ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History / cotton industry in Switzerland

Cotton fabrics in the eastern part of Switzerland in the 18th century.
Article dedicated to Krishna Riboud, in:
CIETA-Bulletin No 80, 2003, page 68 - 74, by Anne Wanner-JeanRichard

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  Tambour Embroidery
  The use of the tambour frame on cotton fabrics can only be found as from the second half of 18th century. In Switzerland since 1750, in Germany since 1775, and in Scotland since 1782. In St.Gallen some merchants first saw textiles embroidered using the tambour frame from Lyons. It is said that these merchants brought Turkish girls to St.Gallen and in about 1750 they taught the women there how to do tambour frame work. In 1753 the St.Gallen trading house of Gonzenbach placed an order to have East Indian Muslin embroidered in Vorarlberg. We noted that Swiss merchants had no problem buying Indian muslin and it seems, that Indian fabric was more suitable for embroidery than native fabric.

Some examples of embroidered textiles from the Textilmuseum in St. Gallen present different kind of cotton fabric. A fragment from the 2nd half of the 18th century worked in running stitch and chain stitch does not show evidence of tambour frame work. The rather coarse fabric points to a European and not to Indian production. In the museum however no documents referring to its origin have been found. It is hoped that a technical analysis will be possible one day, to get better results.

A coverlet from the end of the18th century shows

  tambour frame work. The very fine ground fabric suggests to East Indian muslin which was possibly embroidered in Europe. And finally the shawl of Trogen , from beginning of the 19th century, today in the library of Trogen, was produced in Eastern Switzerland and was a gift to Napoleon I, as a result of which the Swiss merchants hoped to receive some customs privileges. But the delegacy sent to Paris in 1805 was not sucessful, therefore they brought the embroidery back home again. A letter explaining these events by Georg Zellweger, son of Jacob, has been preserved. The ground fabric could be made from english machine-spun yarn.

Very probably most of the cotton fabrics used in embroidery in the 18th century were imported from India, and this only ended, when mechanical weaving in Europe progressed. In Europe, after initial attempts to copy Indian woven patterns - the jamdanis - it seemed more appropriate to decorate the fabrics with embroidery. Requiring no loom embroidery was often a cheaper copy of a woven decoration.

Fibre analyses could possibly provide new and better results about the origin of the fabrics and the embroidery.


  Section of embroidered fabric,
chainstitch, running stitch, pulled threadwork, embroidery eastern part of Switzerland, 2nd part of 18th c.,
Warp and weft about 3 threads per mm, fabric probably linen, probably eastern Switzerland.
Textilmuseum St. Gallen, Inv.Nr. 21331

Section of embroidered fabric,
tambourwork, pulled threadwork, embroidery eastern part of Switzerland, end of 18th c,
warp and weft about 3 to 4 threads per mm, fabric fine cotton, probably India,
Textilmuseum St. Gallen, Inv.Nr. 21358


Section of shawl,
tambourwork, pulled threadwork, embroidery eastern part of Switzerland, around 1804
warp and weft about 3 to 4 threads per mm, fabric fine cotton, probably machine woven in Herisau, Switzerland.
Library of Trogen AR


  Introduction Zellweger Muslins Tambour Literature    

content Last revised July 29, 2004