Beautiful Embroidery: From Pattern Book to Fashion Magazine

The National Museum in Warsaw

Embroidered garments and fashion accessories from the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw

Embroidery is one of the forms of decorating garments which gives them a unique, stylish appearance. At times it was employed eagerly, and at times – avoided. Examples of this is represented in the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw.  

Historical collections demonstrate the variety and diversity of embroidery used for decorating dresses, waistcoats, vestments, bonnets, gloves, even shoes and bags – from modest geometrical patterns on batiste collars to sumptuous gold or silver ornaments on coronation attires.

They were commissioned in professional workshops or made individually by hand, according to a pattern book or own ideas.

Mixed materials
Various types of silk, wool and metal thread of different textures were employed for this purpose, and the patterns were created either using an entire spectrum of colours or in a monochrome manner.

Pattern books
Modern museum collections include various embroidery pattern books: textile ones showing a number of ornaments on a piece of linen, pattern sets included in books or as stand-alone prints, and those copied from popular magazines into notebooks.

Stories behind embroideries
Authors of embroidered decorations were only limited by fashion and their own imagination. For instance, embroidered ornaments on 18th-century men’s waistcoats were a chronicle of important events and popular subjects, not unlike present-day T-shirts.

One of the inspirations behind 18th-century embroidery was nature: plants, flowers, fruit, even exotic animals, both faithfully rendered and fancifully transformed. Floral ornaments were the most widespread decoration of garments, including vestments.

Floral accents
One example of this trend is the splendid cope made of a fabric embroidered with intertwining flower branches, with parrots and birds-of-paradise placed between them.

Embroidered motifs disseminated quickly owing to pattern books printed since early 16th century. Floral and geometrical patterns, ornamental monograms and decorative borders may be found on embroidered samplers, which testify to girls' homeschooling.

Symbols of power
Coronation attires were often decorated with embroidered heraldic motifs. This coronation mantle of King Augustus III Wettin, on the other hand, is solely embellished with a floral ornament emulating the patterns of fashionable 1720s and 1730s fabrics.

The sophisticated design, covering the entire surface of the garment, catches the eye with its rich texture of gold and silver threads.

The more complex the ornamentation, the more difficult the job of a conservator becomes. The back of this chasuble is decorated with a cross orphray depicting the Tree of Jesse with the figures of Joachim and Anne, Virgin Mary, crucified Christ and God the Father.

During conservation, a fragment of the face of one of the figures was reconstructed: the missing piece of parchment mask responsible for the protrusion of the nose.

Work in process
This fragment of a chasuble with floral motifs is embroidered with woollen yarn.
Following wet-cleaning the embroidery and fabric is stabilized. Threads of the embroidery are arranged and straightened using entomological pins.

Step into the Textile Storeroom and Conservation Workshop at the National Museum in Warsaw.

The vividly green fabric used to make this coat represents a beautiful background for the colourful embroidery with bouquets of grasses, ears of grain and delicate wild flowers as the main motif.

L'art du brodeur by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin (1721–1786) is a genuine treasury of information on 18th century embroidery. In it the author described the techniques and stitches of the day, tools and materials, and also included popular pattern templates.

Small pieces of art
18th-century waistcoat embroidery sometimes resembled miniature paintings. The motifs designed by artists reflected fashionable trends and contemporary imagery: current topics, events and even protagonists of theatre plays.

This embroidered letter case was presented to King Stanislaus Augustus of Poland on his name-day by Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent De Paul from Warsaw. The monogram, and particularly the emblem, usually represented the main decorative motif of such objects.

This light-cream, embroidered kontusz sash was most likely meant to be worn at a wedding. The decorative embroidery copies motifs known from weaved sashes...

... flower bushes at the bottom end, vine scrolls at the hem and large dots referred to as szelążki (small copper coins) in the central part. The varied ornament and colour means that the sash was folded in half, so as to demonstrate alternately both sides of the design, like in weaved sashes.

The fichu, or kerchief covering the low neckline and shoulders, was a typical element of 18th-century female garments. Elegant accessories of this type were sewn using delicate linen, gauze or muslin and embellished with embroidered decorations.

The edges of this fichu from the Museum’s collection, made of thin silk gauze, are covered with ornate embroidery. The floral motif was made using silk threads and several types of metal thread.

These gloves made of thin, soft leather were most likely an element of female riding apparel. They are decorated with a delicate embroidered pattern showing a colourful bird-of-paradise perched on a branch with leaves – a popular 18th-century motif.

Indoor female dresses were also decorated with ornate embroideries. The garment at hand features the motif of the tree of life borrowed from printed Indian textiles called chintz.

Despite the ban on their import to Europe, the pattern enjoyed great popularity and may also be found on embroidered tapestries and vestments.

These shoes demonstrate the European fascination with the arts and crafts of the Far East. Owing to their fashionable shape and embroidered decoration made in China, they represented an extremely sophisticated accessory of courtly fashion.

Eastern ornaments were commonly seen in Western European decorative arts. The waistcoat at hand is embellished with geometrical motifs of fancy palmettes inspired by art of the Far East.

This is a rare example of monochrome embroidery on red satin. This intense colour is typical of garments worn in early 18th century. In the second half of the century, colours became more refined, and red was substituted with a warm shade of pink resembling the colour of a lobster.

Owing to the embroidered floral ornaments and intricate openwork pattern, the white surface of the linen is transformed into a sophisticated and elegant fabric.

The design of this baby’s shirt refers to the justaucorps – a male outer garment popular in early 18th century.

This whitework linen-thread embroidery on delicate linen is an example of the so-called Dresden lace or point de saxe.

This name was coined in early 20th century, as whitework was associated with a type of lace popular in the first half of the 18th century, with elaborate floral motifs on a decorative background filled with fine ornaments. This characteristic type of whitework developed in Saxony in the 18th century.

This dress made of transparent white gauze is an example of early 19th-century court attire. It belonged to Queen Louise (1776–1810), wife of Frederick William III of Prussia. The garment is decorated with palmettes, flower baskets and small dots embroidered with white cotton thread.

This modest, white collar of a woman’s blouse is decorated with openwork, geometrical, white embroidery. Together with cuffs, it provided an elegant finish of a female outfit.

Ladies who wanted to decorate their garments, kerchiefs or mats placed underneath vases or cups (an indispensable element of each 19th-century home) could avail themselves of charts with embroidery patterns printed in the press. They showed both stitch types and a variety of motifs and decorated accessories.

The 1920s fascination with folk art is visible in the patterns of decorative textiles created at the time. Folk motifs may also be found in printed pattern books.

Embroidery was one of the favourite decoration techniques of 1920s fashion designers, and bead embroidery was one of its most popular and glamorous incarnations. Such decorations were employed in dresses, coats and elegant accessories, such as bags.

Authors of embroidered decorations were only limited by fashion and their own imagination... Sky is the limit?

The National Museum in Warsaw
Credits: Story

Ewa Orlińska-Mianowska, Collection of Decorative Arts, Textile Collection
Monika Janisz, Collection of Decorative Arts, Textile Collection

Jolanta Latkowska-Romaniuk, Department of Textile Conservation
Wanda Antos, Department of Textile Conservation
Grażyna Kowalska, Department of Textile Conservation
Mirosława Machulak, Department of Textile Conservation
Anna Szczypka, Department of Textile Conservation
Aleksandra Wróbel, Department of Textile Conservation

GCI Curator:
Magdalena Majchrzak

English translation:
Aleksandra Szkudłapska

Charlie Smith

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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