ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History / Fraefel & Co

Fraefel & Co., a Swiss manufacturer of vestments
a paper, given at the CIETA meeting of 1987 in Lyon, France, by Anne Wanner-JeanRichard

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I. the Manufactory of Fraefel & Co



Arnold Fraefel 1843 - 1919

Fraefel & Co. in the city of St. Gallen

see also

In 1883 Arnold Fraefel was advised to establish a company for producing religious embroideries. At this time Fraefel, the son of a school-teacher, was almost 40 years old. He had probably had some commercial training and like many others had also worked for some time in the textile industry. He was a man of many interests: from the beginning he installed in his house a photographic atelier with a glass roof and there he himself photographed the finished vestments. He also produced designs for embroideries.

Arnold Fraefel died in 1919 and his son Gallus took over the company. Since 1958 the grandson Arnold has managed the firm. The third generation of manufacturers produced mainly badges and banners. The company was closed in 1983.


The firm flourished most when it was led by the grandfather Arnold around 1910. At St. Gallen and in the branches in foreign countries, there were 175 people working for Fraefel & Co.

Branches existed in: Karlsruhe and Friedrichshafen in Germany and in the United States in Toledo (Ohio), in Chicago and in New York. In the United States they existed until 1929 under the name Fraefel & Co.
The finished vestments were also sold in England, Poland and Australia.
The branches were important above all because of the duty-fees imposed in the States: one had to pay more for completed embroideries than for unfinished vestments. Any unfinished parts were completed either by the customers themselves or at the branches.
The duty fees also influenced the pattern examples which were shown to customers by the agents. These examples had to be made in a way that they could only be used as pattern.

  Organisation of the embroidery manufactory:  
  In the firm of Fraefel & Co. there were different departments:
- In the design atelier, designs for hand and machine embroidery came into being. Around 1910 there were about 10 people working here. They had been educated in German Academies. Most important for them was to learn how to produce the human form.
- Also around 1910 there were about 25 women working in the hand embroidery department.
- In the sewing department vestments were now made from both handmade or machine made parts. In 1910 about 30 women worked here.

- At this time there were about 25 chainstitch machines in the company building.

- The hand machines however were not kept here. People were contracted by the company to work at home and with few exceptions only men worked on the handmachines.
Fraefel did not use Schiffli embroidery machines, and only in 1954 the first Lorraine machines were installed in the company.

  From the time of the founding in 1883 all companys embroideries were well documented: the designs were kept in large folios (84cm x 56cm) and every subject was numbered. All the finished vestments were photographed and the numbered photos were kept in photo albums (60cm x 48cm). On the basis of these photographs several catalogues were printed. The travelling agents obtained their orders with the help of these catalogues.

Designs could be executed many times and therefore the same patterns were in use for many years. This fact makes it impossible to date the individual embroidery exactly. The works of the Fraefel company can be devided into 3 groups:

- earliest creations, from 1883 to the First World War
- from First World War to the time of the thirties crisis
- later creations, mainly badges and banners, only some vestments.

  Embroidery techniques of Fraefel & Co.  

When the Fraefel company was closed in 1983 there remained some documents and some embroidered patterns. Not all of them originated in the 19th century, but in the 100 years of existence of Fraefel & Co., the embroidery techniques in use changed only very little. The technique used in the 19th century can still be found in examples of the 20th century works.

The so called "carnation-painting":
starch-flour was used to stiffen fabrics of white silk satin. The design was then printed onto the white fabric. All the colour shades were then painted by hand. Then, depending on the customer's finances:
- the face could remain painted only
- it could be enriched with hand embroidery, the simplest and also cheapest way was the so called "economising stitch" (Sparstich)
- the hair could be embroidered with the chainstitch machine
- the whole figure could be embroidered with the handmachine
- the most expensive work was the hand embroidery of faces, of hair and of the whole figure.


Two different sizes of stripes with inscriptions
This motif has been in the Fraefel collection since 1883 and the foto documentation shows an accomplished chasuble and dalmatic with the same flowers. The stripes are machine embroidered and the inscription is added by hand.

Two figures of Christ
Both figures of Christ are machine embroidered. None of them is quite complete. The gold embroidery is added later on by hand. In a further working operation the embroidered part will be carefully cut out and then applied onto the cross of the vestment.

Small crosses and letters on yellow fabric:
These motifs have been in use from the 19th century up to 1965. They are hand machine made. After being embroidered, the fabric was stiffened with starch flour in order to make the cutting out easier. A small edge was left, it could be turned down or a golden cord could be applied.


      Pattern with eagle and inscription IOANNES
The embroidery is sewn into cotton material in order to waste as little of the costly silk fabric as possible.
The close-up shows the white satin fabric with the printed and painted design. It is applied on the blue silk background. Now the design is going to be embroidered: all the golden parts and the "economising stitches" were done by hand. The Lorraine machine was used for the satin stitch sections. This close-up clearly shows us the second thread, which can be seen only on the reverse side.

This example was not done on a Schiffli machine because the Schiffli machine would first completely finish the machine embroidered parts, and hand embroidered parts would be added only afterwards. Second: the ground fabric could be cut out only after the embroidery is completed but not before.


The Material:
The materials for the vestments was purchased from the most renowned firms: the golden threads came from Duviard in Lyon, the silk fabrics from Wolters and Dutzenberg in Krefeld. The silk thread had to be made specially for Fraefel & Co., as the normal yarn would tear on the handmachine. The Swiss firm Zwicky at Wallisellen delivered specially twisted yarns. Cotton yarns came from Heer & Co in Uzwil, a Swiss firm which was later taken over by DMC.


The embroideries of the Fraefel Company were dispersed all over the world. But the fotografic documentation gives an impression of the extent, the type and the style of his works:
  Some embroideries of Frafel & Co.  
  Vestment at St. Gallen
a vestment consisting of 4 copes, 4 dalmatics, 1 chasuble is still being used in the cathedral of St. Gallen and it is signed Fraefel & Co. It had been made for bishop Augustinus Egger (bishop from 1882-1906) and it is the last vestment that was made for the cathedral of St. Gallen.
  A similar cope appears in the printed catalogue for USA in 1912 (No. 2052). The description is as follows:
"Gran Cope of best silk Damask or heavy silk brocade, very rich and imposing silk and real gold embroidery, five pictures in Art needlework, fine real gold galloons and fringe, best silk linings".
In another place of the catalogue it says:
"hood with grand hand embroidered picture of Holy Trinity (No 1998)".
  It seems that there was a difference between art needlework and hand embroidery.The emphasizing of hand embroidery, which was the most expensive work of all, means on the other side, that art needlework could also include machine work.
All embroideries whether made by machine or by hand were made in series. Thus the company produed works of embroidery which could be reproduced many times.

In the city of St.Gallen there existed for many years a vestment association. The members did their own hand embroideries, they would also very often buy material or individual parts from Fraefels and then add these parts to the vestments. So it is very likely that even the simpler and unsigned vestments of the later 19th and early 20th century were strongly influenced by the Fraefel manufactory.


Hood from the back of the Cope
for Bishop Augustinus Egger, 1906


There is only an old photograph preserved
it is not known whether the embroidery is still existing

  The Antependium designed by Arnold Fraefel and hand embroidered, was made for Pope Leo 13 (pope from 1878 - 1903). At present it is not known whether this Antipendium is still in Rome. It is possible that Fraefel was awarded a gold medal for such a piece of work. In 1888 there was a Vatican Exhibition in Rome and Fraefel & Co was awarded a golden Medal, a reward of merit.


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content Last revised July 16, 2004