What is Crewel Yarn?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Crewel yarn is a 2-ply yarn, usually wool, that is chiefly used for crewel embroidery, from which it gets its name, and needlepoint. Recommended by some for Persian rug repair, it is finer than Persian yarn and thicker than pearl cotton. Crewel embroidery and needlepoint with crewel yarn are used for pillows and chair seats, for curtains and wall hangings, and for ornamenting clothing and other items.

A higher ply yarn will show more definition in a cable knit pattern.
A higher ply yarn will show more definition in a cable knit pattern.

In crewel embroidery, a design is transferred to a base fabric, and then worked with crewel yarn using suggested stitches from the crewel embroidery repertoire. There is another important use of the word crewel that you should know: there is a stitch called the crewel stitch, also known as the stem stitch and the South Kensington stitch. It is used, as the second name suggests, for making flower stems, but also for outlining. However, it is only one of many stitches used in crewel embroidery.

Crewel yarn is frequently used for needlepoint.
Crewel yarn is frequently used for needlepoint.

The precise origins of crewel embroidery, and embroidery in general, are not known, but embroidery with wool has left its traces for hundreds of years, notably in the Bayeaux Tapestry. It is claimed variously that there are only 7 or 8 colors in the Bayeaux Tapestry; that it employs only crewel yarn of black, brick red, brown, light blue, green, grey and ochre – some say two shades of blue. However, there are a host of colors available today, including plant-dyed crewel yarn, very similar to the original and used by the embroiderer who – at the end of the twentieth century – made a finale to represent a possible idea of the last few feet of the Bayeaux Tapestry that were torn off and lost.

Crewel yarn is sold in small skeins of 28 yards (~26 m), larger skeins of 4 oz./750 yd. (~113 gm/~686 m), hanks of 1 oz./180 yd. (~28 gm/~165 m), and cones that are 1 lb/3,000 yd. (.45 kg/2743 m). Crewel yarn is also often sold as part of an embroidery kit that includes fabric with a printed design, a needle, instructions, and all the crewel yarn and other fibers needed to complete the project.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


Some crewel yarn is actually made of acrylic. I purchased a few crewel kits recently, assuming the yarn was going to be a nice wool yarn. However, when I opened the kit up, I saw that the yarn was actually acrylic. Which is fine I guess, but not really what I was expecting.

Of course, I should have looked on the back of the kit. It clearly stated that the yarn was acrylic, but I didn't think to look. So if you want wool yarn, or if you have an allergy, it doesn't hurt to check the back of a crewel kit. You might be surprised!


@ceilingcat - Purchasing yarn on cones makes sense, to a point. If you're doing a project that calls for a lot of colors, you may not want to purchase them all on cones. Imagine trying to store 20 or 30 cones of crewel yarn somewhere in your house!

That being said, I prefer to embroider with cross stitch yarn, which is usually made of cotton. I'm allergic to wool, and as the article said, crewel yarn is made of wool.

Normally I just use the same pattern, and substitute cotton yarn instead. It works fine for me!


I don't do crewel embroidery, but I knit, so I purchase a lot of yarn supplies. I would recommend that anyone who is seriously interested in crewel as a hobby purchase crewel yarn on a cone.

It will help you build up a nice supply of different colored yarns for different projects. Also, coned yarn tends to be much cheaper than buying only a small amount. It's similar to buying in bulk.

Believe me, if you end up liking crewel, you'll want to do a lot of projects. You may as well be economical about it!


Did you have any success finding the conversion chart? I am working a kit from the '70's and am running-out of yarn. (I recently ordered the kit online and the retailer never mentioned it was so old. It is in good shape, but the yarn shortage is obviously a real problem). Thanks


where can I locate a crewel yarn conversion chart from DMC to crewel yarn currently available? I have a 1977 Paragon Needlecraft pattern and canvas.

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