The artist who made this doily-style table mat is unknown but the embroidered object dates to the first quarter of the twentieth century and was made in Appenzell Innerrhoden, Switzerland. The canton (or state) was an unlikely sanctuary for hand embroidery skills, which resisted industrialization despite literally being surrounded by it.

Embroidery is a long-standing tradition in eastern Switzerland. The St. Gallen canton in particular has historically been associated with the medium. There are still nine modern embroidery manufacturers in the region, which supply major high-end fashion designers. However, today’s Swiss embroidery market pales in comparison to the heyday of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when men and women from nearly every household in St. Gallen worked in the manufacture or trade of embroidered goods. Growth in Swiss embroidery production was bolstered by industrialization during that time but in Appenzell Innerrhoden embroiderers continued to employ traditional manual techniques well into the mid twentieth century.

Appenzell Innerrhoden, along with its neighboring canton, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, (both distinct cantons) are jointly referred to as Appenzellerland, and this region is situated entirely within the borders of St. Gallen. Technological advancements that turned the surrounding St. Gallen into a globally recognized center for mass-produced embroidery, were rejected in mountainous Appenzell Innerrhoden. While St. Gallen enjoyed its own notoriety for production volume, the thousands of women who embroidered in Appenzell Innerrhoden continued to refine the art of hand embroidery. Traditional stitching skills were treasured in the alpine community and since 1889 state-funded embroidery education was available to girls in the region. The rich history of the region in which this textile originated suggests that it was hand made.


Carly Lewis is currently earning an M.A. in the History of Decorative Arts and Design at Parsons. She has a B.S. in Textile Design from Philadelphia University and is focusing her studies on gender issues in regard to textile design practices in the 20th century.

3 thoughts on “A Hand Made Swiss Embroidery

Can anyone help me identify a place in the U.S. where a record of embroidery designs with the company/year of production is held? I have inherited a linen embroidery (pillow design) with the accompanying identifier: “1-No. 691” I would like to identify the year that that design came onto the market so that I can determine whether my grandmother or great grandmother worked that piece. Thank you.

You might try the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. While it isn’t as organized as the Textile Museum in St. Gallen (yet) they are trying to preserve the local history of embroidery. And, since Hudson County was the “center for embroidery” in the US during the early 20th century, there’s a chance that your item was manufactured there (you said linen, and it sounds like machine embroidery). I’ve yet to find a complete list of NJ manufacturers.

I’m happy to hear about the Stevens Institute! My grandfather trained for 8 years in St. Gallen in the late 1800’s and immigrated to the US in the early 1900’s. He worked in both New York City and New Jersey as a designer. I’m in the process of learning what I can about this industry in these states. I have many of his designs (hand drawn) and cherish them!

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