The surge for surface ornamentation in household furnishing as well as court clothing, resulted in the production of embroidery during the Tudor period. Much of what survives today, are embroideries that were created for domestic use by skilled amateurs. Edged in lace, much of the linen shirts, ruffs, collars, coifs and other forms of attire, was edged in lace and decorated with embroidery. Popular themes in Tudor England would include twining rose stems and various English flowers, as well as birds and other animals.
Garden of Eden Embroidery (Late 16th C.)
Much of the embroideries were produced for the courts and the wealthier households, and servants would often be chosen based on their needlework skills. It is recorded that Mary Queen of Scots studied in France with two master designers, and such designers would often be hired by aristocratic ladies to design pieces and devoting themselves to the creation of some of the finest embroideries of the time. The fashion in the courts and the demand for embroidery is evident from a 1547 account showing how over half of the wardrobe of King Henry VIII was ornamented with some form of embroidery.
Panel with Floral Motif (2nd quarter 17th C.)
“Moryssche (moresque) & Damaschin renewed & increased very popular for Goldsmyths & Embroderars” written by Thomas Geminus in 1548. The term “moresque” used in this period, described decoration for flat surfaces which consisted of abstract interlacing curling stem and leaf patterns. This publication was the first pattern book to be published in England, and such books would serve both amateur as well as professional embroiderers to then request pattern-drawers to apply these designs onto linen in preparation to be stitched.
Engraving from Morysse and Damashin (1548)
Such publications, however, were not readily available, and samplers were more often used as reference. These would be strips of fabrics that would be covered with stitched patterns and were highly sought after. Oftentimes these valuable samplers would appear in wills, and treasured by families and passed down through the generations. One of the earliest examples of a sampler is in the collection of Victoria and Albert Museum which dates from 1598. A document that references a sampler from further back in time exists, dating from 1502, in the expense accounts of the Queen Elizabeth of York, wife of King Henry VII, where an entry records linen that was purchased to produce a sampler.
Sampler (mid 17th C.)
Colourful polychrome embroidery using silk became the fashion during the Elizabethan period, where floral patterns of scrolling patterns would be colourfully executed. However, much of the embroidery was carried out using a singular colour. Even when this included colours, these monochrome embroideries were referred to as blackwork embroidery. This influence originated from Islamic arts which feature geometric patterns with intertwining foliage and strapwork. Catherine of Aragon from Spain, the first wife of King Henry VIII has been credited to bringing this fashion into Tudor England.