The term ‘Crewel Embroidery’ is used when matka referring to the form of decorative embroidery in which wool (as well as a variety of fabrics) are used to embroider stitches and follow a design outline which is applied to a fabric.
This particular technique of embroidery is estimated to be at least a thousand years old and its most famous use is in the world renowned ‘Bayeux Tapestry’ commemorating the victory of William the Conqueror over Harold II of Wessex in 1066. However the technique has remained popular over the course of the centuries, being employed in the production of Jacobean embroidery and also in tapestries produced by followers of the Quaker movement.
It is believed that the origin of the word ‘Crewel’ originated from an ancient word used to describe the curl in the ‘staple’ (the single hair of the wool). Crewel Wool (in comparison to other forms) has a long staple which is not only fine, but also can be strongly twisted and in its modern variant, such wool is a fine, 1 or 2 ply yarn available in several different colours.
The technique used in order to produce Crewel Embroidered Fabric is not the same as is used in a ‘counted thread’ pattern of embroidery (such as in canvas work). Instead it is a style of ‘free embroidery’. The 17th century was the ‘heyday’ of the production of Crewel Embroidered Fabric on materials typically cotton or linen and nowadays (for many producers) the fabric of choice is a ‘Jacobean Linen Twill’ material.
This linen is now often incorporated as part of the overall design and many stitches allow the linen to be seen through and around the design being sewn into the fabric. However, there is a wide range of materials on which more recently produced crewel designs are being printed: Matka silk, raylon velvet, cotton velvet, silk organza, net fabric as well as jute. Regardless of what material is being used to stitch the design onto, the only definite requirement is that it has to be firm enough to support the weight of the stitching being made by the special crewel needles which have a wide body, large eye and a sharp point.