The Victorian love of embellishment for the decoration of every
conceivable surface – walls, tabletops and furniture in parlors, dining
rooms and bedrooms – was realized through a variety of fancy
needlecrafts including embroidery, beadwork, tatting, and crocheting.
One of the most popular needlework forms of the time was known as
This wool embroidery, worked on a wide mesh canvas originated in
Berlin in the early 19th century. Berlin work used simple tent or cross
stitches and was therefore less complicated (and faster) to execute than
earlier embroidery work where elaborate and varied stitching was show-cased.
Berlin work was bright and colorful, illustrating a broad range of
subject matter, from religious scenes to flowers, animals, exotic birds,
and geometrics. These designs (along with all manner of fancy work and
dressmaking) were often copied from a profusion of home management
and decorating manuals (the “how-to” books of their day) and monthly
magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book, available to 19th century women.
Embroidery designs from these publications were printed in a grid
format, then hand-colored, with instructions for transferring the design to
canvas. Women no longer needed to draft their own designs or work out
the colors – they now had a “ready-made” source of inspiration. Pre-designed
patterns along with their relative ease of execution, made Berlin
work very wide-spread and popular until almost the end of the 19th
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