"Slips" Elizabethan and Stuart Embroidery

by Meg Andrews

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 rendering.



There 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 embroidered worke......'


Slips 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.



"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.
Cotehele, Devon
Knowle, Kent
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.