Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
This paper examines four white embroidered bedcovers which include elements done in Dresden work, a distinctive technique combining pulled-thread embroidery with surface stitchery. The distinctive lace-like stitches of Dresden embroidery typically appear in delicate, small-scale applications, such as cuffs, collars, and handkerchiefs. These four counterpanes, made in Kentucky in the early nineteenth century, are among a small number of embroidered white bedcovers that include Dresden embroidery. In contrast with the ancient roots of other stitchery styles, Dresden embroidery emerged in Europe in the 1720s as an inexpensive alternative to delicate Flemish bobbin laces. The technique spread among cottage needleworkers in France, Flanders, the British Isles, and beyond. By 1750, merchants in Charlestown, South Carolina offered Dresden work women’s handkerchiefs and men’s ruffles. During the same period, Dresden work entered the repertoire of amateur embroiderers. The complexities of Dresden work make it difficult to replicate without specific instruction, suggesting that the makers of surviving examples of Dresden-work textiles learned needlework at female academies or from individual instructors. Some instructors advertised in newspapers, examples of which are included in the online MESDA Craftsman Database. Ads typically list specific needlework techniques, making it possible to trace the spread of Dresden work from the earlies mentions in the 1750s (Boston and Charleston) to other areas. These four counterpanes are among a much larger body of embellished white bedcovers (embroidered, woven, quilted, stuffed) housed in museum collections. Like the majority of these bedcovers, these four arrived with sufficient provenance to identify the makers, their families, and aspects of their lives. The families of the counterpane makers were among the early settlers in Kentucky. These four Dresden counterpanes survive, not only as examples of exquisite needlework, but, collectively and individually, as documents of women’s education, identity, and expressive culture.