Heritage Crafts


The decoration of fabric and other materials with a needle and thread.
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Area practiced currently


Embroidery is an ancient craft with a long and diverse history. Embroidery just like mural painting, illumination or tile work was used as forms of non-verbal communication on a wide range of textiles. It was also used not only as signifiers of rank on clothing but also as reinforcements on clothing especially around cuffs, collars and fasteners. Around the globe, embroidery has a powerful social meaning often used to commemorate important events such as weddings, reiterate wealth and social status as well as being a process in the cultural rite of passages. In some instances, embroidery was used as an autobiographical or biographical ornamentation.

Embroidery was widely used in the home and many women would have been highly skilled in embroidering both functional and decorative objects. Very many girls would have been taught to embroider through making samplers and, as most women did not go on to become professional embroiderers, the samplers were a method of teaching household skills, patience and attention to detail, not to mention letters numbers and bible verses.

In the twenty-first century, embroidery is increasingly admired as an art form. Many textile artists utilise visual research and drawing in a variety of ways to inform and inspire their work, with the  design process firmly underpinning the final outcome.

It is also still vibrant as an amateur craft and continues continues to flourish as a popular leisure pursuit. Great satisfaction and wonderful effects can be achieved using very simple techniques. Embroidery has the advantage of needing little in the way of equipment or facilities to be enjoyed by many diverse practitioners.

As a craft that is predominately practised by women, there will be a wide variety of traditions practised within different communities in the UK.


Stitches are made by hand, and, increasingly since the nineteenth century, by machine also. Traditionally embroidery stitches were created with threads made from natural fibres: silk, linen, cotton and wool; as well as decorations such as jewels, beads, coins and shells.

In the twentieth century creative embroiderers took an increasingly innovative approach to their medium and introduced a range of unusual materials as both ‘thread’ and ground material. Some creative embroiderers have chosen to include mixed media and processes such as dye, paint and drawing with their embroidery.

There are a wide variety of different techniques including:

  • Darning
  • Smocking
  • Both Sides Alike
  • Opus Anglicanum (English Work)
  • Stumpwork
  • White work
  • Black work
  • Crewel work
  • Gold work
  • Silk shading
  • Machine embroidery
  • Cross stitch
  • Beading
  • Sashiko
  • Kantha
  • Drawn thread work
  • Cutwork

and many more…..

Issues affecting the viability

  • Labour intensive and so significantly more time consuming and expensive to make comparing to machine patterns
  • Rise of popularity and the competitive low price of fast fashion
  • Decreasing number of skilled craftsmen
  • Small size of designs comparing to the industrial products

Support organisations

National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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