Historic Embroidery

At EmbroidMe San Diego, custom embroidery is serious business. We love translating your business logo into thread. Today any small business can create their own branded uniform with custom embroidery. But it hasn’t always been that way. For our inaugural blog post, we thought it would be fun to take a look at the history of embroidery -- an art with roots in ancient times.

There is a lot of evidence of the early existence of embroidery. If you took an art history class, you probably studied classic vases from ancient Greece. But did you realize that the Greeks portrayed on those vases are (semi!)clothed in embroidered garments – the height of the 6th and 7th century BC fashion? Similarly, Egyptian tomb art from the time of the Pharaohs shows clothing, seat coverings, and other garments decorated with embroidery. Today China is still famous for the fine art quality of hand sewn silk embroidery, but early examples can be traced to the period 618 AD to 907 AD, during the Tang Dynasty. Some of the earliest surviving embroidery is from the Scythians, around the 5th and 3rd centuries B.C.

Embroidery evolved as a form of art and fashion, but it sometimes also served to capture history. One of the greatest, and probably most popular embroidered works of all time, is the Bayeux Tapestry. Produced in the Middle Ages, the tapestry depicts events that led up to the Norman Invasion of Britain and the Battle of Hastings in 1066. I recently found a video on YouTube that animates the famous embroidered tapestry – check it out.

Historically, embroidery was all hand work, and highly labor intensive. But in the early 1800s, shuttle embroidery transformed the industry through mechanization. A hand embroidery machine invented by Joshua Heilmann, kicked off a series of events that led to the birth of sewing machines and hand powered embroidery looms in the 1860s and 1870s, respectively. In the latter parts of the 20th century, computer aided sewing and embroidering machines were developed, allowing faster processing and mass production. For a peak inside a French factory that has been producing embroidery thread since 1746, click here.

Embroidery has developed over the years with more sophisticated designs, patterns and methods – and faster methods of production. It is continuously growing as an amazing form of art, while at the same time, becoming more accessible to the general public. No longer only within the reach of the wealthy, embroidered garments are now mass produced and offered for sale in retail stores. Businesses use custom embroidered uniforms as an integral part of their branding strategy. Look around – you’ll see embroidered apparel everywhere!