Victorian Paper Embroidery

Perforated paper, known as perforated card-board or as Bristol board, first appeared in the 1820s and was sold in sheets for making bookmarks and large framed mottos. From the very beginning, perforated paper was available in various counts, from 10 to 28 holes per inch.

In the early 1840s, handmade bookmarks became fashionable: perforated paper was cut into a rectangular shape, embroidered with fine silk threads and attached to a silk ribbon. These delicate “bookmarkers”, decorated with religious quotes or love sentiments, were given as special gifts to friends and family. Some bookmarks were fashioned as small samplers, with biblical texts and pictures adapted from Berlin woolwork patterns.

By the 1870s, innovations in the printing industry made it possible to print bookmark and motto patterns on the perforated paper. Perforated paper became an inexpensive alternative to embroidery fabric. Specialty stationery shops carried small, fancy die cut cards with perforated centers for embroidery and solid paper center cards for paintings or inscriptions. During this time, perforated bookmarks came in different shapes and sizes, with elaborate borders or embossed scenes.

At the height of its popularity, patterns for perforated paper projects were regularly seen in the magazines and books of the day. Trinket boxes, needlebooks, wall pockets, picture frames — all could be created from it along with the bookmarks and mottoes. Two such bookmark patterns from the September 1877 issue of Peterson’s Magazine can be seen in our Free Patterns section. Higher count (finer) paper was recommended for small projects finished with silks; larger mottoes were worked on a lower count paper and were stitched with wools. Stores carried an impressive array of silk flosses, fine wools, glass beads, metallic and chenille threads that could be used by a needleworker on her projects.

Fine perforated paper needlework began to decline after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and virtually disappeared by the 1920s. It survived the 20th century in the form of children’s sampler cards and large mottos. Today, perforated paper can be found in two styles: 14 count paper by Mill Hill and Yarn Tree, and 20 count sewing cards by Tokens and Trifles.

I hope that the beautiful pieces from my collection will inspire you to try out stitching on perforated paper. Some perforated paper embroidery patterns will soon be available here on my website.