12 Little Needle Cases

November: Padded Work

This needlework piece is part of my ongoing exploration of different medieval embroidery styles. A full explanation of the project can be found here.

As you may have read in the finishing of my Reticella piece, September and October were rough months for me. And reticella was difficult. Drawing my threads from the fabric rather than doing a punto in aria design took many more hours than anticipated. And thus, I am sick of white linen and want to work with some color. So we are moving on to Padded Work!

When I started this project, I very much looked forward to November, the month I would be returning to colored thread after a few months staring at white pulled threads. For padded work, I am going to focus on the Elizabethan age embroideries which include beautiful colorful animals and other designs, all using padded or raised stitches to create their shapes. These embroideries were often found on domestic clothing such as coifs, head cloths, caps, and doublets.

The most popular motif of padded stitching done by modern embroiderers is the strawberries which were very popular in Elizabethan coifs. You can see these strawberries are very slightly raised on the surface of the embroidery. They have probably been squished over time and due to washing.

Late 16th Century Coif, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

But I found this caterpillar at the Victoria and Albert Museum and knew right away I needed to recreate him.

16th Century forehead cloth, England. Victoria and Albert Museum

For more detailed images, please zoom in on the V&A website, they also have a photo of the back, which shows how little of the thread for these stitches is on the back of the work.


The first thing we will do is cut out shapes out of wool felt to pad out the shapes of the caterpillar to give him some three dimensionality. I learned in an embroidery class earlier this year, that this is done by stacking fist, smaller shapes on top of your fabric, and then sewing down progressively larger shapes in order to give the form an even roundness. In order to get the shapes right, I will trace my pattern onto some tracing paper, and use that to cut out the shapes. Here is a great little tutorial on that process.

These shapes are tacked down at their edges, and then covered with a corded detached buttonhole stitch (we used this during our reticella needle case). A diagram of this stitch can be found here. However, for all of the strange and complex stitches used in this period I heartily recommend Elizabethan Stitches by Jacqui Carey. Her diagrams for these stitches are amazing.

The caterpiller’s body is done with an Elizabethan plaited braid stitch (in silver on the extant piece, but we will use gold). A diagram of this stitch can be found at the Textile Research Center Here. his little feets are tacked down with couching stitches.

Happy Stitching!


Elizabethan Stitches by Jacqui Carey

Plaited Braid Stitch — Textile Research Center

Detached Buttonhole Stitch — Textile Research Center

Felt Padding — RSN Stitch Bank


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