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History of Embroidery


With examples of embroidery decoration dating as far back as they do, it seems almost as if as long as clothing has been around, people have felt the need to decorate it! It is interesting to look back at how embroidery has been treated throughout history when so much of what we wear is decorated these days. Embroidery didn't always used to be so easy to come by...

In the Middle Ages, embroidery acted as a sign of wealth and luxury. In a time when many clothes were plain, it was easy to stand out by wearing fancy attire instead. Only the most affluent members of society were able to afford the luxury of embroidered decoration. Everything was hand stitched - one stitch at a time. It could take weeks or months to complete a design. Embroidery was a skill marking a girl's path into womanhood as well as conveying rank and social standing.

Although embroidery had been practiced for many years before, it was only in the late 1800s when embroidery machines began to gain popularity and take hold during the industrial revolution.

The embroidery world has progressed a lot since the original hand embroidery machine, which simply consisted of a base holder and still required much of the work to be done by hand.

Commercial embroidery only came to North America in 1848, along with Swiss embroiderer Jacob Schiess. However, at that point, much of his embroidery was still done by hand! When you think about the number of stitches that go into the embroidery we produce now (approximately 6,000 - 10,000 individual stitches for a typical 1 x 4 inch logo), that's incredible.

Commercial embroidery was really revolutionized by the invention of the "Schiffli" style embroidery machine. Basically an emulation of the sewing machine, a Schiffli embroidery machine works by the simple means of a continuously threaded needle, and a bobbin shuttle. Similar to the type of machine we use to manufacture our products, the Schiffli style allows for much more efficient and professional looking finish than the outdated machinery of the past. The fabrics and yarns used in traditional embroidery vary from place to place. Wool, linen, and silk have been in use for thousands of years for both fabric and yarn. Today, embroidery thread is manufactured in cotton, rayon, and polyester as well as in traditional wool, linen, and silk. We use only the world's number one brand of polyester thread Madeira. It is known for its bright colours, strength and durability and colour fastness.

Contemporary embroidery is stitched with a computerized embroidery machine using patterns digitized with embroidery software. In machine embroidery, different types of "fills" add texture and design to the finished work. Machine embroidery is used to add logos and monograms to business shirts or jackets, gifts, and team apparel as well as to decorate household linens, draperies, and decorator fabrics that mimic the elaborate hand embroidery of the past. Modern embroidery machines today can operate at 600-1200 stitches per minute depending on the complexity of design and the type of material being embroidered on. They also come in multi-head designs - which means anywhere from 2 - 24 heads producing identical designs on garments all simultaneously.

We really have come a long way from the tediously hand-sewn embroidery artwork of the past.

View our showroom video that includes a clip of our embroidery machines in operation.