Handbook of Embroidery

1880, by L. Higgin, edited by Lady Marian Alford






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Handbook of Embroidery by L. Higgin
Handbook of Embroidery
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Handbook of Embroidery


Welcome to the Handbook of Embroidery by L. Higgin

Welcome to the Handbook of Embroidery

by L. Higgin and edited by Lady Marian Alford *

This book was published in 1880 by authority of the Royal School of Art-Needlework, and dedicated to their President, H.R.H. Princess Christian, of Schleswig-Holstein, Princess of Great Britain and Ireland.



In drawing up this little “Handbook of Embroidery” we do not pretend to give such complete technical directions as would enable a beginner in this beautiful art to teach herself; because learning without practical lessons must be incomplete, and can only lead to disappointment.

We have sought, therefore, only to respond to the inquiries we are constantly receiving, and to supply useful hints to those who are unable to avail themselves of lessons, and are forced to puzzle over their difficulties without help from a trained and experienced embroiderer; at the same time, the rules we have laid down and the directions we have given may serve to remind those who have passed through the classes, of many little details which might easily be forgotten when the lessons are over, though so much of the success of embroidery depends upon them.

[Pg vi] We have given a short description of the most usefulstitches (andstitches used in framing), and have pointed out their applicability to different styles of work; we have named the various materials which are best suited as grounds for embroidery, and the silks, filoselles, crewels, &c. (textile fabrics), which are most commonly employed, with practical rules for their use in the best and most economical manner.

Also we have given such plain directions as to stretching,framing, and cleaning the work as are possible in a limited space, and without practical illustration. We venture to hope we have thus supplied a want that has been long felt by those who interest themselves in the art in which Englishwomen once excelled, but which had languished of late years, and almost died out amongst us, though it has always been taught in many continental cities, where embroideries have never ceased to be required for church decoration.

We have abstained from giving any directions as to the tracing of designs upon material, for two sufficient reasons: firstly, that the Royal School of Art-Needlework has never supplied designs alone, or in any other form than as prepared work; and secondly, that having made experiments with all the systems that have been brought out for “stamping,” ironing from transfer-papers, or with tracing powder, it has been found that designs can only be artistically and well traced on material by hand painting. Those ladies who can design and paint their own patterns for embroidery are independent of assistance, and to those who are unable to do so we cannot recommend any of the methods now advertised.

[Pg vii] It has been thought unnecessary to enter into the subject of ecclesiastical embroidery at present. This has been so thoroughly revived in England, and practised in such perfection by sisterhoods—both Anglican and Roman Catholic—as well as by some of the leading firms of church decorators, that we have not felt ourselves called upon to do more than include it in our course of lessons.

The æsthetic side of our subject we have purposely avoided, as it would lead us further than this purely technical guide-book pretends to go. But we propose shortly to bring out a second part (illustrations) devoted to design, composition, colour, and the common-sense mode of treating decorative Art, as applied to wall-hanging, furniture, dress, and the smaller objects of luxury.

We shall examine and try to define the principles which have guided Eastern and Western embroideries at their best periods, hoping thus to save the designers of the future from repeating exploded experiments against received canons of good taste; checking, if we can, the exuberance of ignorant or eccentric genius, but leaving room for originality.

Mrs. Dolby, who by her presence and her teaching helped Lady Welby to start the Royal School of Art-Needlework, has left behind her a most valuable guide for mediæval work in her “Church Embroidery, Ancient and Modern,” which will always be a first-class authority.

The Author and the Editor of this handbook are equally impressed with the responsibility they have[Pg viii] undertaken in formulating rules for future embroiderers. They have consulted all acknowledged authorities, and from them have selected those which the teachers in the Royal School of Art-Needlework have found the most practical and instructive.

Should any of their readers favour them with hints or criticisms, or give them information as to pieces of embroidery worth studying, or stitches not here named, any such communications will be gratefully received and made use of in future editions.

The Editor.

*Lady M. Alford published Needlework as art, (this will open as a flip-book) in 1886.