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Crewelwork Coverlet
Crewelwork Coverlet - detail

 

CREWELWORK COVERLET
American, 3rd quarter of the 18th c.

Crewelwork made in colonial America is indebted to English antecedents, while English crewelwork derives much of its design aesthetics from Chinese silks and embroideries and Indian painted cottons. Yet within this chain of influences, American crewelwork bears its own imprint and sensibility.

The exceptional quality of this coverlet derives, in part, from the presentation of its motifs—within a formal layout, distinguishing features of American needlework, such as prancing stags, mingle with Eastern-inspired flowers and fanciful birds. A colorful parrot, encircled in a grape vine, serves as the coverlet’s focal point. Peacocks and other birds, as well as highly shaded floral sprays and sprigs, surround the central cartouche. On either side, a rippling pond with fish and ducks appears as a charming, yet unusual, motif. These diverse images come from many design sources of the period including needlework pattern books, botany and ornithology books, and engravings, as well as fabrics imported from India and China. The selection of motifs and their rendering reflect an interesting and sophisticated combination of colonial American and Eastern styles.

The sparse placement of embroidered elements, worked with a variety of stitches in wool threads, against the delicacy of the fine white linen background underscores its American origins. This characteristic of substantial voided space, in contrast to very dense English crewelwork, is a trait which has been attributed to the high cost of obtaining wool yarns in colonial America. A thorny vine bearing a profusion of carnations, roses, tulips, and patterned leaves twists around the borders—this undulating floral scroll is typical of American crewel embroidered petticoats, pockets and bed hangings.

Many needlework schools were established in America during the eighteenth century and the skills learned there played a significant role in a woman’s life. But surviving crewelwork made during this period is rare, with most examples now housed in museum collections. This coverlet, in pristine condition, retains its rich and many colors; its simplicity signifies an important decorative style that defined the emerging aesthetics of colonial America.

85.5” H x 82.5” W
 
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