The Tudor Broderer (brouderer, brauderar, imbrotherer…)

Despite all the research done on this period of English history, Tudor embroidery and those who practiced the profession remain a bit of a mystery.  Most history of embroidery books skirt past this period of important English art.  It was preceded by the very well-documented period of English ecclesiastical embroidery known as Opus Anglicanum, which had effectively drawn to a close by the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.  Religious embroidery continued to be in high demand, but it was produced for local consumption, and did not receive the international acclaim of the earlier era.  

In the 1530’s, Henry VIII famously broke all ties with Rome over his desire to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn in the early 1530’s.  It was a tumultuous period.  First the large religious institutions, such as abbeys and convents, were dismantled.  Then the property and all the ecclesiastical furnishings were confiscated by the crown.  During Edward’s short reign, every parish church in the country was stripped clean.  Effectively, embroiderers had been deprived of their main source of income and were challenged to find a way to maintain their craft and their livelihood.

How did the professional embroiderer survive that difficult period? What type of embroidery was done? How did the craft expand to the extent that we see in the portraiture in Elizabethan period?  How did it become so popular in the Stuart period that many ambitious people, men and women spent fortunes that they didn’t necessarily have dressing in embroidered finery to keep up the illusion of wealth?  Can we discover more about those skilled embroiderers who made it happen?  Who were they and how did they endure that difficult period?  And, importantly, can we reproduce the techniques to ensure the Tudor art of embroidery survives?

4 thoughts on “The Tudor Broderer (brouderer, brauderar, imbrotherer…)

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  1. Hi,
    Basically professional embroiderers who worked on ecclesiastical embroidery up to about 1530 changed to providing embroidery on furnishings (for all the new large houses which were being built) and costume which was becoming more decorative then in previous centuries.
    Yes, we can reproduce the techniques of the C16th and C17th as many tutors are doing including myself. I have taught courses on Tudor and Stuart embroidery techniques in USA, Canada and Australia since the mid 1990s and I am not the only one doing so. Interestingly the UK does not seem to be as interested in this topic compared to the other places I mentioned.
    Chris Berry

  2. Hi Chris
    Thank you for posting! I’m hoping the proposed research will provide some further details with respect to the profession and the individuals that practiced it as well as the materials and techniques. I’m happy to report that I have just finished teaching an online course on Tudor embroidery and there were students from all over the world including many in the UK. Posting my experiments and observations may also inspire interest beyond that of learning the techniques of the later Elizabethan and Stuart eras.

  3. Very interesting. In Thistle Threads Tudor and Stuart Goldwork class we did this know (called a Josehina Knot in the class) but as a stand alone knot, not the continuous row of knots you have done. I was one of my favourite knots on the course. We worked it as you have here, using pins to help form the structure but ours was done in passing thread.

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