Elementary Embroidery by Mary Symonds is a little gem of a book – it’s old, it’s thorough on the basics, it’s still applicable today, and – perhaps best of all – it’s free!
I like to go squizzing around online to see what out-of-print needlework books are available. I really think that you can find just about any “how to” information on needlework online, in the old books, catalogs, and pamphlets printed before 1950 and made available on various websites for free. Sure, the instructions rely more on words than photos, and sure, the books are mostly black and white with line drawings (at best) for instruction, and sure, needlework products have changed a lot in the last 75 years. But the technique is there, and the technique is generally very good! If nothing else, many of the books are fun to read just to see how things used to be done!
This particular book – Elementary Embroidery – has some elements in it that I really like. If you have time, you might want to take a look at it.
First off, there’s a nice intro on materials for embroidery. Though the book was printed in 1915, much of the information here is still very applicable.
The materials used are many and various. Most linens, if firm and of tolerably good quality, are good for working upon, but if drawn-thread is to be required, care should be taken to see that the warp and weft threads are of the same thickness and evenly woven… Silks should be uniformly woven and of sufficient close texture to take the stitching properly; satins with a linen warp are quite successful for furniture and heavy use as they wear better than most pure silks… Cloth-of-gold and materials woven with metals are very difficult to embroider upon, except in metal, and it usual when silk embroidery is required, to execute the same on linen and then transfer it to the background by couching or some similar method.
The book is peppered with black and red line drawings that demonstrate various methods of doing things embroidery-related. Above, for example, is a diagram of how fabric is mounted on the slate frame, which the author refers to as an “ordinary frame.” She goes into clear and precise detail on the mounting of work on the slate frame.
The stitching directions throughout the book are also given in diagram form. While there are no step-by-step photos, the diagram and the text together instruct thoroughly on the technique being discussed. She even includes handy little tips:
Great car is needed in working what is called a “turn-over,” in either a leaf or a flower; the direction of the stitches in the turnover should be such that if the latter were turned back, these stitches would follow on in the same direction as those of the rest of the leaf or petal. A good illustration of this is obtained by holding up the hand, palm foremost, forming, as it were, a leaf or petal, then bending the fingers forward to form the turnover – the fingers will indicate the direction of the embroidery stitches.
Perhaps one of the most informative sections to read is the last part of the book, on finishing. While I don’t necessarily “paste” too much of my work, it is good to read about these blocking and finishing techniques that can still be used to good effect.
The book Elementary Embroidery by Mary Symonds can be found on the Internet Archives, which is a terrific source for out-of-print books in digital format. If you click the “read online” link on the left, underneath the image of the book, you’ll get an easy-page-turning view of the book, which you can flip through at your leisure.
I hope you enjoy taking a look at this old book on the basics of embroidery! For other free online needlework books, check out my Books & Links page. After the section on book reviews, you’ll find a list of online books I particularly like.