Both a maker and a mender

These images come from a book of needlework patterns from the mid 17th century. In the introduction, the author waxes lyrical about the importance of the needle, and indeed it was an invaluable tool to the housewife. All women, including Elizabeth I herself, would have prided themselves on their needlework; not only because it was regarded as a sign of female piety, but because it enabled a skilled embroiderer to demonstrate her often considerable talents. The Countess of Bedford embroidered two ‘window turkey carpets’ [probably window seat cushions], and Bess of Hardwicke was famous for her large and sumptuous embroidered hangings. Needlemaking was a fast-growing industry in the 17th century, so much so that in 1656 a charter of incorporation of the trade was granted by Oliver Cromwell. The designs in this book would have had a wide range of applications, from lacy collars and fancy cushions, to luxurious embroidered detail on fine cloaks. The author here describes the importance of the needle:

The Needles sharpenesse, profit yeelds, and pleasure,
But sharpenesse of the tongue, bites out of measure.
A Needle (though it be but small and slender)
Yet is it both a maker and a mender;
A grave Reformer of old Rents decayde,
Stops holes and seames, and desperate cuts displayde.
And thus without the Needle we may see,
We should without our Bibbs and Biggings be;
No shirts or smockes, our nakednesse to hide,
No Garments gay, to make us magnifyde;
No Shadowes, Shapparoones, Caules, Bands, Ruffes, Cuffes,
No Kerchiefes, Quoyfes, Chin-clowtes, or marry-Muffes,
No Cros-cloathes, Aprons, Hand-kerchiefes, or Falls,
No Table-cloathes for Parlours or for Halls.
No Sheetes, no Towels, Napkins, Pillow-beares,
Nor any Garment man or woman weares.
Thus is a Needle prov’d an Instrument
Of profit, pleasure, and of ornament.


Below are two lovely examples of early modern embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent Embroidery Exhibition.

Source on women and embroidery – Liza Picard.  See Useful Reading for details.

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