Hand Embroidery

Appenzeller hand embroidery evolved from local linen weaving, cotton spinning and chain embroidery.

«D Fraue ond d Saue erhaaltid s Land» («The women and the pigs keep the country going») was a saying during the golden age of Appenzell hand embroidery. The commercial decoration of textiles – initially with coarse and chain stitch embroidery – started around 1800 and by 1914 one-third of the working population of Innerrhoden was employed in the trade. However, the products were not for their own use and were rarely bought by locals. The painstakingly embroidered items were expensive and very famous across the world.

Many Innerrhoder women maintained their families through their embroidery. For a long time hand embroidery was vital for the economy of the canton. Girls learned their first stitches at primary school age and helped to complete orders after school and during the holidays. For hours the embroiderer would sit at the embroidery loom at the window. At twilight, water-filled glass balls illuminated the work. Using an array of satin, lock, figure and hemstitches as well as fine open-work stitching, they created an array of motifs on handkerchiefs, collars, underwear and trousseau linen for many customers – including royalty.

The embroidery business flourished, creating wealth for the new textile traders and suppliers, and later for textile factories that concentrated on the production of handkerchiefs and scarves as the demand for hand embroidery decreased. Home workers then took over the hand-seaming of the products. Innerrhoder hand embroidery was renowned worldwide as a «masterpiece of female skill». The motifs and decorations embroidered with fine white or light-blue yarn on cotton batiste were designed by embroidery drawers, or often by artists.

Many female Innerrhoder entrepreneurs and some factory owners opened embroidery shops in high-class health resorts in Switzerland and abroad. With the upsurge of machine embroidery, and particularly from the 1930s onward, when cheap embroidery products flooded the European market, expensive hand embroidery was threatened by extinction. These days only a few Innerrhoder women still make embroidery at home.

The «Museum Appenzell» in Appenzell houses an internationally renowned collection of embroidery.