obsessions: crewelwork

by Grace Bonney

I don’t have many design tendencies that drift toward “grandma,” but I do have one very big one: crewelwork. Whenever I see huge overscale crewelwork pieces at thrift stores and flea markets, I feel myself reaching for my wallet. I think it’s all that texture; it’s irresistible. I haven’t found the perfect piece for my apartment yet, but I’m always on the hunt, and these vintage crewelwork pieces on Etsy are a great place to start. For me, crewelwork can go “grandma” really quickly, so pairing it with a minimal modern frame and letting it have plenty of breathing room on the wall helps it feel more modern. If anyone has any vintage crewelwork sources they love, I’m all ears ;) xo, grace

*Image above: Large crewel embroidery, $42 at The White Pepper

Image above: XL Vintage Crewel at viAnnelli $85 (This one is my favorite. That purple is so pretty.)

Image above: Vintage crewel at NoCarnationsHome, $36

More vintage crewelwork after the jump . . .

Image above: Vintage crewel at DoneFound, $26

Image above: Vintage Crewel at CherryVanVintage

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  • I love crewel work! I have several pieces in my home in bright colors, so they look less grandma-70s-ish to me. I also keep crewel pieces of all sizes stocked in my booth at the Tennessee Antique Mall, but that would be a long trip just for some crewel. :)

  • my goodness- I am swimming in my mother’s crewel work! I do have such warm memories of going w/her to choose the yarns. She will be thrilled to know about your fondness!

  • I love crewelwork flowers, too. There’s a large thistle piece hanging on my wall right now. It is honestly the one piece of artwork I’ve carried with me over the last few years/moves.

  • What memories! I was a creweling diva as a teenager. Yes.. I’m that old. No wisecracks please! At that time I embroidered everything and gave them out as gifts. I even embroidered a pair of Army Navy hiphuggers (we all wore them in the early 70s with bare midriffs and clunky platforms). I still have these hiphuggers. Unfortunately they mysteriously shrank.

  • I always snatch these up when I see them, too! I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who loves them to death. I have two prized pieces, a large vertical thistle piece (similar to the above but — I think! — better executed) and a large horizontal wildflower and grasses piece. The colours are amazingly vibrant on that one as the original owner kept it under a piece of plastic this whole time!

  • I am still heartbroken, years later, over missing out on a flea market find of a large framed flower embroidery. The seller was so mean about my offer of three dollars less that what he wanted that I walked away. I should have just shelled out and I’d have the art, instead of a sour memory of a rude man!

  • Crewel is super relaxing to do & not all that hard! Check out Katherine Shaughnessy’s book, The New Crewel for techniques and some (modernish) patterns. I have used photos of vintage pieces as inspiration for making my own patterns.

  • I actually have the crewel piece you have pictured third from the top, daisies on the dark green background. My mother made it for her mother in the late 70s as a birthday gift. For many years it was stuffed, unframed, in a drawer (also dirty from being in a house with two chain smokers!) but several years ago I had it cleaned and framed and now it’s hanging front and center in my kitchen. I think of my grandmother and mother every time I see it.

  • Just have to object to the use of “grandma” as a perjorative. Of course I am one now but I remember learning embroidery and knitting from my beloved grandmothers whom I miss every day. Can’t you imagine another word for “out of date”?

  • @cassie – my mother made this same crewelwork, too! As soon as I saw those white flowers on the green background I was taken decades back in time. She still has it hanging in her house.

  • Love these! I have a minor crewel obsession too. I’ve been trying to hold out and
    wait for just the right piece (or vintage kit to make it myself) for my house, so I don’t start hoarding every decent one I find. The first two are amazing! Especially the purple and blue on brown…so perfect.

  • YES! I have always loved the texture and color pallette of a zinnia bouquet piece that hung in my bedroom when I was a wee child. A new love of thrifting has prompted me to start collecting crewelwork. Unfortunately in the excitement of the hunt, I have bought a few ugly finds that lean to close to “grandma”. You’ve inspired me to send those packing and hold out for the best of the best.

  • Agreed. Let’s drop ‘grandma’ from the perjorative lexicon. I hope to be blessed enough to live to be a grandma with extraordinary talents.

  • I did that daisy crewel picture too, along with several others. I still have a gorgeous HUGE cactus picture I did, and a Chinese lanterns one that I will never part with. I understand the “grandma” crack, but it still hits a nerve.

  • Wow, what a trip down memory lane ! I, too, did that daisy on the dark green linen way before I became a grandmother. I think it was a kit from Family Circle magazine. I have no clue what happened to it, but would like to think the one pictured is the one I did !

  • I collect vintage needlework, especially crewel work. I also collect the vintage patterns to make them from myself. They really are very strightforward and enjoyable. I always save images like yours above, then draw them out on fine gridded paper. The biggest problem is finding the right ground cloth, as the fabric available now is more difficult to come across. One of my local fabric shops here in Edinburgh do a beautiful range of dress-weight coloured linen that is just right. I keep buying a metre here and a metre there of the different colours to be waiting for inspiration to strike. Also find your local embroidery shop, they are a font of knowledge and encouragement.

  • ITA with @kathleen… another word for out-of-date please! I loved to do crewel as a kid. My mother still has my favorite piece, a pillow with a Japanese woman standing on a mountain.

    Maybe this will inspire me to do a crewel piece after I finish my current project. And would you do a post on my other love, bargello?

  • I have had a major issue crewelwork lately. It started with 2 pieces I got from my grandmother’s house that she sold after 50+ years. She and my mother did both pieces together. After that, I bought several pieces off of ebay and a couple from a local vintage store here in Long Beach, CA. There are a couple of flowery ones but most are of owls or birds. I have my eye on a couple on Etsy as well. Our whole dining room is crewelwork and I love it!

  • i bought a piece at a thrift store and my sisters said “that is UGLY, where are you going to put it?”
    i still dont know where it will go, it is kind of out of place from my other decor, but there was something about it that i loved. its a lnadscape and the colors are beautiful….chartruese, pinks blues, and greens

  • This post brought a smile to my face! My grandma has a beautiful crewelwork sunflower framed from her days participating in a social club in Kansas City. Hope you find the perfect piece soon!

  • I thought I was the only one!!! I am 28 years old and I have a fascination with crewel work! I am an artist, but I do not have the patience for any type of needlework. I like to leave them in the frames I find them in unless they are just gross. If they are wood I will paint them in a bright color! Thrift stores and etsy are the best places to find them. Here they are: yes I have wood paneling, I rent. http://pinterest.com/pin/84161086757362544/ and this one only cost one dollar at a yard sale! http://pinterest.com/pin/84161086757362551/

  • Ok. Come to the English Lake District and see the wonderful Crewel Work at Muncaster Castle. Less of the Grandma and more of the full on blood and guts Jacobean, which would be your great great great x 20 Grandma. There are professionally embroidered and family made hangings and cushions 17th -20th Century. http://www.muncaster.com

    Re good tatse – my old Mum used to say – its not that it is ugly, its just that you are not yet ready to appreciate it.

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