Raised embroidery and Stumpwork

Raised embroidery and Stumpwork

stumpwork detail 3 of 2020 Quilt block 16
These needlelace flower bells are worked using  Detached buttonhole stitch they are a detail on one of my crazy quilt hexie blocks. You can read about Block 16 here.

Stumpwork or Raisedwork is a type of 3D embroidery that sits proud from the fabric surface. The term Stumpwork is a Victorian misnomer. Today we use the term 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 attached to a foundation fabric.

You can pad the raised areas with thread, felt, card, wood, or these days 3D printed shapes, you name it! You can wire the stitching, add beads and you can wrap items in thread or fabric. Embroiderers can use all sorts of techniques to create 3D effects. Materials such as chenille, wire, beads, sequins and mica are used. Early stumpwork kits included small carved pieces of wood for hands and faces that were then painted. Today, you can incorporate all sorts of beads, and found objects into a stumpwork piece.

What type of stitches can you use in Stumpwork?

Needle lace stitches are the main form of stitching found in historical pieces. Contemporary embroiderers interested in 3D embroidery also merrily mix different types of embroidery in Raisedwork to create interesting surfaces and highly textured embroidered pieces. Stitchers use techniques employed in beadwork, silk ribbon and Brazillian embroidery.

Berrys made of beads

What is Stumpwork?

Stumpwork is not a new technique as it dates back to the 15th century. It was particularly popular during the second half of the 17th century. You can find decorated altar fronts with highly raised areas as early as 1400s. Professional embroiderers produced Raised and Embossed work — usually for the church. By the 1600s it was very popular. Embroiderers used this technique to produce elaborately embroidered scenes and panels. Boxes, mirror frames, and other small household goods used these panels.

Today we marvel at the virtuosity of techniques used as often it was young girls who had often made these items. They usually worked these projects from a kit or pattern. Complex needlework techniques depicted scenes from the bible or mythology Professional embroiderers designed and created these kits. The young girl then worked all the parts of her project. With the embroidery complete, professionals assembled and finished the casket.

Stumpwork Embroidered Casket with garden
Stumpwork Embroidered Casket V&A collection

For instance, there is a delightful casket from 1660-1685 in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection.

Stumpwork Embroidered Casket with doors open
Door open to reveal small draws

Inside there are compartments and drawers and a miniature garden scene! Carved ivory figures are in the garden.

Stumpwork Embroidered Casket

Visit the V&A website to see the details of this casket in a series of 41 photographs.

stumpwork dragonfly
A Dragonfly on a fabric postcard that I made a few years ago.

I created this fabric Postcard a few years ago as part of the 6×4 lives challenge. I wrote about the inspiration and how I designed and made it here

stumpwork dragonfly

Raised embroidery and stumpwork resources online.

Both Stumpwork and Raised embroidery employ various needle lace techniques. Detached buttonhole is the basic stitch. There is a whole family of stitch combinations that you can use in needle lace which is a whole other subject area. I used other stitches, including couched, knotted and woven stitches. Stitches used in Stumpwork and Raised embroidery include Bullion knot, French Knot, Cast on Stitch, Buttonhole Wheel Cup, Drizzle stitch, Woven Detached Chain Stitch, Ghiordes Knot, Woven Trellis Stitch and Whipped Wheel Stitch

Stumpwork is enjoying a revival as designers all over the globe are working with this technique. I have put together a Pinterest board on Stumpwork and Raised embroidery for those who use Pinterest. At the time of assembly the images are all linked to sites of interest.

Embroidered Dragon

The book The Hobbit by JR Tolkein inspired this dragon in his lair.

The spines along the dragon’s back are shells that I dyed. The dragon’s body is a padded slip that I attached to the background fabric. To give you a sense of scale the dragon is 8 inches or 20 cms at the widest point.

Can you use Stumpwork in crazy quilting?

Modern crazy quilts hang on the wall. This means you can easily incorporate forms of raised embroidery in crazy quilting.  In the past, crazy quilts were also created for purely decorative purposes. They were often draped over a lounge to display the elegant stitching on them. Their function was to act as a showpiece. You can also incorporate raised techniques in a modern crazy quilted item such as an evening bag. 

Using 3D techniques in your embroidery can really invite attention.  Many people do not understand what you can achieve with a needle and thread so they react with surprise. Most of all however I do raised embroidery because it is fun!


Thread Twisties!

Experimenting with different threads can be expensive. You would normally have to buy a whole skein of each type of thread. My thread twisties are a combination of different threads to use in creative hand embroidery. These enable you to try out stitching with something other than stranded cotton. For the price of just a few skeins, you can experiment with a bundle of threads of luscious colours and many different textures.

These are creative embroiders threads. With them, I hope to encourage you to experiment. Each Twistie is a thread bundle containing silk, cotton, rayon and wool. Threads range from extra fine (the same thickness as 1 strand of embroidery floss) to chunky couchable textured yarns. All threads have a soft and manageable drape. Twisting them around a needle makes experimental hand embroidery an interesting journey rather than a battle.  Many are hand dyed by me. All are threads I use. You may find a similar thread twist but no two are identical.

You will find my thread twisties in the Pintangle shop here.


  1. I enjoyed this article about raised embroidery very much! Thanks for taking the time to share! I’d love to see additional information. Very Best Wishes!

    Patricia V Kendel
  2. Great newsletter today. I’ve been planning a stumpwork piece for some time; your exhibition here today pushes me to actually pick up the needle. Thank you. Hope you can do more such flights into practice, not just stitches.Though I love the stitches, too. You’ve been my instruction book for a long time.

    Ruth M
    1. Thanks Ruth for the feedback I have been thinking for quite a while now how broadening things might be fun for me – and I hoped that readers would enjoy it too. I know people love the stitches but its fun to head off into other textile/embroidery related topics too.

  3. Dear Sharon,
    Thank you for such an interesting article. I have admired stump work in many European museums but it seemed to have no place in my embroidery world. Then, last week I joined a class at Festival of Quilts to make a 3 D beetle. The samples we were shown looked beautiful and it will take me a while to finish my beetle. The needle for this project is very fine and long, so it takes effort to be precise and we pricked our fingers numerous times. In this project we had to create the dimensional body in layers on the background first and then start the embroidery, hence the difficulty in getting the needle through all the layers and come out where we want it to. I think for my next stump work project I will try your suggestion of embroidering the shape before fixing it to the background. I have now bought a magnifying lamp to make working on my beetle a bit easier and I am planning to make him into a brooch. He will get seen by more people that way and who knows, someone else may be inspired to give it a try too. I am exited by all the possibilities that have suddenly revealed themselves to me.

    1. Mona I am so pleased you have discovered Raised embroidery – if you like the beetles check out Jane Nichols books she did one on insects and her techniques are not as hard as people might think.


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