What wool was used for a piece of antique needlework?

by Bonnie Lewis
(Benton Harbor, MI USA)

I recently purchased an antique (unfinished tapestry that feels like wool threads..I am inspired to finish this piece and possibly embellish it. How can I best find the matching thred colors as I am sure that the colors may have faded over time. I think I can purchase DMC wool floss..any tips appreciated.

Thank you, Bonnie

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First determine what sort of embroidery it is, then these tips will help
by: Carol

Congratulations on your purchase, Bonnie. I love that you want to try to finish the project yourself.

You didn't mention whether the piece is on canvas or cloth? Let me first describe the differences, so that you can decide which type of needlework you have.

The term tapestry is often used, if incorrectly, for canvas or needlepoint work. (Real tapestries were actually woven rather than being stitched.) Needlepoint is either worked...

  • from a printed chart

  • over a painted canvas

Many needlepoint pieces are worked in one stitch, tent, although it is possible to use a variety of needlepoint stitches to give texture to your design.

If the work is stitched on fabric, in woollen threads, then it may well be a piece of crewel embroidery. For this technique, an outline is transferred onto the cloth, and the stitches are worked over that, in various filling and line stitches.

Hopefully, from these descriptions, you will be better able to determine which type of needlework your piece resembles, Bonnie. If you are still not sure, feel free to send me a photo of the piece and I will be happy to take a look for you.

Moving on to the question of matching the wools that were used, you are most likely looking at two options.

  • If the wool appears quite thick, and you have determined that the piece is worked on canvas, then you are probably looking at "tapestry wool"

  • If a finer yarn appears to have been used, then I would suggest it is "crewel wool"

Crewel wool consists of three separate strands, whereas tapestry wool is non-divisible. If the piece is worked on fabric rather than canvas, then it is more likely that crewel wool was used.

Both tapestry and crewel wool are still available today, so there is no worry there.

As you mentioned, the colors may well have faded over the years. I would suggest taking the needlework with you to your local stitch shop and trying to match the colors with those on display. I would match with what you now see, not with what the color may have once been. As long as you keep the finished piece out of direct sunlight, it should not fade further.

If possible, lay a single strand of the wool directly on the area of the stitchery you are trying to match. The single strand will blend in with the existing stitches better than the whole skein or hank.

You may not be able to match the color exactly but aim for the same tone. By that, I mean the same darkness or lightness. If the hue (another word for color) is slightly off, it will be less noticeable than if the shade is lighter or darker than the original.

You didn't mention if the embroidery consists of large blocks of color or whether there are separate motifs scattered all over it. In the case of the latter, it will be easier to complete without the new colors looking out of place.

Have fun finishing the work, and feel free to share a photo once it's done, Bonnie.



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