Elizabethan Embroidery

Detail from Elizabethan Polychrome Silk Jacket, c.1600

Detail from Elizabethan Polychrome Silk Jacket, c.1600


During the Elizabethan period, there are several styles of embroidery that became popular:

  • Blackwork was used mainly on clothing, however, while the earlier, reversable form remained in use (on collars and cuffs), new forms began to be used. These included a informal, free form style (often floral) all-over work used on foreparts and sleeves.
  • Tent Stitch was used to produced a variety of household items, including table carpets, bed dressings and cushions. It was also used to make sweete bags. Tent stitch was also used to produce slips which were small motifs stitched on linen and then applied to more expensive fabris.
  • General free form of embroidery was also produced.

Materials Used

  • linen canvas ground, coloured silks and siver-gilt thread (Oxburgh Hangings).
  • linen ground, coloured silks,silver-gilt and silver threads, seed pearl and black beads
  • velvet and silk grounds also used, with coloured silks and metal threads.

Stitches and Techniques


Designs were inspired by a variety of sources in the Elizabethan period. These included modelbuchs or pattern books. There were published and aimed at both the domestic and professional embroiderer. Needleworkers also used herbals, emblem books and beastiary books to find patterns and designs.

In general, the needlework of the Elizabethans reflects their love for nature. Plants, flowers, birds, animals and inserts are all common motifs found in Elizabethan embroidery including that produced on clothing.

Extant Pieces


Sources for Further Information

  • "Guide to English Embroidery", (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1970)