Chenille is the French word for caterpillar. A round thread with a Soft velvety pile which resembles the body of a caterpillar Made of silk, wool or cotton Worked on a velvet or satin background. There are three kinds of Chenille Chenille a Broder-extremely fine in texture and not on wire Chenille Ordinaire-coarser chenille adapted for couching.[2] Often used in conjunction with Berlin wool work Chenille rolio-a twisted, silk chenille cord stiffened with wire, nicknamed rat tails, popular in the second half of the 19thC This expensive thread was used economically making couching a favourite method. Having a soft velvety pile, it was pulled through the fabric as little as possible.


During the 18thC, Chenille was extremely fashionable in the French court and pieces worked by Marie Antoinette and her ladies are still preserved. From France it passed to England where, in Victorian times it became a craze on items of clothing, cushions and furnishings. Men’s vests were embroidered in chenille imitating ermine.[3 and 4] Because it was a very expensive thread, it came with instructions for economical use; couching was a favourite method.

Chenille yarn appeared in Australia from 1850 and remained popular throughout the 19th and early 20th C. With the advent of machine-made ‘chenille’ bedspreads, the technique quickly fell out of fashion. [3]
Rolio, nicknamed rat tails,was used for chenille fringes and tassels, popular in the second half of the 19thC, and to outline the edge of many objects, especially glass domes, a feature of the time.


1. Clabburn, Pamela, The Needleworkers' Dictionary, Macmillan, London, 1976
2. Caulfeild, SFA & Saward, B.C The dictionary of needlework, Blaketon Hall, England 1989
3. Isaacs, Jennifer, The Gentle Arts: 200 years of Women's Domestic and Decorative Art, Landsdown Press, Sydney, 1987
4. The Batsford Encyclopedia of Embroidery Techniques, Batsford, London, 1984

© Valerie Cavill, 2014