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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Favorite Old Embroidery Books – Free for Downloading


Amazon Books

If you have a chance this weekend, you’ll definitely want to take some time to browse through Antique Pattern Library.

If you’re not familiar with Antique Pattern Library, it’s a real bonanza when it comes to needlework books in the public domain.

The folks behind Antique Pattern Library do a fantastic job scanning and cataloging a whole variety of needlework books, and many of them are excellent old embroidery books.

Today, I’ll sum up a list of recent delectable finds and old favorites that are worth downloading. I’ll also share my “shortcuts” for browsing Antique Pattern Library. In case I didn’t mention it, there are a lot of books there. Browsing can be a bit like falling into the Black Hole of Oblivion, only to emerge to a day half-gone.

All the books are free for downloading, although you can support APL by donating, if you wish – there are buttons on the site.

Free Online Embroidery Books Worth Downloading

Getting Around Antique Pattern Library

When you visit Antique Pattern Library, start at the home page, not the catalog page, unless you’re looking for a specific title that you already know or you just want to browse through the whole catalog.

On the home page, you’ll find a menu of categories under the main picture. Click on the category you want, and you’ll be provided with a list of books that somehow fit into that category.

So, if you’re looking for books on “embroidery,” click on the embroidery category. The list is quite long, and if you don’t have a lot of browsing time, you might want to cut to the chase. Perhaps you’re looking for “embroidery patterns” specifically. If you use the “find” function on your computer (Command+F on a Mac or Control+F on a PC), you’ll get a small search box at the top of your browser that can search for keywords on that page. Type in “patterns” and all the listings on that page that include the word “patterns” in the title or description will be highlighted.

At that point, you can move through them all by clicking the “next” arrow on your browser’s search box.

APL has a search function, but I find that my computer’s find function on the open browser works faster and narrows things down more efficiently.

If you know the title of a book you’re looking for, head to the catalog page, and you can find the title alphabetically there.

Viewing & downloading the books on Antique Pattern Library

The books are in PDF format, which means you should have the latest version of Adobe Reader on your computer to successfully download and view the books.

Even though my software is always up to date, I still have trouble now and then viewing some of the PDFs on APL to see if I want to download them. This is especially the case if I’m using Safari as a browser.

Try a different browser

Your best bet – the easiest way – to view the PDFs successfully every time is to use Chrome. I’ve tried Firefox, Safari, Explorer (virtually), and Chrome, and the latter is the only browser I never have a problem with when browsing through APL. On the others, I’ve had PDFs that don’t allow viewing (although they can still be dowloaded and then opened without a problem), or, in some cases, a PDF that requires a password. You might consider installing Chrome to use as an alternative browser when visiting APL, if you plan to visit there often.

The links below will take you directly to the PDFs on Antique Pattern Library, so if you have difficulties opening them, check your software and your browser.

Some Favorite Books on Antique Pattern Library

Lately, I’ve discovered some new delights on Antique Pattern Library, and in case you’ve never been there, I’ll direct you to some favorites, too, for your own browsing pleasure.

Die Kunst Der Goldstickerei – (PDF) – yes, it’s in German. But if you like goldwork, it’s a keeper! Lots of good pictures on the inside – they’re old black & whites, but you can learn a lot from them.

Le Dessinateur de Broderies – (PDF) – This one, in French, is mostly a lace-related book (lots of lace designs for embroidered laces), the designs and drawings can be used or manipulated for surface embroidery as well. If you don’t read French, that’s ok. The book is mostly design.

D.M.C. Motifs pour Broderies (Part 1 and Part 2) – Part 2 has a great collection of line drawings of the embroidery motifs in the book. They’re very Art Nouveau. They’re nice!

Portfolio of Designs for Embroidery by Joan Drew – (PDF) – This is exactly what the title implies, a collection of embroidery designs. Many of them would make a great springboard for further design ideas.

Godey’s Needlework Patterns – (PDF) – This particular PDF is perhaps not as clear as some of the others, but there are some gems in here as far as designs go, plus it’s fun to read!

A Book of Fancy Designs for Ornamenting Oriental Work – (PDF) – This is essentially a collection of interesting stitch patterns for crazy quilting.

Anand’s Embroidery Book: Hand Drawn Designs to Use in Machine Embroidery – (PDF) – Don’t be put off by the title, even if you aren’t into machine embroidery. The designs in this book are perfectly suited to hand embroidery. Some are quite charming and would adapt well into redwork and other surface techniques.

Therese Dillmont – (catalog list) – Any of her books are worth browsing! This is a direct link to the D’s in the Antique Pattern Library catalog.

I hope this little list provides you with some stitching inspiration, or at least with a pleasant weekend diversion.

If you get lost in the Black Hole of Oblivion, give a holler!

Enjoy the weekend!


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(26) Comments

  1. Mary:

    is membership to the site required? Each time I click on one of the links you have above, I am asked for a password.

    1. No, no membership is required. If you’re being asked for a password, it’s because either your Adobe reader is out of date, or there’s something amiss with the browser settings and the way they are reading the APL site. As I mentioned in the article above, the easiest way to avoid this is to install Chrome (Google’s browser), as it’s the only browser (so far with the ones I’ve tried) that never has a problem reading PDFs from Antique Pattern Library. I don’t normally use Chrome, except when I’m browsing APL or similar sites that have the same problems with PDFs. So, that’s an option – or you might check your version of Adobe Reader to see if you need to update.

  2. I love Antique Pattern Library – it’s full of treasures! (And not just books for embroiderers – there are loads of crochet and tatting patterns, for example.) The enthusiastic people who run it rely on our donations to keep the site going, so if you find something wonderful on there, please give something if you can and support them.

  3. Hi Mary,

    I’m still up when your newsletter came through – thank you! Perfect for inspiration and my skim-browsing has already given me ideas and there were at least two designs I think I can utilize. The weekend hopefully will provide time for more thorough browsing. The search tip was appreciated also. Thanks again!

  4. Dear Mary

    The above information is a great reference source and thanks for the information on what web browser to use and for the info on the search box I’ve just tried that and it’s great and I’m now going to install Chrome as I sometimes have trouble with Safari browser PDF’s as well. I will browse the list of books you have recommended above. Thanks so much for sharing this information I think you can add computer whizz to your many talants. I hope you have a great weekend. I’m off to browse for the weekend, speak Monday.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  5. Love, love, love APL! I’ve actually gotten into the habit of setting a timer when I visit the site, because even when I know exactly what I’m looking for and where to find it, I have those, “Oooooh, what’s that?” moments and will completely lose track of time.

    I also echo your advice to use Chrome, and I’d really like to encourage everyone to donate even a tiny amount, if they can. APL runs on donations, and it is a tremendously useful resource; definitely worth dropping a buck or ten into the bucket.

  6. What a fantastic resource. I have two of the
    D.M.C. Motifs Pour Broderies books that I picked up decades ago, and have always wondered whether others were still available. Well, here they are, along with so many other fantastic resources. Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. Dear Marie,
    Danke, the deutch book is beautifull. Thank you for the links, french book are write in english! Never mind, I looooove Antique Pattern Library.

  8. Thanks Mary for sharing this website. I’m always on the lookout for interesting old patterns and my own searches have yielded very little worthwhile. I can’t wait to check it out. Also, I love your stitch tutorials. They have really helped the quality of my work.

  9. Dear Mary,
    Thank you very much for these tips! The goldwork book is a real gem. Although I browse the APL regularly, I had not seen it before.
    Have a nice day, Jessica

  10. Oh my goodness, Mary. I have spent sooo much time looking for needle lace designs, and here I have them handed to me in one great big collection (le dessinateur de broderies). Thank you!

  11. I love in Anands sewing book the little Chinese boy flying his butterfly kite. I am very tempted to stitch him , so sweet ! Thankyou for sharing : )

  12. For people looking at this on an iPad, you will not be able to look at anything that requires Flash Player. Try downloading the Puffin app (free) from the App Store. It’s designed to allow things that require Flash Player to work on an iPad.

  13. I actually own one of Therese Dillmont’s books – it was given to me a long time ago by someone who saw I was interested and wanted to encourage me with stitching – I’ve used it a lot for many things and use it still. It’s called “Encyclopedia of Needlework by th. de Dillmont” not sure of which year or even which edition as it only says it’s the “New Edition, revised and enlarged” it was old and slightly battered when I got it and unfortunately it’s suffered a bit from use and old age as the spine has broken off 🙁 but I love it still, just use it more carefully now it and I are older.

  14. Thank you for all the ideas! My head is swimming. The link to the Antique Pattern Library was wonderful. Just spent over a half hour willingly lost in all the possibilities before me. So glad I found your site.

  15. I am searching for two books that are no longer in print: by Jennifer Rochester.
    ‘Raising the Surface with Hand Embroidery’ and ‘Encrusting Calico’

    Any help or guidance in my search is welcome.

    Thank you,


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