Embroidery is a true art form. It has enhanced our civilization making it aware of the beauty that can be created while ‘painting’a story on a fabric with the help of a needle and thread. Like a painting, embroidery reflects intellectual, psychological, traditional and national trends. The art of embroidery has been practiced for thousands of years all over the world. The primary function of embroidery was to decorate textiles. It was rooted in ancient beliefs and superstitions.
Embroidery and other needlework arts can be traced back to the Iron Age. In 1964, a Cro-Magnon hunter’s remains from 30.000 B.C was found in Russia. His fur clothing , boots and hat were hand stitched and decorated.
Kimonos decorated with Japanese silk embroidery are world famous, both for the kimono fabrics and structure, and the embroidery designs. Various Japanese embroidery techniques are so detailed that centuries-old kimonos have been found with their embroidery fully intact.
Several examples of beautiful embroidery work are still surviving until today. Samples can be found from Ancient Egypt, China, Persia, India and England. Each country has its own distinctive style of embroidery, which incorporates the culture and imagery from their history and tradition.
Tattoos were also considered as a form of ‘embroidery’.
Marco Polo called it ‘flesh embroidery’. In certain cultures people protected themselves from bad spirits by tattooing their bodies or decorating their clothing. Tattooing transforms and decorates the body and we see a revival of body tattoos among the millennial generation.
Embroidery has become commercial. The Industrial Revolution has changed the values and former beliefs. The Western concept of embroidery as decorative art has taken over the ancient symbolism.
The discovery of the shuttle embroidery, hand powered embroidery looms and the Schiffli Machine in 1865 revolutionized the embroidery industry. Most of the fabrics were no longer hand stitched. Nowadays specially designed machines can even read a computerized design and stitch it for you.
The world famous and 130 year old Studio Lesage in Paris is still a house of hand work. It was purchased by Chanel in 2002. Executed by what the French call petites mains — little hands. They do it all. "The drawing, the sewing, the embroidery ..." Everything done by "very precious hands," says Chanel's Angelique Ginguene.
World famous design houses, such as Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, and others still appreciate the hand made art of embroidery in comparison to the mass machine production that mostly comes from China.