Corded needlework had various names through the centuries. The term broderie de Marseille was not commonly used until 1770. That’s when Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin published L’art de brodeur (The Art of the Embroiderer) and described how to do it:
The needlewoman begins by drawing a pattern on a piece of fine cotton or linen. She places this fabric over a more loosely woven backing and stretches them on a frame. Using small running or back stitches, she sews along pattern lines to form narrow channels and tiny compartments. She turns the frame over and makes small holes behind each channel and compartment. Finally, she draws the cording through the channels and tucks tiny bits into the compartments. This step creates a decorative surface pattern.
In essence, broderie de Marseille is a form of three-dimensional textile sculpture. Plain white cloth and white cotton cording, deftly manipulated with needle and thread, reveal patterns through the play of light and shadow over the textile surface. Skillful execution of broderie de Marseille resulted in delicate, reﬁned work that graced the homes and ﬁgures of aristocrats and launched a passion for all-white corded needlework.