The technique used to make the Bayeux Tapestry is back in fashion after 950 years

Most famously used to create the Bayeux Tapestry, crewelwork is enjoying a revival, says Giles Kime.

Before its demise during the pandemic, my son and I stayed at the gatehouse at Sharrow Bay in Cumbria, which is due to reopen next year. When it launched in 1948, it was the first hotel to be described as ‘country house’ and, by the time we stayed, it was definitely of the charmingly threadbare variety, with ancient chintz curtains as thick as duvets and quilted counterpanes. It evoked a lost world of mothballs, Hinge and Bracket and lapsang souchong. Bliss, in other words. (Another highlight was a plaque that commemorates the day Lord Cameron launched himself into Ullswater from its bank.)

‘Posh granny’s spare room’ is an endangered vibe, but elements are being revived; needlepoint stools, loose covers, lustreware and now, out of the blue, comes crewelwork, the embroidered fabric that was for centuries a staple of the English country-house aesthetic. The technique — which involves the surface embroidery of wool, usually on linen — is commonly associated with 16th- and 17th-century Britain and later New England. Its roots, however, go way back to the 11th-century when, as every skool boy kno, it was used to create the Bayeux Tapestry, rather than actual tapestry, which is a wholly different process involving weaving coloured weft threads through plain warp threads.

The Bayeux Tapestry is the most famous tapestry that never was: King Harold’s story is actually told with crewelwork.

Although crewelwork is more labour intensive than printed textiles, it has a three-dimensional quality and exquisite detail that lends itself particularly well to figurative and botanical motifs. The use of white wool on a coloured background, such as those fabrics available at both Susie Watson and Coromandel, creates a softer, more contemporary feel.

The chief difference between an unreconstructed English country house and its evolving 21st-century incarnation is a degree of restraint that can cast elements such as beautiful textiles and crewelwork in a fresh, new light. Many of the rooms at The Bell in Charlbury, Oxfordshire, that opened last autumn have been decorated with examples of both new and restored crewelwork, which lend the spaces a wonderful handcrafted, homespun quality. The intricate work was carried out by the London-based designer Sarah King, who clearly demonstrates that, almost a millennium after the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry, the technique is not only alive and well, but also relevant to a wide number of different aesthetics.

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