Berlin wool work

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Woman's purse, Berlin wool work, Europe, cotton canvas with wool needlepoint, silk-braided cord, and silk chenille tassels, c. 1840, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.280.

Berlin wool work is a style of embroidery similar to today's needlepoint. It was typically executed with wool yarn on canvas.[1] It is usually worked in a single stitch, such as cross stitch or tent stitch although Beeton's book of Needlework (1870) describes 15 different stitches for use in Berlin work. It was traditionally stitched in many colours and hues, producing intricate three-dimensional looks by careful shading. The design of such embroidery was made possible by the great progresses made in dyeing in the 1830s, especially by the discovery of aniline dyes which produced bright colors.

This kind of work created very durable and long-lived pieces of embroidery that could be used as furniture covers, cushions, bags, or even on clothing.


Boy's slippers, Berlin wool work, 1800–1850, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.309a-b.

Berlin wool work patterns were first published in Berlin, Germany, early in the 19th century. The first Berlin wool patterns were printed in black and white on grid paper and then hand-coloured. Previously, the stitcher was expected to draw the outlines on the canvas and then stitch following the colours on the pattern. Counted stitch patterns on charted paper, similar to modern cross-stitch patterns, made it easier to execute the designs, because there was no need for translating the patterns into actual wool colours by the stitchers themselves. They were published mostly as single sheets which made them affordable to middle-class women.

Soon they were exported to Britain and the United States, where "Berlin work" became all the rage. Indeed, Berlin work became practically synonymous with canvas work.

In Britain, Berlin work received a further boost through the Great Exhibition of 1851, and by the advent of ladies' magazines such as The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine.

The popularity of Berlin work was due largely to the fact that, for the first time in history, a fairly large number of women had leisure time to devote to needlework.

Subjects to be embroidered were influenced by Victorian Romanticism and included floral designs, Victorian paintings, biblical or allegorical motifs. Berlin work patterns could be applied to various kinds of clothing and home furnishings or could be made as stand-alone artworks, in the style of needlepaintings, which are works that copy well-known master paintings in thread.[2]

In the late 1880s, the demand for Berlin wool work decreased dramatically, largely because the tastes had changed, but Berlin work publishers failed to accommodate new tastes. Other, less opulent styles of embroidery became more popular, such as the art needlework advocated by William Morris and his Arts and Crafts movement.


Original charted Berlin wool work patterns remain available in a number of books.[3] Berlin wool work designs are still popular in trammed needlepoint canvases,[4] printed canvas needlepoint kits and can be found as digitized charts on needlework enthusiasts' websites.


  1. ^ Beeton, Isabella, (1870) Beeton's Book of Needlework Ward, Lock & Tyler ISBN 1-85152-023-6 p.559. Beeton also considers the use of silk thread and/or beads as Berlin Work.
  2. ^ Rosika Desnoyers, Pictorial Embroidery in England: A Critical History of Needlepainting and Berlin Work (London: Bloomsbury, 2019).
  3. ^ e.g. Proctor, Molly (1986) Victorian Canvas Work: Berlin Wool Work London: Batsford, ISBN 0-7134-5425-3. Alford, Jane (2002) Beginner's Guide to Berlin Woolwork Tunbridge Wells, England: Search Press Ltd ISBN 0-85532-936-X.
  4. ^ e.g. Ivo tapestries: The Gold Collection catalogue.


  • Desnoyers, Rosika. Pictorial Embroidery in England: A Critical History of Needlepainting and Berlin Work. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.
  • Edwards, Joan. Berlin Work. Dorking, England: Bayford Books, 1980.
  • Levey, Santina M. Discovering Embroidery of the 19th Century. England: Shire Publications, Ltd., 1977.
  • Markrich, Lilo, and Heinz Edgar Kiewe. Victorian Fancywork: Nineteenth-Century Needlepoint Patterns and Designs. Chicago: Regnery, 1974.
  • Procter, Molly G. Victorian Canvas Work: Berlin Wool Work, B T Batsford Ltd, 1986.
  • Serena, Raffaella. Animal Embroideries & Patterns: From 19th Century Vienna, Antique Collectors Club Dist, 2006.
  • Serena, Raffaella. Berlin Work, Samplers & Embroidery of the Nineteenth Century, Lacis, 1996.
  • Serena, Raffaella. Embroideries & Patterns from 19th Century Vienna, Antique Collectors Club Dist, 2006.
  • Stepanova, Irina. Berlin Work: An Exuberance of Color, PieceWork magazine, March–April, 2011, pp. 41–46.
  • Stepanova, Irina. Berlin Wool: Fine Fiber from an Innovative Age, PieceWork magazine, November–December, 2011, pp. 12–17.

External links[edit]

  • Berlin Work by Pat Berman, a technical history at the American Needlepoint Guild site.