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Crewel Embroidered Workbag (detail)
Crewel Embroidered Workbag

British, dated 1675

For the girl whose initials, E. L., mark this exceptional piece of seventeenth-century monochromatic embroidery, this workbag would have served as both an example of her proficiency in the year it was worked, 1675, as well as a useful reference for other needlework projects. Bold crewelwork designs, seen most often on bed hangings, were also applied to a variety of domestic articles such as clothing, cushions and workbags. Once completed, these bags would hold yarns, needles and tools, and possibly serve as inspiration for future needlework endeavors.

In this rare example, ornamented with a wonderful display of animals, the embroiderer’s talents emerged from basic materials. She began with a rectangle of fustian, a twill fabric woven with a linen warp and a cotton weft, and wool threads of a single, deep-green hue. The spot motifs were drafted onto the fustian panel, each side mirroring the other except on the reverse where the date was replaced by the embroiderer’s initials. Real and mythological creatures, drawn from bestiaries and needlework pattern books, dominate the composition; the leopard and lion, symbolic of British royalty, are prominently placed. Worked with fundamental embroidery stitches, thick outlines define the elephants, parrots, squirrels, unicorns, and rabbits, as well as the flowers and insects interspersed throughout. The panel was then doubled over and joined at the sides to form a pouch. Tassels and a corded drawstring finish the bag. Created over three hundred years ago as a decidedly practical yet decorative household object, this piece survives as one of the earliest known dated workbags.

27” H x 18” W
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