White fabric Blue and white threads Stitches and designs of crewel embroidery


Deerfield embroidery developed from European crewel work in the village of Deerfield, in western Massachusetts, USA, in the 19th century. Margaret Whiting and Ellen Miller discovered a few pieces of moth-eaten, colonial wool crewel embroidery in the local museum and set about learning the stitches in order to reproduce the original as a matter of record and to preserve the designs for posterity. This resulted in the formation of the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework in 1896 which lasted only until 1925.

Due to the fact that coloured wools were difficult to obtain, and to ensure the longevity of the items, linen thread was used on linen and cotton fabric. Blue thread dyed with indigo which grew wild in America was used to match the blues of Canton china, and was also in keeping with the oriental influences of English crewel designs. So emerged Deerfield Embroidery in three values of blue (light, medium and dark) plus white and an economy of stitch – chosen with the maximum thread on the surface but minimum underneath such as Rumanian stitch which was called New England Laid stitch in Deerfield.

Designs were light, leaving much plain background fabric. Roses, tulips, pinks, clover and grapes are more easily recognisable than the acanthus leaf, pineapple and pomegranate. The letter ‘D’ in a spinning wheel became the mark of all Deerfield reproduction pieces. Later, dyes of madder, indigo, fustic and native barks were used.

The first linen used was only a little heavier than a handkerchief. Gradually linen of different weights and textures was introduced depending on the purpose. Table linens and coverlets were smooth and firm, while wall hangings and curtains were often made of coarser unbleached fabric.


Howe, Margery Burnham, Deerfield Embroidery, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976.
Clabburn, Pamela The Needleworkers' Dictionary, Macmillan, London, 1976
Batsford Encyclopedia Of Embroidery Techniques, Batsford, London, 1984

© Valerie Cavill 2011