Learning to Embellish Introduction

Makers of embellished objects learn techniques in a variety of ways.  Some acquire skill in a formal educational setting.  Some are taught by family or friends.  Books and magazines provide the necessary instruction for many others.  An adventurous person, however, might educate herself by trial and error or experimentation. 


The reason why people learn to embellish is also varied.  The need to express oneself creatively can be a strong motivation.  Carrying on a cultural or family tradition is another compelling reason.  Some people acquire specific skills as a means to make a living, while others are simply expected to learn.


Parson's SamplerLearning to Embellish in Childhood

Learning to embellish with needle and thread, for instance, was an important aspect of education for late 18th and early 19th centuries young American girls.  The necessary skills were sometimes taught by a mother, grandmother, aunt or older sister.  Families that could afford it sent their young daughters to female academies where the “curriculum” would include–sometimes exclusively–instruction on creating items by hand.  Plain and fancy sewing were routinely taught.  Plain sewing included garment construction, mending and 'marking' with cross-stitched names or embroidered initials to identify the owner.  Fancy sewing entailed ornamental embroidery, drawn work and related techniques.  


Fancy needlework, as we will see, is only one type of learned embellishment generally classified as “school girl arts” from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.