Fragment of Leek embroidery floral border
Leek, Staffordshire, United Kingdom
Leek embroidery was a style of embroidery created and popularised by Sir Thomas and Lady Elizabeth Wardle through the Leek Embroidery Society. Thomas Wardle was an influential silk dyer with a particular interest in Indian silks and natural dyes that influenced his research and experimentation with dyeing processes and materials. He worked alongside several key members of the Arts and Crafts movement including William Morris. His wife Elizabeth was a highly talented embroiderer with a gift for interpreting designs and arranging effective yet subtle colour schemes. The couple founded the Leek Embroidery Society and School in 1879 and Elizabeth served as the School’s Superintendent. In addition to teaching embroidery and working on ecclesiastical and secular commissions, the Society also produced kits that could be bought by the public; allowing women to embroider the designs at home.
This sample of embroidery shows many of the characteristics typical of Leek embroideries. The fabric is a natural beige coloured tussah silk from India, which was the usual fabric of choice for Leek work. The kits supplied this fabric with an outline of the design pre-printed in a distinctive maroon colour. The embroidery is worked in loosely spun silk thread, dyed in a range of harmonious colours in natural shades including sage greens, soft indigo blues and warm madder based reds. The designs were often inspired by Indian, Chinese and Persian textiles. This pattern has some similarities with the embroidery found on Chinese sleeve bands and the couched gold thread outlining the floral motifs is another similarity to Chinese embroidery.
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