Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Christen Elaine Ericsson & Mary Brooks


The Language of Flowers, a dictionary of symbolic meanings assigned to individual flowers, was established in Europe during the early 19th century as a result of the leisure classes’ interests in botany and a social preoccupation with romance and chivalry.

Victorian upper class women, isolated within their assigned domestic sphere had a limited number of acceptable activities available for them. With restrictions place upon them by society regarding appropriate behavior, the possibility that some women sought methods of covert communication and expression exists.

Embroidery, so inextricably linked to the Victorians’ definition of femininity, could have been an ideal form through which women expressed what otherwise could not be said. The prolific amount of publications in Britain on the Language of Flowers and the popularity of flowers as a subject in embroidery designs throughout the Victorian era combine to create the possibility that flower symbolism was used in floral embroidery as a method through which women could silently express themselves.

Based on the research conducted for the author’s same-titled MA dissertation, this object-based analysis combines a group of extant embroideries and contemporaneous literature from Britain to create an understanding of the upper class Victorian woman’s place in society and the role of embroidery as a potential tool for communication in her life. This essay provides enough evidence to ask the question: is it not possible that the Language of Flowers was used to impart covert meaning in the designs of nineteenth century women’s embroideries? Though the question remains unanswered, the possibility exists.