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Embroidered work-box

Embroidered work-box

  • Place of origin:


  • Date:

    1683 (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Canvas covered with silk thread; laid work.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Object Type
Caskets were made and used by girls in the 17th century. The girls would decorate small panels with embroidery which would then be sent to a cabinet-maker to be made up into a casket. They were often fitted with compartments for sewing and writing as well as a small mirror. Many cabinets also had secret compartments, used to store personal possessions such as jewellery or letters. The high cost of the materials, as well as the skill needed to create these caskets, means they could only have been made in wealthy households.

This casket was worked by Hannah Downes in 1684 and bears her initials on the lid. Girls started learning needlework skills aged 6 or 7, first creating a band sampler (see T.433-1990) and then moving on to more complex pieces such as cutwork. Embroidering the panels of a casket or for a mirror (see T.17-1955) appears to have been one of the last stages of a girl’s needlework education. These skills would be useful later in life in the management of a household.

Materials & Designs
Biblical, mythological and classical scenes were all popular themes for decorating caskets. This casket is unique within the V&A's collection because the exterior is decorated almost entirely with laidwork to create geometric flowers.This technique is typically found in the interior of caskets and used to decorate the fronts of drawers.

Physical description

Embroidered workbox

Design & Decoration
The lid, front and sides are divided into square and rectangular panels of laid work decorated with geometric flowers. The initials HD are worked onto the lid. The panels are edged with silver braid. The back panel is made from a piece of contemporary dress silk, which is unusual. It may be contemporary to the casket or a later addition.
The interior is lined with quilted pink silk edged with narrow silver braid and marbled paper.

The work-box is of rectangular construction with a hinged lid. The interior is split into two segments, one large tray with letter holders behind it and one smaller segment containing multiple covered and uncovered compartments of different shapes and sizes. The interior lid holds a mirror.

Place of Origin



1683 (made)

Materials and Techniques

Canvas covered with silk thread; laid work.

Marks and inscriptions

HD stands for Hannah Downes


Width: 14 1/2 in, Length: 10 3/4 in, Height: 3 in

Object history note

This objects was given to the museum by the descendants of Hannah Downes. It contains number smaller objects worked by Downes and her family.

Descriptive line

Embroidered work-box, covered with laid work showing geometric patterns, worked by Hannah Downes, England, 1683

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Nevinson, J., Catalogue of Domestic English Embroidery of the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries (London,1950).


Canvas; Silk thread; Braid; Material


Laid work


Embroidery; Textiles; Containers; Woodwork; Household objects


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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