ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History / publications

Swiss Whitework Embroideries
a paper, given at the CIETA meeting of 1989 in Chicago USA, by Anne Wanner-JeanRichard

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  The development in Switzerland
  At first I would like to remember dates to the linen and cotton trade in Switzerland. In the eastern part of Switzerland there was a flourishing linen trade since the 13th century. St. Gallen maintained close relations with leading European cities from Spain to Poland, which later was the basis for the trade with embroideries.
In the 14th century tradesmen from Basle had been buying white and coloured fustians as well as raw cotton for the local weaving industry. Somewhat later cotton wool was spun in Zurich. Mostly the poor population made some money in manufacturing cotton. This changed in the 18th century when a lot of people preferred spinning to fieldwork. The writer Ulrich Braeker tells of cotton spinning in Toggenburg around 1730.

Between 1720 and 1770 a french refugee, Peter Bion, introduced manufacturing and trade of cotton in St. Gallen.
It is said that the cantons of Appenzell and St. Gallen dominated in the second half of 18th c. the entire cotton weaving industry in Europe. This development ended with the introduction of english Machine yarns in the 1790s. In 1800 there were still about 100'000 spinners in Switzerland, a number which diminished to 6'000 only 14 years later.

Embroidery in the Eastern part of Switzerland:
The first document of an embroidery order dates from 1753. But the story goes, that a tradesman of St. Gallen saw turkish women in Lyons doing chainstitch embroidery already around 1750 and he invited them on the spot to St. Gallen where they demonstrated their art in the market place and instructed the women of the town in this new skill. It seems that many women who had lost their job as spinners turned to

  embroidery. A document 20 years later, in 1773 names 6000 embroiderers in eastern Switzerland. according to the historian H. Wartmann thirty to fourty thousand persons were employed by 1790. This high number seems incredible, we believe that it includes all workers in the textile branch in the region.

In a letter Goethe writes of a very fine embroidery that he bought in a manufacture near St. Gallen. Interesting enough of this period only very few pieces got in the museums collections and none of it is dated precisely. Most probable they were decorated with chainstitch and drawn work as the example of a cap shows, which is part of the folk costume. This early style shows a close resemblance to the European white embroidery of the 18th century. Similar drawn work is found in German and particularly in Saxon models.
One single example in the library of Trogen (near St. Gallen) can be dated into the early years of the 19th century because it was worked for Napoleons wife Josephine. A letter of the tradesman Zellweger tells the story of this piece.

There are no dated pieces in the first half of 19th centuy. Much chainstitch and drawn work was used at that time. New techniques were satinstitch and lace stitch. The lace patterns used are so near to French work that it is often impossible to tell whether the embroidery was done in Switzerland or in France.

We believe - but I am still looking for a contemporary document - that French Companies sent cloth with preliminary tracings to be embroidered in Switzerland and that Swiss women were soon making the drawings themselves in the French style. And they attained a high level of proficiency.


Linen Inspection:
Town Hall or House of the Weaver's Guild,
Series of oil paintings, by an unknown Painter,
2nd half of 17th c., Historical Museum St. Gallen

Embroidery on Linen, Eastern Switzerland, 1577,
Textilemuseum St.Gallen



Turkish Lady showing how to work with the Tambour Frame in the Marketplace of St. Gallen,
Detail of oil painting by Emil Rittmeyer (1820-1904), 1881,
St. Gallen, Textilemuseum St.Gallen


Detail of cloth used for baptism,
Chainstitch Embroidery around 1800, St. Gallen,
Textiemuseum St.Gallen, Inv.Nr. 21358


Coloured Lithography, after an Oil Painting
by Ludwig Vogel (1788-1879).
In 1830 Vogel gave an Aquarell with the same Scene to his Friend Peter von Cornelius in Munich.

Page of Encyclopia of Trades and Industry
by Diderot and d'Alembert, 1763-1777


Bill of SFr. 500.- with the Portrait of an Appenzell Lady,
designed in 1912 by Eduard Burnand

Reverse Side of the SFr. 500.- Bill from 1912,
with 3 Appenzell Ladies Embroidering


Introduction Swiss embroidery Exhibitions Historic Embroideries 20th century Literature

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