A 'slip' is an embroidered motif,
usually a plant or flower with the heel or base showing, but
insects and animals were also popular motifs. Embroidered
'slips' acquired their name from gardeners' slips or cuttings,
used to propagate plants. This embroidery was popular from the mid-16th
century to the mid-17th century.
Worked in wool and silk on linen canvas
in tent or cross stitch, slips were cut out and applied to a
wool or velvet background for use as bed curtains, hangings,
cushions etc. Sometimes many hundreds of small pieces were
applied to one hanging. Often they were naive in design and out
of scale, but nonetheless identifiable and accurate in their
was a great interest in England during this period in
horticulture and flowers which was translated into embroidery.
Slips were nearly always the work of amateur needlewoman, hence
their naive quality. The embroidered garden of the Elizabethan
period was seldom if ever taken directly from life and the
embroideress relied on pattern books for her designs. She might
also use woodcuts and engravings in contemporary herbals and
bestiaries, and other illustrated books, as sources of design.
Sometimes a professional draughtsman was employed to draw out
the design on the linen. In some of the existing pattern books
the outline has been pricked and it is clear that the design was
pounced on to the material by the needlewoman herself. Charcoal
was shaken over the paper pattern and the design translated onto
the linen through the holes. Linen, with the design already
drawn or printed on it, could also be bought ready to work.
The style of embroidering individual
type of flowers, insects etc probably originates from
illustrations in one of the many natural history, botanical or
herbal books that were available at the time where motifs are
presented independent of each other. John Gerard, in the
introduction to his Herball of 1597, likened a garden to
embroidery rather than the other way round: 'For if delight may
provoke men's labour, what greater delight is there than to
behold the earth apparelled with plants, as with a robe of
can be seen on a great many 16th and 17th century embroidery.
Some of the most famous are at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire,
where inventories of 1601 include ' fyve peeces of
hangings....set with trees and slips and Griphons', and 'a
footestool of oring tawnie velvet set with nedleworke slips and
oring tawnie frenge' (Clabburn). The bedhangings in Mary Queen
of Scots room at Hardwick have applique slips, probably worked
by Mary during her imprisonment.
Bilbliography: "The Needlework Dictionary"
by Pamela Clabburn. William Morrow & Co Inc, New York. p 244
"Needlework" by Harriet
Bridgeman and Elizabeth Drury. Paddington Press, USA 1978.
"Three Hundred Years of Embroidery
1600-1900" by Pauline Johnstone. Wakefield Press 1986 p. 24
"Antique Needlework" by Lanto
Synge. Blandford Press, UK 1982. p.49.
"English Domestic Needlework
1660-1860" by Therle Hughes. Lutterworth Press, London 1961
Slips can be seen, amongst many
other places, at:
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Embroiders' Guild
The Metropolitan Museum National Trust properties include:
Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, Mary Queen of Scots room.
Parham, W Sussex About the Author: Meg
Andrews [ www.meg-andrews.com ] buys and sells worldwide antique costumes and
textiles including Chinese court costumes and textiles;
Japanese; English costume and accessories, Paisley shawls.