The Sharp Needler will be taking a break for the holidays. See you all in 2018!

14 July 2017

Back to Crewel



I used to stitch a lot of crewel, mostly commercial kits. My first projects as a child were crewel and I always loved embroidering with wool.

Over the past 10 years I've moved away from crewel into techniques like thread painting, but I miss wool.

I picked up an old crewel kit a couple of years ago and found to my dismay that my wool stitching gauge was off and the stitching was too tight. This was probably due to having done so much thread painting with single strands of floss. In cotton or silk thread painting you lay threads together as closely as possible. The same is not true for wool.

Since wool strands are larger and have a bit of spread you don't need to lay them so closely together. In fact, you shouldn't even try because you end up with tight, twisty edges.

I need to fix my gauge, just as you would if you were knitting or crocheting. It's time to take up crewel again and adjust back to using wool.

I have an old authentic Elsa Williams crewel sampler kit. I say 'authentic' because Elsa Williams sold her business to a company that eventually became known as JCA. When I was stitching commercial kits 10-20 years ago I tended to gravitate towards the JCA/Elsa Williams kits and I still think they were some of the best-designed commercial kits. I didn't know anything about Elsa Williams at the time. I didn't even realise that I was stitching a lot of JCA/Williams kits until recently when I discovered that many of my old projects were from that line.

A few years ago, I attended a fabulous presentation at my local Embroiderers' Guild of America (EGA) chapter about Elsa Williams and I became interested in her work. (Thanks, Margi!) Since then, I've (occasionally) wandered around the Internet looking for her kits, not necessarily to buy, but rather to see the designs. I divide Elsa Williams kits between the originals that came from Mrs. Williams' company and those that came after she sold her company to JCA which sadly closed a few years ago. Elsa Williams seems almost forgotten today which is a shame. I think she was just as important as Erica Wilson and I prefer her designs.

This is the little crewel sampler. I believe it's from the 1970s, but with its classic colours and design it doesn't seem dated.


The kit contents are nearly complete. It even has the needle which is in beautiful non-rusted condition. The fabric is a somewhat coarse linen which is fine for this type of project. However, there's one important thing missing: a colour representation of the finished piece!

With some coloured pencils and the stitch guide I created my own version of the finished piece. I also made an alternative colour version, but I'm going to use the original design. In the meantime, I found a colour photo of the original so I have that as well.

It's a very small project of approximately 8"w x 9"h with a limited, but pretty palette.

I've started with the carnation motif in the upper right hand corner.


The carnation's edges are not tight which is good! I'm having to wrap my brain around stitching with big wool thread, however. I'm so used to tiny thread and fine detail that I'm having problems accepting how this looks. Still it was nice to work with the crewel wool and it stitched up much more quickly than a floss-based thread painted piece.

I'm trying to decide if I want to add a bit more contrast. I have a dark pink in a very fine crewel wool, but I'm going to wait a bit before I decide whether or not to use it.

3 comments :

  1. There is something about that top photo that is truly delicious! I think it's something about my inner color geek responding to the rightness and groundedness of the colors as laid out. It's a very satisfying palette. :)

    I had to laugh at the aspect of you stitching with big wool thread after years of fine threadpainting, and having to adjust the gauge! No worries. You are a fantastic stitcher in any case and the carnation looks beautiful.

    I didn't know the history of Elsa Williams although I remember her kits back in the day. It seems a crying shame that she is not better remembered. I missed the presentation from Margi, sadly, but will see what more I can find out. I feel an info dig coming on....

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  2. I have the entire Elsa Williams slideshow and can download to my IPad if you would like to see it.
    I am really enjoying each weeks post. It has made me think more about my stitching projects. I love your pictures/stitching.
    Margi

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  3. The sampler design is in B& w and shown as a mirror frame, box cover, cushion & book cover in E Williams book "Heritage embroidery" I got my copy thru Abe books

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