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Why we hate the term “Stumpwork”

We are going to stick up for “raised” embroidery.  Not that it needs sticking up for; it is a very popular and well appreciated form of needlework with many extraordinary people teaching raised, padded, and wire-form embroidery.  But here we go…

Raised work became very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries and was used on book bindings, mirrors, pictorial embroideries, heraldic clothing or accessories, and most famously caskets.  People, animals, flowers, trees, and buildings were all cleverly wrought with wool, cotton, thread, hair, wood, and even birds beaks (yes!) as forms over which stitches like detached buttonhole or satin were worked to create three dimensional shapes.

We see examples of raised work done exquisitely and some done not quite as well.

But these raised work pieces are all fun, visually intriguing, and exciting to look at.  So why do we call them such drab name: stump work. Stumps are things leftover after something else gets cut off -- like a tree limb or a leg (I’m thinking pirates with peg legs).

Our complaint is partly tongue-in-cheek but a little bit serious.  The term “stumpwork” would not have been used by the young lady sitting in her house working stitches over a wool form to create a padded camel.

The first published use of the term "Stumpwork" was in a 1904 Burlington Magazine, a publication specializing in art and art history.  In an article by Mrs. Head, she uses "stumpwork" to describe raised embroidery, "English stumpwork has a definite individuality...Lace, brocade, satin, peacock's feathers and human hair were all blended together with the finest and most elaborate embroidery stitches and raised on 'stumps' of wood, or wood pads, in the most fantatistic of designs."

A stump is the part left behind after being cut off.  It is not a lovely concept and yet we use it for this intricate and lovely needlework.  So we're making an impassioned plea: let’s all agree to go back to “raised” work as a far more descriptive and, frankly, nicer term for the work.

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