An Introduction to Crewel Work Day Class at the RSN

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend a day class at the RSN. This time, I attended an introduction to crewel work class, by Lizzy Lansbury.

The group for this class was much larger than the stumpwork class I attended. There were around twelve of us at this crewel work class, the stumpwork one I attended in January only had about six. So we took up two rooms, but still had plenty of room to spread out comfortably, and with the two teachers (Lizzy had help. I’m just not sure who it was that was helping her out!) working each example a couple of times, we were all given the opportunity to see the technique and stitches they were working.

The design we worked was a modern crewel work piece, using a few of the traditional stitches used in Jacobean pieces. It’s a really happy, bright summery piece! I have to admit, I was really pleased when I saw we were using Renaissance Dyeing threads, and not Appleton Wool! It is so wonderfully soft, and doesn’t have the flaws in it that Appelton Wool has. I did however find that even with short thread lengths (about 30 cm), the thread would deteriorate and I was finishing the thread earlier than I usually do. Lizzie mentioned that she too has this problem, and it is most likely down to minute movements of our hands or fingers when completing each stitch. Does anyone else find this with particular threads? I admit, this is the first time I have encountered it!

completed flower motif

The first stitch we went through was stem stitch. One that I have used lot before! The interesting point I learnt here is that I have been ‘pulling’ the thread in the wrong direction as I complete each stitch. I have a habit of pulling the thread through in the direction of the loop, when I should be pulling it through in the direction of the stitching line. My main problem with this stitch was getting each stitch consistent in length. One of the stems I completed at home was probably the best for this, but the last one I completed was not so good! Something to work on.

We then moved onto laid work. Laid work is used to cover areas in a similar way to satin stitch. However, due to the size of the motif, satin stitch wouldn’t work so well, as the ‘wrapping’ of the thread around the motif could cause the fabric to bunch up. Apparently, satin stitch works best in areas where the stitches don’t need to be much more than 1cm, and laid work is used to cover areas larger than this. Laid work is all worked ‘on’ the fabric, so the back of the fabric where this stitch is worked has only the little stitches that move from one stitch to the  next. The downside to this stitch is that it can be a little ‘messy’ around the edges. So to complete the stitch, a stem stitch is worked around the edge. I really liked this stitch. It was a little tricky getting each stitch aligned vertically, but once I had found the grain of the fabric, this made life a lot easier!


I then learnt that I have been using the wrong stitch when outlining an area before satin stitching over it! I have always used split backstitch for this. I find it is an easy stitch to get into a good rhythm with, and I can work it quite quickly. However, on Saturday I learnt the best stitch to use in these instances is actually split stitch! And a tiny split stitch at that! My eyes got tired quite quickly from working the tiny stitches, but it gave a lovely, firm finish to the stitching line. The satin stitching on the leaf was then stitched in, and it was stitched vertically – so no need to worry about direction lines of the leaf, but in keeping with the grain of the fabric. This is a common feature of Jacobean crewel that I really like – stylised, not necessarily like reality.

We finished off the morning with French knots. I learnt that a true French knot only has one wrap (so I wonder what I’m doing on my sheep!), and that if you want a neat line of them, you should work them almost like a backstitch, where you finish the knot by going back along your line. I have to say, I think these were the neatest French knots I’ve ever stitched!

french knots.jpg

When we broke for lunch, I took the opportunity to sit and enjoy the wonderful gardens at Hampton Court. It was such a glorious day, and the gardens were just stunning.

The afternoon flew by! After the morning of laying stitches horizontally, we moved onto whipped backstitch, where the biggest challenge for me was getting the stitches even again! Having now worked more of this stitch at home, I have to say I don’t much like the ‘look’ of backstitch by itself when stitched by me – but adding in the whipping, especially in a different colour brings a whole new feature to the stitch which I really quite like!

We then learnt how to complete a woven wheel – I loved this stitch! I got a little ‘lost’ towards the end, and missed an under, but overall this wasn’t too bad. The big thing with this stitch is to make sure you don’t end up with a ‘cup’, which would be very easy to do, and I was constantly thinking about it, and making sure my stitches were laying reasonably well on the fabric, though they are a little cup like at the end. The one I completed at home wasn’t perfect either, but a little improved. I can see a lot of potential for this stitch – imagine it worked in beautiful variegated threads.

And to finish off our day, bullion knots – completed in a different way to what I have ever seen before, and it worked really well! I admit, I nearly took the scissors to my first attempt. But after heeding Lizzy’s advice and just working with it, I ended up with quite a happy bullion! Lizzy works her bullions with the needle still in the fabric when winding the thread around the needle, and then pulling the thread through to the back before pulling the needle through the wraps. As I said, this didn’t work easily the first time round, but it was easily rectified, and no problems of wondering where that thread that sometimes makes its way down the side of the bullion is.


As I suspected, I enjoyed the day and project a lot, and have been working on finishing it off this week! We covered a good part of the design in class, and other than the bullions, there were sufficient elements to practise on at home, which I have done. I’m really happy with this project – so fitting for this time of year when spring is trying it’s hardest to come to play! I think I’ll make it into a nice happy summer cushion – I’m hoping I have some happy fabric to back it with!

completed piece

Now to decide – what will I do next at the RSN?!!

10 thoughts on “An Introduction to Crewel Work Day Class at the RSN”

  1. Wow, this looks amazing! I love the design and your stitching is so neat and tidy and the colours are spot on. It would make a fabulous cushion front.

    I’ve learned quite a bit about a couple of stitches reading this post, I too stitch stem stich the wrong way, and I’ve used satin stitch for more than 1cm, never tried laid work before. I will have to remember these tips for next time!!

    I’ve always worked French knots with 2 or 3 needle wraps, depending on the effect I want, I guess the thickness of the thread would come into it. I don’t think I’ve ever done one using crewel wool, in fact I’ve never done any crewel embroidery but seeing this makes me want to start, your work is so inspiring.

    Have a good week,

    1. Oh thank you for such kind words Ann! You are spot on with the French knots. Lizzy said if you want smaller knots, use a thinner thread. And bigger knots need either thicker thread or more strands. These were completed using two strands of wool. I hope you can find a pattern you like the look of to try out crewelwork. Let me if know if you need help finding one. I hope you have a great week too!

    1. Thanks Sherrie! Up until now I’ve only ‘taught’ myself with various kits I’ve bought so this was a wonderful experience. I hope you enjoy your day too!

    1. Thanks Deborah – it was certainly worth every minute and cent! I absolutely loved it, and you are spot on – I definitely came away more knowledgeable. It just opens your eyes as to how much there is out there to know!

  2. Once again your stitching amazes me. You are so clever. Thank you for explaining everything so well.. Are you a teacher?
    Kathleen Mary

    1. Thanks Kathleen Mary! Determined more than clever I think! No, I’m not a teacher, though I do get asked that a lot. Mainly because my hubby is a teacher, so people think I must be too!

  3. This is simply lovely! How fun that you got to take a class to learn how to make do the various stitches and in the process learned ways to improve those you already knew well. I hope you’ll share a photo of the finished cushion.

    Thanks so much for linking up to last week’s Stitchery Link Party. Aloha hugs!

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