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Also known as Raised work, Embosted work

Stumpwork, a term coined in the 19th century, was known as raised or ‘embosted’ work in the 17th century when it was first popular.  It is characterised by the use of highly raised motifs, often depicting people, animals and plants, sometimes in a scene from biblical or classical mythology. 

Motifs are normally worked separately from the ground fabric and then stitched in place (called a ‘slip’).  Slips are embroidered onto a different piece of fabric, cut out and then padded with cotton, wool or carved wooden shapes before they are stitched in place.  Clothing and foliage are often worked as needlelace slips, sometimes edged with wire which means most of the motif can protrude from the fabric.

Stumpwork was normally worked on cream or white satin and stitched with gimp, silk and metal threads in various colours, or occasionally real hair.  The raised, fragile nature of the work means that it embellished decorative rather than functional items such as caskets, pictures and mirror frames.  These were luxury pieces, embroidered by wealthy women who were highly skilled1.  Similarities between surviving pieces has led to the suggestion that the materials were sold as kits to be worked at home.

The origins of stumpwork are attributed to a European technique called ‘broderie en relief’, a highly padded and naturalistic form of ecclesiastical embroidery which can be traced back to the 15th century although elements of stumpwork such as needlelace slips, metal work and light padding can be seen in Elizabethan embroidery.  By 1650 stumpwork was at the height of its popularity; this coincides with the era of the English civil war and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy.  Stumpwork figures from this era often resemble King Charles and Queen Catherine and the motifs chosen are often thought to show political allegiances: the caterpillar and butterfly were associated with Charles I and the oak tree with Charles II.

Further Reading

RSN Essential Stitch Guides: Stumpwork by Kate Sinton

Stumpwork Stitches