Candlewicking is a term applied to a certain style of embroidery. The yarn used in the origins of this embroidery style was a course white yarn which was also used for homemade candle wicks. This style was popular among colonialists during the early ages of America. A candlewick bedspread employs the unique embroidery and is often given as a traditional wedding present.
Candlewicking is traditionally a form of whitework embroidery. Whitework became popular after the invention of the cotton gin in 1792. The embroidery involves the tufting or knotting of the candlewick yarn, also known as roving, on top of a muslin fabric to create patterns. The raised embroidery included traditional styles, such as the French knot stitch, running stitch, stem stitch, back stitch and satin stitch. Two important knots used in candlewicking include the colonial knot and the stem stitch. An old story tells of embroiderers wrapping the yard around a small stick and then taking the stick out and leaving a loose loop or cutting it for a fringed effect.
Bedspreads were only one item adorned with the embroidery. Other items included pillows and tablecloths but the bedspread has become a traditional representation of candlewicking. Aside from the raised embroidery on the body of the spread, candlewick bedspreads are also known because of their fringe. Made of the same yarn used for the embroidery, the fringe of a candlewick bedspread is traditionally long and dramatic. According to an article by Oldandsold.com, no machine work can simulate the traditional candlewick fringe. A candlewick bedspread is usually a cream color to symbolize the muslin of the colonial period.
Though candlewicking is older than America, the style became a sensation in the late 1700s. Though some would attribute the popularity to the frugality of colonial life it was ultimately the industrial revolution that gave power to the growing art. The businesses of spinning and weaving were taking great leaps in technology and efficiency and that, combined with the booming cotton industry, paved the way for the embroidery style.
In the beginning embroiderers would often depict English and Scottish countrysides in their designs. This evolved as the art became popular in America, and a common symbol found on a candlewick bedspread is an American eagle. Other popular patterns include baskets of flowers and the cornucopia. A bedspread usually has a central design and then a border, surrounding the design. The borders are often leaves or geometrical shapes.
Decline and Demand
In the 1840s the popularity of candlewicked bedspreads began to decline. With the invention of the machine-made bed cover, the hand stitched bedspread was a thing of the past. The Bolten woven coverlet was a similar reproduction of traditional candlewick designs but it was made on loom in England. They were imported to the Unites States in the early 19th century. Today there has been a revival of the demand for hand-stitched candlewick bedspreads and current craftsmen often use the same materials that have been used for 250 years.
Michaelyn Erickson has been writing since 2005 and has been published regularly in a variety of northwest publications. She has written a science fiction novel and is now working on a children's book series. Michaelyn attends Evergreen State College where she is pursuing a degree in sustainable living.