Embroidery / Crewel

MPF Conservation restores, conserves and preserves all types of textiles in their studio in Portland Oregon, this page discusses crewel or embroidered items.

Right, detail from one
of the Hoyt Family Quilts.

What is the difference between embroidery and crewel? Embroidery is an art that decorates fabric using a needle and embroidery floss to create a surface pattern, example below left. Crewel is a form of embroidery, unique because it is created with a fine twisted worsted wool, example below right. The word crewel dates back to 1490s, but has unknown origins. Speculation postulates it comes from an ancient word that describes the curl in a single strand of wool.

What is Foxing? Foxing needs to be understood as it is mentioned often in the textiles pages. Foxing shows up as small rusty-colored spots, sometimes like flecks and sometimes round, example shown left in a historic Wrench quilt from the Tualatin Historical Society. It cannot be removed, as it is an interaction between specific mold spores and mineral oxides. It is NOT a mold, but a by-product. It doesn’t “damage” the fiber per se but should not be allowed to proliferate if possible as it is unsightly, so items with foxing should be stored away from items without it. Make it a habit not to touch an item with foxing then touch one without foxing.

If you are interested in embroidery, I recommend visiting our page on Quilts because several of the quilts shown have lovely embroidery.

Before treatment, left, and after right. The piece did brighten a bit
but know that much of that is about lighting.  

Francis Normandin’s Crewel Work circa 1940

Frances Normandin, great-grandmother to our clients, designed and created the crewelwork image of their family Oregon farm.

Her son,  Fred Louis Normandin, Jr., or “Bub,”  was named after his father, the first grocer in the Mount Tabor area.  Frances was born in 1897 and grew up in Portland, attending St. Mary’s Academy, where her artistic talent began to show itself.  She was a gifted painter, worked in the mediums of beadwork, woodcarving, and various kinds of needlework.  She lived to be 97 and was still making beadwork bell ornaments right up until the end of her life, even though she was legally blind.

There are several posts on the blog about the process of working on the crewel piece. Start here and move forward

Before, left, and after right.  

Lianne’s Linen Sampler circa 1806

Lianne’s Great-great-great-GREAT grandmother, Hannah Epes, shown right, completed this sampler on June 26th, 1806, when she was 10 years old. It came to us in the sweet old handkerchief box her grandmother kept it in, another keepsake.

I like hearing the history of the pieces from our clients, and Lianne is willing to let me share it (see blogpost below). Hannah had a rough life and lost many loved ones which included the death of two husbands before she died in 1867.

Mod Owl, circa 2019

Not all our projects are older. The Mod Owl is an example of a fairly modern crewel piece created by our client’s family from a kit; she wanted them finished properly! We assisted in repairing them before preparing them for framing.

Hoyt Family Quilt (Unfinished) circa 1890

I am a fourth generation Californian. My great-grandmother Hoyt was born in the town of San Fernando in Southern California, on a relatively large local ranch with both beef and dairy stock, roughly where Hoyt Street is now located. My family also were sheriff’s and government officials, so had continual employment during lean times. They had a huge garden and especially during the Great Depression, fed many locals who were having hard times.

Grandma Hoyt (left) was a master quilter and while she had the money to purchase good fabrics, she also collected fabrics from everything old: silk ties and coat or jacket linings and torn clothing! This (and the finished quilt on the Quilt page) were made on Hoyt Street in the small town of San Fernando at the turn of the century, around the time my grandmother Lyle Genevieve Smith was born.

This is a wealth of beauty and ideas I thought I would publish it in its unfinished form. It needs a great deal of work. It is designed as a bed topper, just big enough to cover the top of a double bed.

There is a second finished Hoyt quilt on the Quilt page.

I am currently vetting regional California museums who specialize in Californian history and/or quilts and who would appreciate the beauty and skill of the native families.

Another quilt with embroidery is located in Institutional location:

The Crater Lake Centennial Quilt has lovely examples of embroidery, such as the two examples shown above.