these frames were made of four equal sized pieces of wood (see Fig 1), or with the two horizontal pieces longer than the two upright, held together with nuts or pegs. They vary in size from 4 inches to 3 yards in length. The oblong embroidery frames are used for long and narrow pieces and the square for large pieces of work; and the same frame is used indifferently for Church Satin, Crewel Embroideries, and for Berlin Work. 

Click on image to see more detail.

By 1912, the frame had evolved somewhat. Frames were available that had rollers, making the dressing of the frame easier. A common type of frame that had become available is shown at Fig. 2. It is made in various sizes; the one here represented measures 18 inches across. It consists of four pieces of wood, two rollers for the top and base and two side pieces. Each of the rollers has a piece of webbing securely nailed along it, and its extremities are pierced with holes to receive the side pieces. These are formed of two long wooden screws, fitted with movable nuts, which adjust the width of the frame and the tautness of the stretched work. The piece of material that is stretched between is the link that keeps the frame together, for the screw ends fit just loosely in the holes of the rollers.

The side pieces are sometimes made of flat laths of wood pierced with holes at regular intervals; in these are inserted metal pins, by means of which the work is kept stretched. Fig. 3 represents a frame of this type. If the frame is a very large one it can have a strengthening bar fixed across the center from roller to roller.


Click on image to see more detail.

The frame is most convenient for work when fixed in a stand, although it can be used leaning against a table or the back of a chair. A very large frame would be supported upon trestles, but for ordinary purposes, a stand, such as the one shown in Fig. 4, is practical. It consists of two upright wooden posts, a little over 2 feet in height, which are connected near the base by a strengthening cross piece.

Both this and the uprights are adjustable; the center part of the posts is arranged to slide up and down, and can be fixed at any convenient height by the insertion of a long metal pin; the width of the cross piece is regulated in similar fashion, being made firm, by a screw, at the required width, thus allowing various sized frames to be used in the same stand.

The frame is fixed in place by metal clamps, and a wooden pivot is arranged so as to permit the stretched work to be inclined at any angle convenient. Both stand and frame should be well made and of good wood, for they must be able to stand strain and be perfectly firm and true when fixed for work.

 The ordinary frames are made of four pieces of wood. The two upright pieces are called Bars; on these are nailed stout pieces of narrow webbing to which the material is attached. The two horizontal pieces are called Stretchers; these are bored through with holes placed at equal distances, through which metal or wooden pegs are run to fasten the pieces of wood together. In the stand frames these holes and pegs are not used, the wooden supports being lengthened or shortened by the aid of screws.

Tambour Frame

The frame for Tambour Work differs from the others. Tambour embroidery frames are what most of us call embroidery frames which we use for smaller embroidery projects. In the mid to late 1880’s, this type of frame was made of two circular wooden hoops, one smaller than the other (just like today’s common embroidery hoops). Both the hoops are covered with velvet cut on the cross and exactly fit one into the other. The material to be embroidered is fastened to the smaller hoop, and kept tight by the larger hoop being passed over it. 

tambour embroidery hoopTambour Embroidery Frame

By 1912, these frames could be procured in wood, ivory, or bone, of various sizes, the one illustrated being about 6 inches in diameter. These frames were sometimes fixed into a small stand or fitted with a clamp for fastening to a table; freeing both hands for work. 

These tambours were not recommended by many embroiderers because the material was apt to stretch unevenly, and a worked part, if flattened between the hoops, was liable to be damaged. 

The fastening of the material into the embroidery frame is called “dressing a frame,” and requires to be done with great nicety, as, if it is rucked, or unevenly pulled in any part, the advantage of the stretching is entirely destroyed. 

Each material required its own special handling. Some could be stretched with minimal effort, others took two or more people to stretch properly and some even needed to be pasted to another type of material.

Continue to:

Part 2 - How Victorians Mounted Materials in Frames for more information (and a few paste recipes, too!).

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