Whats To Love About Miniature Embroidery?

For some years I have wanted to try my hand at working miniature pieces of needle painting embroidery, and as you know this has become a passion of mine in the last year.  You may ask why………….?  What is the difference between miniature embroidery and a small piece of embroidery?  What exactly is a miniature and how tiny does it have to be to qualify?  What makes miniature embroidery so unique?

From a personal point of view this is why I love miniatures so much:
  • There is something endearing about a tiny, wee thing that has all the detail and form of a larger piece.  As a child I would love to sit and draw little things and then add in minute details.   This applies to my embroidery where I am able to stitch the main form of the picture and then add in the details with outlines.  I love this part as it comes alive in front of my eyes! 
  • It does not take as long to fill a small piece of embroidery as it does to fill a larger piece, I find myself getting bored when I have to fill an area such as a large flower petal or other aspect  that takes days and days to fill with similar shades of colour. With miniature embroidery you can see progress in very little time, so if you are limited to how many hours you have in your day to stitch it is encouraging to feel you have achieved something in a short space of time.
  • The small size of the embroidery piece allows us a greater variety of finishing techniques.  Unlike larger pieces which have to be framed and take up more wall space, these can be made into quilt blocks, needlework items, bags, cushions etc.
  • The nature of its size makes the subjects more flexible – I can reproduce pictures that have more detail in them, even add in some background areas.  I can consider subjects such as landscapes that would be just to tedious to stitch on a larger scale!
Victorian Pansies
Victorian Pansies
Miniature Victorian Pansies
Duplicate Miniature Victorian Pansies

However there are many aspects of this art that we need to understand before we can fully appreciate it as an art form.  Over a series of articles, I hope to enlighten you on the subject of miniature embroidery,  its origins and charm, its history , preservation and advancement as an art form up to the current day.  There are several Miniature Associations throughout the world here are two in the USA & UK that give us some guidelines:

Association Of Miniature Artists

Defines miniature art as:

  • 1.     Minute in scale vs. life sized. For practicality following the general 1/6th scale for any work sent to formal miniature exhibitions and shows
  • 2.     Delicate and painstaking technique that withstands magnification
  • 3.     Small in format and size: 25 inches or less for surface area.
  • 4.     High in quality. The work should exemplify Fine Art ~ demonstrating a mastery of composition, color, values etc.

Examples can be seen HERE

Miniature Art Exhibition
Miniature Art Exhibition

Royal Society Of Miniature Painters.

The RMS defines miniature solely by technique. At present the size limit is 6 x 4½ inches inclusive of framing.  Scale is limited to 2 inches or less for human heads or single objects.

However since its founding the RMS now recognises pieces as large as 12 x 10 inches.  Examples of miniature paintings can be seen HERE:

Here are some examples of miniature paintings by Rebecca & Bonnie Latham –  particular favorites of mine, they are really exquisite in detail and I would love to get permission to reproduce them in embroidery but alas it is not to be!   You can see more examples HERE.

mini 3

Rebecca Latham
Rebecca Latham
Rebecca Latham
Rebecca Latham
Karen Latham
Bonnie Latham

History of Miniature Embroidery

Unlike a painter with his 0.1 paintbrush it is impossible to work a piece of needle painting to the scale and size of that for portrait miniatures which were used in the production of jewellery lockets, snuff/trinket boxes  in the 16th & 17th century, often as small as 4 x 3cm.  Also not to be confused with Dollhouse miniatures worked with petite point needlepoint on a very high count gauze.  We are limited to the width of our thread and need enough space to include details such as facial features without losing too much of the original form.  So how big can a miniature be?

There are only a few surviving examples of miniature embroidery that we can refer to today,  a fine example of this is the Embroidered miniature of King Charles 1 Metropolitan Museum of Art 1580 – 1700.  The portrait is worked on satin with silk thread and is approx. 15 x 11cm ( 6 x 4 inches).  More details on the picture and work can be found HERE in the exhibitions gallery.  Click on the image below to view a larger pic.

Miniature Embroidery Charles 1
Miniature Embroidery Charles 1

You may think that this is not that small?  But in fact it is worked on the principle of approx. 1/16 scale of a life sized portrait.  Based on this and the parameters  provided by the Associations lets apply this to our embroidery.

Guidelines For Miniatures in Embroidery

  • Portraits head & shoulders no bigger than 10 x 10cm (4,5 x 4,5inches)
  • Group of objects size no bigger than 15 x 10cm (6 x 4,5 inches)
  • Full painting size no bigger than 30 x 25 cm (12 x 10 inches)

This gives us quite a bit of flexibility with the size of our miniature embroidery.  Depending on the subject I like to work each miniature on a minimum scale of:  6 x 7cm (2,3 x 2,7inches) and a maximum of 14 x 9cm (5,5 x 3,5 inches) . 

Miniature vintage Bluebirds & daisies
Miniature vintage Bluebirds & daisies

chidren on branch

To summarize

Miniature embroidery is not just a smaller replica of a larger piece, here are some features that distinguish miniature embroidery from conventional embroidery pieces:

  • Minute in scale vs. life sized.
  • Delicate stitching that imitates the detail of a life size picture as closely as possible.
  • Small in format and size: 14cm (5,5 inches) or less for surface area.
  • High in quality. The work should exemplify Fine Art ~ demonstrating a mastery of composition, color, values etc.
  • Worked on a fine background fabric of 200 thread count or more, to allow for precise stitching.

Next time we will talk about the materials used for miniature needle painting including looking at some alternative threads that will allow us to obtain the fineness needed for miniatures.   Meanwhile wherever you are in the world, be it winter, spring, summer or autumn have a wonderful week and many happy stitching hours.  Trish


10 thoughts on “Whats To Love About Miniature Embroidery?”

  1. Hi Trish!
    I love your blog! The miniatures are just lovely. I have to try embroidery some day…but before that I kindly ask your permission to try some of your designs in quilling. Of course I will mention you as designer with all my gratitude if the project worth to be show…
    I’m looking forward to hear news from you…

    1. Thanks Maria. You are welcome to use the designs in quilling as long as they are one off and not for commercial or retail use. Best of luck to you. Trish

  2. The vintage pieces that you have created are exquisite and I hope to learn this technique and master it. I think it is indeed fine art and you do need to study the composition and values. Thank you so much for taking this process apart for those of us that follow your work.

  3. Hi Trish

    Very interesting blog post. I am intrigued by your article on miniature embroidery and would love to know more on this subject . Finer threads and needles? Better magnification needed to make the work easier? I look forward to the next blog post. Many thanks for sharing the above information. Regards Pam

  4. Hi! Very interesting.=) I’m beginning to take an interest in dolls house sized miniature embroideries, so 1/12th, 1/24th and even 1/48th! So, I’m interested in the general topic of minis as well.=)

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