Berlin wool work is a style of embroidery. It is a subtype of canvas work. Typically it is executed with tapestry wool on canvas, in petit point stitch only. It was traditionally executed in many colors and hues, producing intricate three-dimensional looks by careful shading. The design of such embroidery was made possible by the great progresses made in dyeing in the 1830s.
This kind of work produced very durable and long-lived pieces of embroidery that could be used as furniture covers, cushions, bags, or even on clothing.
Berlin wool work patterns in color were first published in Berlin, Germany, early in the 19th century. The first Berlin wool patterns were printed in black and white on paper and then hand-colored. The stitcher was expected to draw the outlines on the canvas and then stitch following the colors on the pattern. But soon it became usual to publish counting patterns on charted paper, much like our cross-stitch patterns today. This made it easier to execute these patterns, because there was no need for translating the patterns into actual wool colors by the stichers themselves. They were published as single sheets mostly, which made them affordable for the masses.
Soon they were exported to Britain and the USA, where "Berlin work" became a craze. Indeed, Berlin work became practically synonymous with canvas work.
In Britain, Berlin work received a further boost through the Great Exhibition of 1851, and by the advent of ladies' magazines such as The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine.
The popularity of Berlin work was due largely to the fact that, for the first time in history, a fairly large number of women had leisure time to devote to needlework.
Subjects to be embroidered were influenced by Victorian Romanticism and included Victorian paintings, biblical or allegorical [[motif (art}|motif]]s, and quotations such as "Home Sweet Home" or "Faith, Hope, Love".
In the 1850s to 1870s, the demand for Berlin wool work decreased dramatically, largely because the taste of the populace had changed, and the publishers failed to accommodate Berlin work to new tastes. Other, less opulent styles of embroidery became more popular, such as the art needlework advocated by William Morris and his Arts and Crafts movement.
Berlin wool work today
Today, embroidery resembling Berlin work is available as kits, usually they are not worked after counting patterns but are printed directly on the canvas. The motifs still resemble classic Berlin work, but are typically less intricate. Such kits are stitched by a dwindling minority.
Modern needlepoint has lost almost all resemblance with Berlin wool work, it uses a great variety of stitches and threads, often with emphasis on creative work by the stitcher rather than simply copying patterns.
In many ways, some styles of modern cross-stitch can be seen as the true descendants of Berlin work. Of course, modern cross-stitch is a kind of surface embroidery rather than canvas work.