Deerfield Embroidery

Where is Deerfield?

Deerfield embroidery is based on Crewel Work. It evolved in a small town in Massachusetts, USA which you can see on a map here.

It’s a very picturesque New England town.


What’s the story of Deerfield embroidery? 

In 1898 two women Margaret Christine Whiting and Ellen Miller founded the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework.

They had found some very moth-eaten and threadbare pieces of 18th century Jacobean embroidery that had been stitched locally in New England. They wanted to replicate them so that the history and beauty of these pieces wouldn’t be lost.

At the time Crewel work was out of fashion so they had to research the materials and stitches needed to reproduce these earlier pieces. The development of Deerfield embroidery was influenced by the following practical realities:

  • the 18th century Crewel work designs had already been adapted by New England needlewomen so that they used less thread and materials.
  • the aniline dyes that were in general use after the Civil War proved to be unsuitable for dyeing embroidery thread. Most of the colours were too harsh and faded quickly when exposed to the sun.
  • moth attack on textiles was a reality of daily life and therefore wool threads and materials could not be used. This forced a move to flax and linen.

As a result the earliest embroideries produced by the Society were stitched with blue and white linen threads and the occasional brown shades. The blue colours were based on hand dyeing with indigo and the browns from dyeing with local tree barks.

For most people Deerfield embroidery is synonymous with blue and white embroidery.  But in fact over the life of the Society from 1898 to 1930 a whole range of colours was gradually introduced based on natural plant dyes – madder (reds and pinks), fustic (yellow) etc.

Stitches used in Deerfield

The stitches are those typical of Crewel work – Outline and Stem Stitch, Herringbone Stitch, Chain Stitch, Feather Stitch, Fly Stitch, Coral Stitch (called Snail Trail), Buttonhole and Blanket Stitch (called Spike Stitch), Satin Stitch, Seed Stitch, Lattice Stitch etc.

There were also some local variants of stitches:

  • New England Laid Stitch (both open and closed forms) which is essentially Roumanian Stitch;
  • Honeycombe Stitch which is very similar to interlocking Buttonhole Stitch but with virtually no thread carried through to the back of the fabric (one of the thread thrifty variations of classic stitches) and
  • Crows Feet Stitch which is essentially three straight stitches in the pattern \|/

Examples of Deerfield

There are several examples of Deerfield stitched by our members in our Crewel and Surface Stitchery Gallery.

Other Resources

If you want to read more of the history of this embroidery style then Deerfield Embroidery: Traditional Patterns from Colonial Massachusetts by Marjery Burnham Howe is a great read. The author was a neighbour of Margaret Whiting in the 1930s and she really evokes the social and cultural context of the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework. By the way they used ‘Needlework’ and not ‘Crewel work’ because they used linen rather than wool materials and threads.

Article by Carmen.

Comments are closed.