Deerfield Embroidery

Hi everyone

This post is going to focus on Deerfield Embroidery. The inspiration is a table mat stitched by Marjorie Gilby that Stewart Bath has photographed.

Where is Deerfield?

Deerfield embroidery is based on Crewel Work. It evolved in a small town in Massachusetts 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 \|/

Marjorie’s Deerfield Table Mat

Now for the eye candy. Here are the photos of Marjorie’s mat:

Deerfield Embroidery Napkin stitched by Marjorie Gilby

detail 1 of Deerfield Embroidery stitched by Marjorie Gilby

Detail 2 of Deerfield Embroidery stitched by Marjorie Gilby

Detail 3 of Deerfield Embroidery stitched by Marjorie Gilby

Detail 4 of Deerfield Embroidery stitched by Marjorie Gilby

Detail 5 of Deerfield Embroidery stitched by Marjorie Gilby

Detail 6 of Deerfield Embroidery stitched by Marjorie Gilby

Detail 7 of Deerfield Embroidery stitched by Marjorie Gilby

Detail 8 of Deerfield Embroidery stitched by Marjorie Gilby

Detail 9 of Deerfield Embroidery stitched by Marjorie Gilby

Other Examples of Deerfield

There’s also this example of Deerfield stitched by Margaret Kelemen in our Crewel and Surface Stitchery Gallery:

Deerfield embroidery

Deerfield embroidery stitched by Margaret Kelemen

and another piece stitched for the Guild’s collection of samples of different types of embroidery. This sample was stitched by Cecilia Skene:

Deerfield Embroidery Sample from the Guilds Collecton

 Deborah Love’s Wonderful Website

If you’d like to see some more exquisitely stitched Deerfield then head over to Deborah Love’s website and admire her awesome pieces of Deerfield Embroidery. Deborah is the President of the Queensland Guild.

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.

Marjorie a big thanks once again for sharing your work with us.

bye for now



Tjanpi Desert Weavers

Hi everyone

A big hello from Alice Springs.

This afternoon we visited the gallery of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers and saw some wonderful fibre art that was authentic, serious, meaningful, fun and had loads of personality. It’s such an inspiring story that I couldn’t wait to share it with you.

A Little Bit about the Tjanpi Desert Weavers

This is a not for profit indigenous social enterprise that supports more than 400 women artists from 28 remote Aboriginal communities. It’s an initiative of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council.

These artists live in the Central and Western Deserts of Australia – some of the remotest and most challenging country not just in Australia but on the planet. Where the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia meet:

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 8

Yet these marvellous women have founded and developed an awesome artistic enterprise with important cultural and economic significance. There’s a long and rich tradition of indigenous women using fibre arts to create objects for every day and ceremonial use. It’s expressive in so many ways because it’s not just about the sculpting and weaving of fibre but also the singing and dancing that are an integral part of the process.

‘Tjanpi’ means grass and the fibres are collected in the communities along with feathers, seeds and other decorative items. Some of the more sculptural pieces also include wool.

Here’s some eye candy for you to enjoy.

I’d like to thank the gallery staff who allowed me to take these photos for the blog. If you want a closer look just click on the photos:

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 7

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 1

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 2Tjanpi Desert Weavers 5Tjanpi Weavers 4

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 6

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 3

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 10 And here’s a special piece that’s coming home with me……

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 12

The artist is Yaritji Heffernan from the Pukatja community in South Australia.

There’s more information on the Tjanpi Desert Weavers here and in this super cool book:

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 9

The Famous ‘Toyota’

I grew up in North Queensland on a sugar cane farm where everyone had a Toyota Land Cruiser – the rugged versions. This vehicle is just part of Northern Australia.

So I loved the delightful story of how in 2006 a group of Tjanpi weavers from the Blackstone community decided to weave/sculpt/craft a Toyota Landcruiser from grasses they collected and all sorts of found and recycled objects – string, wooden planks, hub caps, steering wheel etc.

It won a prestigious art prize and is now in the Museum and Gallery of the Northern Territory.

Tjanpi Desert Weavers 13


Take care