The embroidered silk postcard is a common souvenir of the First World War. They are blank postcards onto which an embossed paper surround has been glued, to frame and hold a central piece of silk. On the silk, a design is hand-embroidered in coloured thread.
The embroidered postcards were very popular with British soldiers who often sent them home. They were sold in thin paper envelopes but were seldom sent through the post in them. They were too fragile and, more particularly, they represented quite an investment – they were not cheap souvenirs. Usually they were mailed with letters. For this reason, they are often unwritten, with no marks on the back, any message having been sent in an accompanying letter.
There are a fantastic number of designs, generally patriotic or sentimental, all seeking to show the bright colours of the threads to best effect. Flags, butterfly wings, bird plumage and rainbows feature strongly. Also embroidered – usually in a single colour – are a few words.
A ‘silk pocket’ effect can also feature, into which a tiny pre-printed card can be found.
Some of the most collected cards today are those featuring cap badges of individual regiments – intricate designs often requiring great skill to reproduce in thread.
Embroidered silk postcards do not all date from the First World War – they were used for sentimental greetings in France before 1914. First exhibited in 1900, they continued to be manufactured until the 1950s. Production peaked during the 1914-18 war, as the format proved especially popular with British soldiers. The hand-embroidery is thought to have been carried out in domestic houses as ‘out-work’ by civilians in France and Belgium, and in the UK by Belgian refugees. The designs were repeatedly embroidered on rolls of silk. These were then sent to cities (mainly Paris) for cutting up, final assembly and distribution, in what was probably at that stage a factory operation.