What is Jacobean Embroidery?

Rebecca Cartwright

Jacobean embroidery is a kind of free-form embroidery featuring highly stylized plants, trees, flowers, animals and birds in imaginative and playful designs. Although it is now considered a type of crewel work, meaning wool yarn worked on linen, Jacobean work originally included work with silk, and even metal, thread worked on a variety of fabrics. This style reached its first peak under the English king James I, whose reign in the early 1600s, called the Jacobean era, gave Jacobean embroidery its name.

Jacobean embroidery pieces often show a large array of flowers, such as marigolds.
Jacobean embroidery pieces often show a large array of flowers, such as marigolds.

The Jacobean style of embroidery design merged the twining vegetation and fantastic animals of earlier English decorative arts with motifs taken from stenciled cotton fabric, called palampores, which came from India. In the late 1500s and early 1600s the East India Tea Company was first importing palampores into England, and it greatly influenced English decorative arts. Favorite Jacobean embroidery designs that resemble the Indian fabrics include exotic wildlife such as peacocks and the Hindu Tree of Life.

A punch needle can be used for some types of hand-made embroidery.
A punch needle can be used for some types of hand-made embroidery.

A wide range of animals and plants are fancifully portrayed in Jacobean embroidery. Existing antique pieces show not only trees and vines, but also a huge array of flowers such as marigolds, carnations, harebells and roses. In addition to deer, squirrels and birds, dragonflies, beetles, caterpillars and snails can be found among the intertwined vines and fantastic leaves of the style. Modern work also draws on all these motifs.

The original Jacobean embroidery was worked on a range of items. Surviving pieces or pictures of the work include jackets and other clothing, table linen, curtains, bed hangings and coverings and wall hangings. Modern work is usually used for display or for curtains and other large-scale furnishings.

Early Jacobean work used a variety of fabrics but usually twill, which is cotton and linen woven together, or cotton. While Jacobean era pieces used wool, silk and even metal threads, contemporary Jacobean embroidery is commonly worked with worsted wool yarn. The selection of colors is wide but drawn primarily from those found in nature. Blues, yellows, greens and browns make up the majority of the shades, with reds for accent.

Jacobean embroidery uses a variety of stitches to outline and fill in designs. Block shading, also called long and short stitch, is the usual choice for solid objects, though some are worked in satin stitch. Chain, stem, basket, double-back, rope and cable stitches are also common. Decorative knots and couching work are often used for added effect.

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Discussion Comments


@strawCake - Wool is a great fiber-that's a very unfortunate allergy to have. I think your idea about the silk and metal threads sounds like a good one though.

I actually saw an exhibit of Jacobean embroidery at a museum awhile back. I was fascinated! I can't believe that embroidered pieces from the 1600s survived all the way until the present day. Also, the designs were very beautiful. Unfortunately, I don't remember what kind of thread was used on the Jacobean pieces I saw.


I considered buying a crewel embroidery kit awhile back, but I was put off by the fact that the thread included was made of wool. I'm extremely allergic to wool!

However, after reading this article I think I might just attempt to make my own crewel embroidery kit. After all, Jacobean embroidery wasn't always only done with wool. I think silk sounds like a great option for me! I'm also intrigued by the idea of metal threads and I may try that at some point too!


If you are interested in trying out Jacobean embroidery yourself you can easily buy Jacobean crewel embroidery kits at most craft shops. These kits can really help you to get started by provided simple pattern guides and the materials you will need to complete your work.

What I like most about the Jacobean crewel embroidery kits is that they teach you a lot of different embroidery stitches. Some of these stitches are easier than others, so you really have to try it out to get the feel of it. Before you know it you'll be making free Jacobean embroidery designs all by yourself.


My mother was a huge fan of Jacobean embroidery and she loved to make shirts and skirts with hand embroidery patterns on them. I think she loved the whole idea of there being free embroidery designs because she is a very creative person.

My favorite piece my mother made for me was a skirt that was a simple dark green, but along the bottom there was an entire forest scene. She had deer frolicking through the woods, swirling grasses and hints of clouds. It was a very beautiful piece of art and I still wear it when I am feeling like putting on something less part of the mainstream fashion.

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