Old hand embroidery and needlework books mesmerize me.
Vintage embroidery books appeal to me more than new embroidery books do. I love reading old needlework books – sometimes, because they crack me up, and sometimes, because they make me think.
There is such a pleasure in thumbing through old books on hand embroidery – from all the sensual appeal of the book (the feel, the smell, the tentative, brittle movement of the pages) – that can’t be had from perusing a digital copy of the same book.
But we can’t all collect every old book out there, and so it is with Huge Gratitude that we can turn instead to those online collections that make the reading of old needlework books possible for most of us.
Today, to set you up for a weekend of reading pleasure, I’d like to point out 10 fantastic old needlework books that I love, that you can download for free and add to your embroidery library. Each has a particular value to it, and I hope you end up liking them as much as I do!
What’s it got? Plenty of stitch instructions (with drawn diagrams) and some fabulous old illustrations!
2. English Embroidered Bookbindings by Cyril James H. Davenport, also available on Project Gutenberg.
What’s it got? Discussion on embroidered books, their history, and the methods of making them, along with plates featuring examples of embroidered book covers from various eras, with descriptions of the embroidery.
3. The Handbook of Embroidery by L. Higgin, found in several formats on Project Gutenberg.
What’s it got? Discussion of the materials used in “modern” embroidery (1880) with some really good descriptive explanations of different types of silks and metal threads; discussion of ground fabrics used for embroidery; stitch instructions (with drawn diagrams); and colored plates with various designs for hand embroidery.
What’s it got? Discussion of the techniques used in all different types of hand embroidery; some stitch instruction in the form of small samplers; plenty of black & white plates, with specifics about embroidery techniques used in them. This book is a classic.
5. Dictionary of Needlework: an encyclopaedia of artistic, plain, and fancy needlework dealing fully with the details of all the stitches employed, the method of working, the materials used, the meaning of technical terms, and, where necessary, tracing the origin and history of the various works described.
No, really. That is the title! The book is by Sophia Frances Anne Caulfeild, published in 1882. It’s a fantastic book! It’s actually divided into six volumes, each of which is excellent:
Dictionary of Needlework, Volume 1
Dictionary of Needlework, Volume 2
Dictionary of Needlework, Volume 3
Dictionary of Needlework, Volume 4
Dictionary of Needlework, Volume 5
Dictionary of Needlework, Volume 6
You can also download the whole Dictionary of Needlework by Caulfield in one volume, here.
6. Embroidery Motifs, First Series by Therese de Dillmont, available at the Online Digital Archive of Weaving and Related Topics. The book is available in two parts, as PDFs to download.
What’s it got? Great embroidery motifs, worked in various techniques, shown in color, and clear embroidery patterns for all the motifs.
Here are the PDFs:
7. Ricami Norvegesi (Norwegian Embroidery) – PDF – by Therese de Dillmont, also available at the Online Digital Archive.
What’s it got? Written in Italian, this book from the DMC Library is full of instructional images for Hardanger embroidery.
8. Moderne Stickerei-Vorlagen, Secession, Jugend-Styl (Embroidery Patterns, Modern Style) available through the Antique Pattern Library.
What’s it got? Cross stitch patterns for alphabets and monograms, plus art nouveau motifs.
9. Motif Religieux also from Antique Pattern Library.
What is it? It’s a single sheet of religious designs for hand embroidery.
10. Broderies Pour Robes – also from Antique Pattern Library.
What’s it got? A really fabulous collection of hand embroidery patterns for dresses of the earlier 1900’s.
As the description states, it’s “very flapper.” The designs are great – they’d look terrific on household goods, too, and could definitely be modified for other embroidery projects.
Searching Some Needlework Book Collections
When searching collections like Antique Pattern Library or the Online Digital Archive for Weaving, etc., a handy way to go about searching is to hold Control + F or Command + F on your keyboard while on the main catalog page. This will bring up the “Find” feature in your browser, and you can search by keyword through the titles and descriptions in the catalogs.
Supporting the Work of Digital Preservation
You might be interested in supporting the preservation efforts of some of these collections.
For example, Antique Pattern Library is a non-profit organization that relies on donations to help them carry out their work of digital preservation of old needlework books and magazines. Definitely worth supporting if you can.
Hope this gives you some pleasurable reading for your leisure time this weekend! Hope you enjoy the books as much as I do!
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