Raised embroidery and Stumpwork in Crazy Quilting

Raised embroidery and Stumpwork in Crazy Quilting

I was gong to tackle this area last in the series on crazy quilting, as it is quite a complex area of embroidery but an email this morning has provoked me to roll up my sleeves and write about it. Raised embroidery and stumpwork can be incorporated on crazy quilting because usually a crazy quilt is not used on a bed. They used to be draped over a lounge to display the elegant stitching but more often than not today they live on a wall. Because this form of quilt is has a tradition of being a format that can display needlework skill complex and intricate stitching can be incorporated in a crazy quilt or crazy quilted object such as an evening bag. Contemporary embroiderers merrily mix styles such as stumpwork, raised and textured embroidery, beadwork, silk ribbon and Brazillian embroidery sometimes on the one block in the same motif!

Techniques such as these add key points of emphasis to an area in a quilt. Notice I said quilt not block. A number of raised and highly textured blocks will attract the eye to the quilt itself because of it 3D nature. Using 3D techniques can really invite attention. Raised techniques seem to act like magnets for eyes as it is unusual and many people do not understand just what can be done in stitching.

The trick once again is to attract the eye (this time to quilt) and the lead it off elsewhere, taking people’s eyes for a little stroll over the quilt. It is a technique that can delight the child in all of us and a crazy quilter can give real pleasure to their viewers by leading people along a journey into a fantasy world.

Stumpwork is not a new technique as forms of raised and 3D embroidery have been worked in Europe since the middle ages. Three dimensional effects were employed to decorate altar frontals as early as 1400s. Raised and embossed work was done by professional embroiderers usually for the church. By the 1600s it was very popular and decorated work boxes, mirror frames, pictures and bookbindings from this time are held in museums and collections. Today we marvel at the virtuosity of technique particularly since by the 1600s it was young girls who had often made them.

The term Stumpwork is a Victorian misnomer. Today it is often used to refer to any type of raised embroidery. Technically however, stumpwork is a form of embroidery that is first created on a background. Small motifs called slips are embroidered then transferred to another foundation fabric and applied. Padding and wiring produce a three dimensional effect.

Materials such as chenille, wire, beads, sequins and mica were used. Early kits include small carved pieces of wood for hands and faces that were then painted. Today all sorts of beads, and found objects can be incorporated into a stump work piece. Needle lace stitches are the main form of stitching of small doll like figures found in historical pieces but today a mix of stitching is employed to create life like effects.

Probably the best online article that I found on this topic provided by Rissa Peace Root in which she covers a definition, a brief history, links to online resources such as free patterns and a bibliography. Another introduction is here and Lisa’s stumpwork provides some examples and a bibliography.

I have recently joined the yahoo group Stumpwork and Surface Embroidery which is managed by Jenny of Jenny June Fancy Work.

Stumpwork is enjoying a revival as designers all over the globe are working with this technique. Caron have provided a brief tutorial and design of Holly & Berries by Karen Buell. Janet M Davies has published articles for both Raised Elizabethan embroidery and Stumpwork

Summer shores is a stumpwork design by Kay Dennis provided as a free project by the UK based magazine Stitch with the Embroiderer’s Guild . Other free projects to be found online are published by Jean Fletcher who has provided a free buttercup pattern and a design for a Lily. Kreinik has also published Crimson Chat Stumpwork which is another free design by Jean Fletcher

An Aussie designer who produces stumpwork designs is Jennifer Bee her site. Stumpwork kits are also offered by Julie Anne designs

Both Stumpwork and Raised embroidery employ various needle lace techniques. The key stitch or perhaps I should say the basic stitch for to start with in this type of work is Detached buttonhole. There are a whole family of stitch combinations that you can use in needle lace and it is technically another subject area so I will leave off for today.

Information about the images:
Both images are from a panel that was inspired by the work of JR Tolkein. The first is Bilbo in The Hobbit who is approaching a dragon in his lair. The sentence from the book reads:

“Bilbo’s heart was pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves: he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian at the gold beyond price and count.”

Some textured embroidery and stumpwork techniques have been used as Bilbo is slightly padded. His bag and belt are woven. To give you a sense of scale at Bilbo is 5 inches or 14.5 cms high. Many of the beads are seed beads.


The second (below) is of course the dragon in his lair. The spines are shells which I dyed. The body of the dragon is a slip. Some raised work techniques have also been used as he is padded. To give you a sense of scale the dragon is 8 inches or 20 cms at the widest point. If you click on both images it will take you to a larger version and click on that version for a larger copy still!

I have a story about these two pieces which I will expand upon on another day. Basically I do not like the environment these two characters are in so although the panel was finished, stretched and framed I have pulled them apart and will be reworking them. The characters themselves will remain the same but they need to be situated differently.

Although there are number of links in this post I am sure there are other resources online. Leave a comment if you know of any others that people would find useful. Do the same if you have any questions. In case you have just landed on the site to put things in context, this series. Other pieces in the series cover Sourcing Crazy quilting materials and introductory tips, piecing and fabric selection, the design process and seam embellishment and how to transfer your designs to fabric. Also silk ribbon is another embellishment technique used in crazy quilting.


  1. Sharonb
    I’ve been doing crazy quilting/ribbon emb. since the mid 90’s. One of my classes was held in Ark & Jenny of Jenny June was there. I kept in touch w/her for several years, I moved to the Virgin Islands in 2003 & she moved up north sometime after that. I ordered books & supplies for years & then something happened & I lost contact. Do you have any info or contact info on her? I love your work. It’s addicting, isn’t it? Thanks, Sheree

  2. Arlee I drew him after looking at lot of fantasy and childrens illustrators – so I was heavily influenced by the genre I am frantically scratching my head to try and remember who I was looking at and quite frankly can’t remember – I will trawl back through my visual journals and see. Anyway after looking alot at the style etc I drew him then he was painted on to a fabric base I used acrylics and water soluable pencils to pick out details etc Then stitched over areas – the wings are a metalic fabric covered with a chiffon to knock them back a bit.

  3. So glad you have posted this – You actually sent me those pictures years ago, when we first came into contact with each other, and I found them when combining my computer this week – isn’t life strange like that? πŸ™‚

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