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What are the Different Types of Heirloom Embroidery Designs?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Heirloom embroidery is any kind of embroidery applied to an item that is intended to stay in a family line. For this reason, monograms are very popular heirloom embroidery designs. Other types of basic patterns, such as ribbons, birds, or flowers, are all common designs. The kind of embroidery design selected usually depends on the item itself, although some designs are more common than others. Strictly speaking, any design could become an heirloom embroidery design if it enters the material legacy of the family.

Some people call any basic, traditional design an heirloom embroidery design, particularly when it is applied to a baby's clothing. Crosses, roses, and ribbons are all very common designs in this sense. Monograms in decorative fonts are also popular and may be combined with other framing designs, such as wreaths. A family name is considered a particularly appropriate heirloom embroidery design given the nature of the item.

Often, traditional items inspire heirloom designs. One way to find these designs is by looking in books of old embroidery. Another way is to visit museums that contain old clothes, particularly those made for children. A quick sketch of an old design, even without a pattern, can yield truly stunning embroidered heirlooms.

Many heirlooms are used for a particular kind of event, such as a christening or a wedding. For this reason, designs considered particularly appropriate for these events make good heirloom embroidery designs. For a christening or a baptism, crosses are relatively common and may be subtly applied to a gown that will be handed down for generations. Garments made for this purpose must often be made in a way that is gender neutral, so they are usually designed in traditional white.

Heirloom embroidery designs can be found in specialized books or can be designed by hand. Books usually include a variety of ribbons, flowers, and animals. When designing a personalized embroidery design, it is possible to create an image that is entirely related to the family. Designing a personalized pattern is easy and may even use a book as inspiration.

While people usually use free embroidery to produce heirloom designs, it is also possible to create heirloom cross-stitch embroidery. Additionally, a machine may be used to produce heirloom designs, although it is usually considered more appropriate to have these items embroidered by hand. An embroidered item that is personally meaningful may become an heirloom item over time even if it does not meet the typical standards of heirloom embroidery.

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Discussion Comments

By pastanaga — On Jul 16, 2011

Embroidery is one of those things that seems really complicated, but is actually quite easy and soothing once you get the hang of it.

Cross stitch is one of the easier types of embroidery to learn and there are plenty of video and picture tutorials on the internet if you are interested in trying your hand.

There are lots of free embroidery designs and fonts available as well, if you need them.

Another good source for them is the local library. You'll be surprised how many craft books they have, and there are entire books full of embroidery patterns.

It's a lovely craft to learn. Good luck with it!

By indigomoth — On Jul 16, 2011

One of the ideas I've always loved was the one of the family quilt, where each generation adds its own patch to the design according to what they felt was important. One grandmother might add an apple tree square, an aunt might add a picture of the family car.

I think you could do this with embroidery as well. Either embroider squares to be used as patchwork, or maybe embroider a blanket directly, and simply confine each generations contribution in some way, for example in squares or circles.

I think it would be gorgeous to have a blanket covered in the hand embroidery designs and stories of my ancestors.

But, I guess if I'm going to have one, I'd have to start it myself!

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