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Embroidery is said to have been initiated by Minerva, and is one of the most ancient arts -

taking precedence even over painting.

Beadwork is also an "ancient art" - European beadwork dating to prehistoric times,

employing shells and animal bones. 

Early ceramic and glass beadwork was used by the Egyptians

(you probably recall the broad beaded collars - "weskhets" - worn by pharoahs and gods),




as well as the varied beading worn by the Greeks and the Romans.


However, the period of current interest involves primarily the late 16th and entire 17th century.


Until the early 17th century, most embroidery was used for more practical textiles -

as tapestries, curtains and bedspreads - upon which entire families would work for months - or even years. 

As machine made necessities became available c1600, the ladies of privilege could turn to more intimate canvases,

upon  which they lavished a wealth of diverse stitches - often so minute that a magnifying glass was needed to distinguish them. 

Whilst the earliest canvases were of tent-stitch or petit point,

in the early 17th century, stumpwork pictures came into fashion -

padding the silk embroidery with hair, remnant silk threads, or other soft materials

for very high-relief embroidery.




It is also said that stumpwork was possibly suggested by the "raised work" on Italian ecclesiastical vestments.

Indeed, the depictions were usually either Biblical subjects, or of the reigning monarchs and their courts.

The above c1660 petit point and stumpwork illustrates the story of King David and Abigail,

(1 Samuel 25) - a story of generosity and mercy), the central roundel sided by figures of Faith and Hope,

the figures clad in comtemporary mid-17th century dress, David almost appearing as Charles II.

(Personal Collection) 

Throughout the 17th century, the padding became more pronounced, often almost three-dimensional. 

Toward the end of the 17th century the exaggerated padding reverted to a flatter work. 




During the mid-17th century, beadwork was introduced into British embroidered pictures,

either as an enhancement to the silk embroidery, or standing on its own -

 such as the elegant beadwork and stumpwork roundel above -

which we are pleased to offer for sale.

(Please click image for further information)

Also dating c1660, it depicts the well executed portrait of a lady in Elizabethan dress. 

The glass beads were likely obtained from Murano, Italy,

where glassmakers had mastered the uniformity of bead size and color by the late 1300's. 

This example would likely have been the center of a jewelry casket,

as pictured below from the collection at the V&A, London.




"The padded central panel lifts open to show a compartment for jewellery, lined with pink taffeta. 

The quality of glass beads and other material,

and the involvement of a cabinet-maker in making the beadwork up into such a box,

would mean that it could only be made within a household which could afford such outlay. 

Being such an intricate and relatively precious thing, the case's owner....

 would have handled it very gently, thus it remains in good condition today."

(V&A, British Galleries, Room 56d, Case 6)


An additional beauty of antique beading is it ability to retain its rich colors,

 so that the beading appears today as when first made -

whilst the surrounding silk may have experienced fading and losses.


Although beadwork was revived in England during the 19th century,

the skill is now becoming a "lost art".



Please click the above beadwork images for more information and images.


901-761-1163 (gallery) / 901-827-4668 (cell)



Hours : Wed.-Sat. 11-6, or by appointment

Complimentary Gift Wrapping


mfcreech@bellsouth.net  or  mfordcreech@gmail.com



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17th Century British Beadwork & Stumpwork Embroidery