It’s been a while since I’ve foraged around online for available old needlework books.
For those who are new to this concept, there are several places online where you can find excellent, old, public domain needlework and embroidery books in PDF format that you can download and save on your computer for personal use.
Many of these old books have really good instructional tips in them. Some have patterns and design ideas. Some are just good reading for their entertainment value! It just depends on what you’re looking for.
A few sources that I like best for old online needlework books: Antique Pattern Library (although I’m having a problem with their downloads recently – they ask for a password, which has never happened before); Online Digital Archive on Weaving, etc., from University of Arizona; Internet Archive; and Project Gutenberg. Those four sources could keep you occupied for a very long time, looking at old needlework and embroidery books!
In the meantime, here are some gems I’ve found lately – I hope they’re not repeats!
This is the TBC instructional manual for Hardanger or Norwegian Embroidery at Internet Archive.
You’ll find designs in it, and plenty of instruction. It’s a nice, clear PDF.
This one is Stitch Patterns & Designs for Embroidery by Ann Brandon-Jones, available also at Internet Archive.
In this book, you’ll find some nice applications of various stitches that can be adapted to all kinds of embroidery design purposes. It’s a fun book! Granted, it’s old, but you’ll find good stitch ideas in it.
I may have mentioned this one before – Jacobean Crewel Work and Traditional Designs by Penelope, also available on Internet Archive.
Even if I’ve posted it before, it’s a good enough book to mention again! If you like crewel embroidery and traditional crewel designs, take a look at it!
If you like ecclesiastical embroidery and you’re not familiar with Hinda Hands’s book, Church Needlework: A Manual of Practical Instruction, you should be! This one, I know I’ve written about before – a long time ago – but it’s a classic when it comes to ecclesiastical embroidery, so definitely worth another mention!
This one is Corticelli’s Lessons in Embroidery (PDF) – available at the Online Digital Archives of Weaving, etc.
In this one, you’ll find small catalog designs, some color plates, some stitch instructions, instructions on silk shading, and the like.
Finally, Variety Magazine’s Italian Cutwork & Filet Lace is available through Internet Archive. If you haven’t seen any of these old Variety needlework magazines, they’re priceless! Good instruction, patterns, and so forth. This one has some filet alphabets in it (and other designs), that can be used equally as well in counted cross stitch.
On Old Embroidery Books, Online
These are all public domain works, meaning they are out of copyright. Still, the owner of the scan and the resulting PDF actually owns the digital file, so you can’t sell these PDFs. You can distribute them, share them, etc., (you should always give the source), but you can’t sell them. It’s a good idea to review each site’s policies on distribution.
There are some places online that do sell their own PDFs of these books. Often, the PDFs are no better (and sometimes, they’re worse) than the free ones you’ll find from quality sources.
There also places that reproduce some of these books in print form (for example, the Variety magazines), cleaned up and very clear (with clean diagrams and so forth). Often, those are worth buying if you want a hard copy. They’re usually bound with a comb, and the print is very nice. Iva Rose Vintage Productions comes to mind – they do a great job with their reprints.
You can also search through used book sources for original copies. Sometimes, you can find them very inexpensively. Sometimes, you can’t! It’s just a matter of constantly searching for old publications that you really want.