The Craft of Embroidery by Alison Liley is not a new book. It’s not a fancy book – in fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s a pretty unassuming book, by today’s standards of needlework and craft books.
First published in Great Britain in 1961 and reprinted into the 1970’s, the book is a practical study of the craft of embroidery, intended particularly for the student pursuing the City & Guilds courses and qualifications for hand embroidery, but it also works well for a more general audience – anyone who wants to learn the craft of embroidery.
The Craft of Embroidery is available through used book sources, and it’s pretty widely available right now, so you can probably pick it up for $5 – $10 online. There are a variety of different covers for the book – mine happens to have a red library cover, without a dust jacket.
The table of contents clearly lays out what’s in the book. All the basics of the craft of embroidery are covered here.
Craft is an intentionally chosen word for the title, because these are all skills that can be learned by doing.
At the beginning of the book, you’ll find a pull out chart that presents basic categories of stitches and their variations, plus effects that can be had with particular stitches in particular categories.
Do you want to create a thick or broad line using a buttonhole type stitch? If you reference the chart, it will tell you which buttonhole variations will accomplish that.
There are plenty of stitch directions in the textbook, all drawn very clearly and explained thoroughly in the text.
Although these aren’t the typical colored diagrams we see today, or the step-by-step colored photos in glossy books, these black and white diagrams work just as well to demonstrate the steps of the stitch.
Within the sections on the various stitches, the author also demonstrates how a variety of stitches or variations on a stitch can work together effectively in a design.
I love the clean, simple diagrams and the well-written text! They cover what needs to be covered, but it’s not spread over pages and pages – it’s all very concise, and very clear.
The section on design is informative and instructive as well. Liley covers different aspects of designing, plus all the needful information on how to reproduce designs in efficient ways.
Throughout the book (remembering that this is more of a textbook), there are lists of questions that the student of embroidery should be able to answer. If you’re serious about really learning the craft, it’s a good set-up for self-study.
The fellow above illustrates how blackwork fillings can be combined in one design. I think he’s kind of cute!
This is more of the design section. The author discusses quite a bit what techniques are suitable for what types of embroidery.
Of course, included in the technical discussion of things, there’s plenty of information on design transferring, setting up embroidery projects, and so forth.
The finishing section covers various ways of finishing embroidered items, beyond just framing. The author also covers laundering and care of embroidered items thoroughly.
The Craft of Embroidery is one of my favorite “old” embroidery books, for general, solid knowledge of the whole craft in a nutshell. It’s an excellent starting place for those who wish to go beyond embroidery as a passing hobby, to learn foundation principles on which a solid pursuit of embroidery as an art can be built.
Lately, I’ve been turning a lot to the old embroidery books on my shelves. They’re so satisfyingly “meaty” – they have such good instructional content in them.
If you want some serious instruction in embroidery, look for these older books in libraries or through used book sources. They may not dazzle you with “eye candy”, but they will help you build a solid foundation in the principles of hand embroidery and embroidery design and execution.
Remember, you can only get so far on a diet of candy, anyway – you need something substantial if you want to be in for the long haul!
What’s your take on older embroidery books? Do you find them more instructive than the books on the market today? Do you have any favorite oldie-but-goody books that you think are a must-have in a needlework library? Any thoughts in general about older books on embroidery and needlework? Have your say below!
I Love old books…