Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Mastering the Art of Embroidery – Book Review


Amazon Books

Mastering the Art of Embroidery is a newly released book by Sophie Long, a graduate of the Royal School of Needlework.

It’s a huge book in scope. When my book order arrived and I took the book out, my first thought was, “WOW. This is HUGE.” I thumbed through it, and was immediately gobsmacked by the number of photos in it.

And then I started reading it (from cover to cover), and I had to do that a few times before I felt I could put together a sensible review that I think is a fair evaluation of the book.

Here are my thoughts on this encyclopedic volume devoted to all kinds of embroidery techniques. First off, it’s a book that will make a decent reference book in your needlework library, but it’s more than just a reference book – we’ll see that below – and, while it does have its definite pros, there are a few cons as well. I think it’s worth noting both the pros and the cons and considering what you want out of the book before making a decision to purchase it.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Mastering the Art of Embroidery is divided into two sections. The first section – hand embroidery – takes up the majority of the book, with 242 pages devoted to it. The second section, devoted to machine embroidery, takes up less than 30 pages.

Before the division into the two sections, there is an introductory overview, a brief section on tools and materials, and a brief section on starting and finishing.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Section One, Hand Embroidery, is broken down into six chapters, and they cover Surface Embroidery, Counted Surface Embroidery, Embellishment, Stumpwork, Whitework, and Three-Dimensional Embroidery.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Each chapter is broken further down into subsections. For example, chapter one on surface embroidery covers crewelwork, appliqué, silk shading, and goldwork.

The chapters all begin with an introductory blurb that explains the general category, followed by several pages of vivid color photos of the various types of embroidery discussed in the chapter.

The majority of these embroidered works were contributed by various needleworkers, designers, and textile artists, and they make for a Whole Lot of “Eye Candy.” They’re fun to browse through! It’s amazing to see contemporary embroidery interpreted in so many different ways by so many people.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Each subsection in each chapter begins with a blurb about the type of embroidery. So, for example, under surface embroidery, we have crewelwork. The first couple pages of this subsection are devoted to a short history of crewelwork and a general description of what it is. Accompanying this introduction are more photos from contributors.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Then, we get the tutorials for a few stitches involved in crewelwork. Stitch instructions are offered via diagram and text. Under crewelwork, you’ll find these stitch instructions: trellis work (lattice work), chain stitch and detached chain stitch, stem stitch, long and short stitch, block shading, coral stitch, and French knots.

And then we move on quickly to the next subsection of chapter one.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

The next subsection, Appliqué, is set up the same way: an introduction to appliqué with several pictures of finished work by contributors, four stitch / technique tutorials in diagram form that include appliqué with stab stitch, couching appliquéd edges, turning under edges, and applying a cord.

After this, we move into silk shading.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

The set-up here is slightly different. First, there’s the introduction to silk shading, with photos of work from contributors.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

The introduction is followed by a Silk Shading Primer, which is a page of text explaining what silk shading is and offering tips, followed by a gorgeous example of silk shading, and a two-page spread of basic diagrams on natural silk shading.

And from there, we move into goldwork.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Again, an intro with contributor’s works pictured, followed by diagram tutorials: applying felt padding, applying string padding, couching goldwork threads, working with pearl purl, chipping, using kid leather, and “cutwork” (sewing cut purl over padding).

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Of all the sections in the surface embroidery chapter, the goldwork section is the most extensive as far as technical instruction is concerned.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Throughout the instructional pages, there are also little tips encircled in embroidery hoops.

You can see that the instructional content is brief and basic. The book covers a lot of techniques, but not in any depth – it’s a light coverage of each technique named.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Finally, each chapter ends with a couple page profile on a specific needlework designer or textile artist.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

The next chapter is called Counted Surface Embroidery. My blackwork fish is a little out of place in the photo spread for this chapter, since it’s not actually counted embroidery – it’s entirely surface work. I admit I chuckled.

The counted embroidery section is set up like the surface embroidery section. It begins with several page spreads of contributor’s work, followed by sub-sections: canvas work, canvas shading, bargello, blackwork (with a blackwork primer much like the silk shading primer), cross stitch (with a cross stitch primer), and a profile.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Chapter three covers embellishment, and under this category we find beadwork, a beadwork primer, ribbon embroidery, and a profile.

Other Chapters in Section One

The other chapters and their subsections under hand embroidery include the following:

Chapter 4: Stumpwork, which includes raised and detached elements, figures, a figures primer, needlelace, and a profile.

Chapter 5: Whitework, which covers pulled work, Broderie Anglaise and Richelieu, drawn thread work, and a profile.

And Chapter 6: Three-Dimensional Embroidery. This chapter sounds like it would be devoted to stumpwork, but in fact, “three-dimensional” implies embroidery on things like clothing, quilts, handbags, boxes. So the chapter covers smocking, constructing a box, tassels, hand quilting, and a profile.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Section One is followed by a very brief Section Two, with twenty-odd pages devoted to machine embroidery, including free motion embroidery and digital embroidery, with profiles in both.

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

Thankfully, at the end of the book, there’s an index of the specific tutorials and the pages they can be found on…

Mastering the Art of Hand Embroidery by Sophie Long

…as well as a regular index, a list of contributors, and a resource list.


1. Mastering the Art of Embroidery is jam-packed with visuals – many contemporary examples of all kinds of embroidery from contributors. There are pictures of embroidery everywhere in the book!
2. Mastering the Art of Embroidery touches on many different techniques briefly, so the reader can get a taste of what’s involved in the techniques covered and see many examples of the techniques in photos of finished works.
3. There are some interesting techniques included herein that are not always found in other general embroidery books, like how to make and embellish tassels, how to construct a box, and a tutorial on loom beading.


1. I love images in books, and especially in books devoted to visual arts. But I was a little disappointed that the primary focus of Mastering the Art of Embroidery is on the images rather than on instructional content. This may seem a bit hypocritical, as there are several photos of my stuff in the book, too, but I really did expect some more in-depth instruction.

Chalk this criticism up to my former academic career. The book reminds me of the hundreds of textbooks I reviewed as a curriculum consultant – full of visual stimulation, but light on instructional content. I felt like I was expected to gobble up the visual content and be satisfied with the whole. The instructional content definitely comes across as secondary.

If you’re expecting a broad, light survey of techniques, rather than a thorough instructional book focusing on mastery of any one technique or group of techniques, then of course, this is fine. Again, it depends on what you want from the book.

2. Some topics strike me as being incomplete and maybe a little incongruous in the way they are categorized and arranged.

One example: in the book, surface embroidery covers crewelwork, appliqué, silk shading, and goldwork. But there is more to surface embroidery than just these categories. Even on the front cover of the book, there’s a piece of embroidery that is “surface embroidery” – but it doesn’t fall under crewel, appliqué, silk shading, or goldwork.

In any case, one book can’t cover everything, and as a survey book, this one does cover a lot. It’s primary selling point, though, in my estimation, is the visual content.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think the book is a decent resource, and it’s a great visual stimulant.

If you are a really visually-reliant person who loves to take inspiration from completed embroidery pieces and to browse through vast collections of contemporary embroidery, Mastering the Art of Embroidery makes a nice addition to your library. You will find this book amazing.

If you are more concerned with instructional content and want to learn different techniques in more depth and work towards a certain level of mastery, then you might find the book a little light in content, and you might want to turn instead to individual books on specific techniques or to some of the older, general needlework books (like Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book, for example).

What about you? Have you seen or purchased Mastering the Art of Embroidery and do you have a different perspective on it? Do you prefer books heavier on visual content compared to instructional content, or visa-versa – or do you like a balanced mix of both? I’d love to hear your take! Have your say below!

Where to Find It

You can find Mastering the Art of Embroidery available through the following book affiliates:

Mastering the Art of Embroidery is available in the US, here, through Amazon.


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(24) Comments

  1. Hi Mary,

    I saw this book in Barnes and Noble this Friday, and reached immediately for it with excitement and expectation. (It is so rare to see new embroidery books in their needlework section, since the majority is devoted to knitting.) My reaction was exactly like yours. With the title “MASTERING the Art of Embroidery” I was expecting focus on techniques that are beyond the basics. There was plenty of room to do that even while keeping the same amount of pages. Many simple instructional images are bigger then necessary, with lot of white space around them. Examples of finished work are beautiful, inspiring, many familiar from the Internet, but you have to find other books if you want to learn to make something like that. As beautiful as the images are, the title is misleading. When I closed the book I sadly said to myself: It could be such a great book.

  2. Guess what! I am booked into an ‘Introduction to Silk Shading’ workshop taken by Sophie Long, in November at the Royal School of Needlework London. How exciting.

  3. Hi Mary,

    I have not seen this book but, looking at the title and reading your comments I would agree with Beata. The title of the book is misleading.

    Thanks for sharing your views on what would have been an expensive exercise, if I had purchased the book just on the title.


  4. Thank you for this review Mary. There are a number of books on sale at present with this broadbrush light approach. Whilst the rest of us hunger for works of real scholarship, the why the how, the history, geography and social experience of embroiderers now and through history. I still think one of the best reads ever is “Dorset Feather Stitchery by Olivia Pass”
    written in the 1950’s. Its a why and how book, the language is crisp, clean and direct and its easily available.

  5. This probably isn’t a book I would buy because it seems a bit too large and bulky to keep handy for any instructional purpose. On the other hand, I would love to look through it and search out your pictures. 🙂 I had fun reading your entry today and seeing some pictures of your work. Ah, fond memories.

  6. Hi Mary,

    It is funny that you reviewed this book. I saw it in Barnes and Nobles last evening, grabbed for it, leafed through it and put it back. I buy a lot of books on embroidery, and was totally disappointed in Mastering the Art of Embroidery. There was virtually no instructional techniques, but plenty of pretty images.

    I definitely wouldn’t buy it or recommend it.

    Belle G.

  7. Dear Mary

    Thanks for your review, it was nice to see some of your beautiful work on public display. I don’t think this is a book that I shall purchase for the reasons you have stated that it’s more a pictorial book rather than a instructional detailed one I should imagine there are many in-depth books available on the market for the aspiring embroider. On the other hand the book would be interesting just for the in depth photos of different embroidery techniques and projects.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  8. Hi Mary,

    you should write a book. I mean you have the outlines here on Needle n’ Thread, you know what goes into good instruction. I think there could not possibly be anyone out there more in line to write the sort of book this could have been!

  9. Hi Mary, It is very cool to see a number of your pieces in this book! I too like depth and content in a book and many books disappoint, with me wanting more information. I actually think there are more new books on embroidery lately and most of them share this same shortcoming. Cute cover, lots of photos, but light on details. My mind jumps to why – Publishers getting in on the current popularity of embellishment and DIY? Younger, less experienced stitchers who are satisfied with that level of treatment? I’m not sure, but it makes me realize yet again the value of your blog and and the dedication to detail that you possess. I’ve learned a lot here and love all the depth. Thank you so much!

  10. Glad to see in the Three Dimensional section they cover smoking!!! haha (ya gotta love spell-check. I fight with this one all the time!)

    Haven’t seen the book, but would probably pick it up with great interest, but not purchase it. While visual candy is ALWAYS welcomed, I am a technique-junkie. Thank you for the review. (I thought I recognized some of those project photos!!)

    1. Thanks, Bobbi – changed it! I don’t know why it does that – it’s not as if smocking isn’t a real word! But I should’ve caught, given the amount of times I went back to this article before publishing it! :-/

  11. I am sooooo far from mastering the art that I probably shouldn’t even comment. That being said, in recent times, I probably would have bought the book, mostly because I love books. These days, however, I find that everything I need – good instruction, excellent visuals AND feedback are available on the internet at sites just like your own and while I still love books, they had better have absolutely excellent content in order to even tempt me to purchase. I love your site – thank you for sharing.

  12. I like both…books for techniques and for inspiration (lots of pics). I think as long as your realize what kind of book it is then they all can work!

    I am currently working on a lot of my own designs so I was very excited to get this book for the inspiration it provides. There are a lot of unusual pieces in here that you don’t normally see all in one place making it very useful from that perspective.

  13. Hi Mary,
    I enjoy your Blog so much, and I can count on you for so much information. I’m a self taught quilter, but I have been sewing since I was about 6 yrs.’ old. My sweet mother taught me at an early age how to sew. By the time I was 8 I was sewing almost all my summer cloths. My father thought sewing was for necessity rather for enjoyment, sewing “frivolous garments” were never permitted. I knew how to embroidery at 6 as well, but only straight stitches, lazy daisy’s, picot knots, and satin stitch. Any of the thread painting and beautiful stitches that are done were never taught in my house, again, it was deemed frivolous. When I turned 16 I got my first job and with my pay (after bills were met) I started buying my own clothes. I was a little like Scarlet O’Hare “I was never going to sew my own clothes again”. I didn’t have the time nor the inclination to pick up a needle and floss, or to sit at a sewing machine ever again, until I was married and had the first of our two daughters and I was determined to teach them how, but at the same time I wanted to make it fun and entertaining for them. Sad to say neither of them showed any interest in needle work of any kind. But my interest grew and grew, I wanted to make the pretty things I saw in catalogs, so I started making some of my own things again. My children are grown now and Like I said I’m a self taught quilter. I read everything I can get my hands on and I bought up patterns and fabric and have made quilts for all my friends and family. But the “one” quilt I want to make my self I want to incorporate some Embroidery, beading, and Stumpwork into it. So I try to soak up any knowledge I can from tutorials and from books, internet and anywhere else I can find anything pertaining to said items.
    I have a book that just came this past week titled “Royal School of Needlework, Embroidery Techniques”, and it is quite good. I only glanced into it but when I read your review I thought please Lord don’t have let me have purchased the wrong book, I knew it would not have been the right book for what I need.
    I was So relieved it wasn’t.
    The one I have is very informative and has great tutorial instructions at the back. It also has a good section on Gold Work and talks the reader through a lot of what you talked us through this past week on your dis-mantling of Gold Work, only in the other direction. Building it from ground up instead.
    I look forward to learning from your reviews, Blogs, Tutorials, not to mention your beautiful designs, too.
    Thank you so much.

  14. This is disappointing. I find that books like this get a cursory look when I first buy them and then just languish on the bookshelf. When I want information on a technique, I’m looking for depth and details. In the age of Pinterest, books featuring mostly pretty images are increasingly irrelevant. I feel like publishers (at least U.S. ones) often aren’t in touch with what needleworkers really want or need in a book.

  15. Ah, it’s a familiar story. So many pretty-looking embroidery books turn out to be either too shallow and general or too full of ‘projects’ rather than information. While I always love to see juicy close-up photos of historical stuff, the books I have learnt most from have small pen-and-ink illustrations – or even steel engravings – with a few blurry black and white photos if you’re lucky. Useful books written by people who know what they are talking about.
    The resources now on the web – like your own excellent site – are brilliant for stitch diagrams and technical help, but a good solid reference book is a friend for life, always there and easy to refer back to.
    Perhaps there is still a place for eyecatching pretty-picture books like Sophie Long’s. Because they do give a beginner, or a not-yet-begunner, a fair idea of what to start looking for, the right words for things, and an idea of what sort of embroidery most appeals to them. It takes a fair amount of keen interest to delve into a dry-looking old book with demanding text and diagrams that take a bit of effort to understand. And that initial interest has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it?

  16. Actually, YOU are the one who has inspired me to advanced hand embroidery. But it’s through your video tutorials that I am learning the most intricate stitches. I have a plethora of how-to books but, for me, seeing the stitch illustrated is best.Deonia

  17. G’day there Mary,
    I feel I have the instructional side pretty well ‘sewn’ up when it comes to books. Not that I wouldn’t purchase more, mind, and not that I’m proficient, far from it, but I love to have books of different needleworker’s projects. To have a number between the same covers is wonderful. I got quite excited when I recognised the first of your projects, your rooster, and then the others. Congratulations on your content, even though the fish may be out of it’s depth!
    I don’t mind a book that has an overview of techniques, esp with eye candy. It’s like a refresher course without having to delve into much reading. Some of the medications I’m on leave my brained addled, (more than normal!), and I like shorter, interesting articles that remind me, but don’t burden me with instructions. When I’m actually doing a specific technique I can find up it’s book to concentrate on.
    I’d buy this book Mary. Thanks for the in depth review.
    Cheers, Kath.

  18. Thanks so much for this review, Mary. I’ve come to rely on your great content over the last couple of months since I found your blog and this is my first comment! I just saw this book on Amazon and when I sought out more reviews, I knew I could trust yours. It’s on my wishlist, but I’ll look for it in real life first. Eye candy is very good for me. It stimulates my imagination and makes me want to GO! This book might be just the thing for me in that regard.

  19. I too look for things beyond the basics because this is what stimulates your desires, challenges your imagination, your talent and makes you grow in a skill. I am always disappointed when my appetite is whetted & the ‘dish’ falls far short as in this instance. Now that I no longer sew for the public, this is to be for my enjoyment only. I’ve spent money in the past in a book club lured by the title only to have to go to the expense of returning it. I would like to say your work is beautiful and inspiring.

  20. I love Madeira Embroidery,(Broderie Anglaise stitch). Would you suggest a good book that I can learn how to do this type of stitching? Of course where I can find it would help also. Thanks so much for your time. Cindy Anderson

  21. Hi Mary: I i haven’t seen the book, however I’m in agreement with you that I prefer more instructional books. At this time anyway. A recommendation from you would make a difference. I’ve done lots of counted work, would like to get back to “true” embroidery. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi, Susan – Mastering the Art of Embroidery is an ok book – it provides basic instructions for setting up projects and then a stitch dictionary. The rest of the very large book is just eye candy, inspirational photos and the like. As far as instruction and stitch dictionaries go, I’d say one of my favorite books is Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book. It’s old and out of print, but you can find used copies of it through ABE (Advanced Book Exchange), Amazon, and the like. It covers the main techniques associated with surface embroidery and includes stitch instructions (drawn diagrams), and is an excellent resource.

      You also can’t go wrong with any of the A-Z series books on different techniques, and they’ve all been recently reprinted by Search Press. The A-Z of Embroidery Stitches and the A-Z of Embroidery Stitches 2 are both excellent stitch dictionaries. The RSN Essential Guides are pretty good, too – especially the one on Whitework (which I would buy before buying the A-Z of Whitework) and the one on Crewel Work. You can find reviews on all of these books on my books page, here: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/books-links

      An all around good stitch dictionary that you can pick up pretty inexpensively, used, is called Stitch Sampler. Here’s my review of it: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2010/10/needlework-book-review-stitch-sampler.html

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