The Merging of Needle, Thread, Cloth and Spirit
October 2nd - February
Starting with a simple
fabric base, a thread
applied with a needle by
the embroiderer’s hand
becomes a miracle of the
as the simple stitch
ultimate skill and
devotion of the worker.
Spanning all cultures,
this transformation of a fabric
through the absorption
of unfathomable hours of time,
passion and defies all comprehension
of these skills in
today’s complex world.
most basic definition of Whitework embroidery is embroidery of a single
color, typically matching that of the base canvas, where design and
skill is defined, primarily, by texture. The effect is low-key,
representing a purity and demanding close scrutiny to experience its
beauty. It is this demand for detail that requires the highest skills
of the needle worker.
primitive white embroidery has been found in Coptic tombs and evidence
persists of experiments with whitework skills in most cultures, the use
of metallic and color threads of cotton and wool, prevailed as the
material for fabric decoration as evidenced by the extraordinary 11th
century Bayeux tapestry and the Opus Anglicanum embroideries of the
13th and 14th centuries.
the 15th century a new concept for fabric decoration with a needle took
root and predominated in Western culture. The fabrics of linen were
coarse and inviting to the skills for modifying the structure of the
fabric itself. Threads could be withdrawn and threads could be pulled
together to create both controlled designs and a striking piercing of
embroidery gained a new partner with these techniques, design could now
rely on contrast of solid and open areas rather than color and material
textures. This monochromatic or whitework embroidery would soon develop
into lace where the base fabric was eventually eliminated, white
embroidery relegated to the lesser levels of society. Embroidery with
rich threads of color, gold and silver would again define ornament on
was not till the mid nineteenth century that white work would
demonstrate the ultimate skill of the embroiderer. For the first time
the sheerest and most delicate of fabrics were produced, a most fitting
canvas for the skills that were previously demonstrated by the lace
makers. Taking a parallel course, the finest laces would be
challenged by the finest embroideries and often the two merging into a
magnificent unity. As we dreamed of turning straw into gold,
the needle workers were able to virtually change cloth into lace.
the same time, whitework would involve and capture the other fabric
items which demanded ornament and dignity. Linens for both table and
bed would be the canvas as well as the everyday garments, most of which
were not intended to be seen except by the wearer. Here, the canvas was
the function, whitework the soul.
many techniques of white work are often combined, some as a reflection
of the base material and others independent of the base
with fabrics where the threads can be counted:
Work, where the threads of the fabric are pulled together to form
Work, where select woven threads are removed by pulling (withdrawing)
them out of the fabric and the remaining threads then manipulated.
Work, where geometric holes are cut out in geometric
patterns. Hardanger and Lefkara embroidery being
with fabrics where the weave is not a factor:
Surface Embroidery, where the embroidered threads lay on the surface of
fabric. Appensell (Swiss) embroidery being the finest and Mountmellick
characterized by the heavy base material.
where additional layers of fabric are sewn to the base fabric forming
shadow effects. This is commonly found in Madera work and in some of
the Pina embroidery of the Philippines.
and darning on netting or tulle is not generally considered within the
scope of whitework. This
excludes the popular Irish Carrickmacross and Limerick Lace, and the
omnipresent Filet laces.
Embroidery, where holes in the fabric are formed by piercing, the name
Embroidery Anglais commonly applied.
- Richelieu Embroidery, where freeform openings are cut into the fabric, design
defined by contrast of negative and positive areas.
exhibit will allow the visitor to explore the vast range of whitework
skills. Some reaching beyond comprehension and others as familiar as
that found on Mother’s
Elements of this Exhibit
As with most needlework
of the past, origins and maker are unrecorded and unknown. We might
know where we obtained a specific piece of needlework but this would
rarely reflect its origin or its initial purpose. Most needlework was
revered and consistently transformed into other works for new use or
simply as way of preserving its beauty.
There are obvious technical characteristics which help identify a work
and there are physical characteristics which can identify a fiber, but
actual dating and origin must be left to conjecture. Techniques spread
rapidly and innovation became the pleasure of the needleworker
The primary purpose of
this exhibit of whitework is to show the connection of the
human spirit to the piece executed…to see and understand and
somehow comprehend the dedication and skill of the worker in this
involvement. It is this intrinsic value of each piece which goes beyond
a name or date that demands our attention.
There will always be the need to know more and we at LMLT have done our
research, but much is conjecture, and more questions than answers are
the norm. We can only share what we see and what we have discovered and
hopefully seduce you into this marvel of mankind’s
Museum of Lace and Textiles lacismuseum.org