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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Your Weekend Entertainment a la Erica Wilson


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Erica Wilson was an embroiderer, designer, teacher, and businesswoman who hailed from Britain but lived here in the US from the 1950’s until her death in 2011.

Back in 2011, I wrote this very short little tribute to her. If you haven’t heard of her, it will introduce you to some of her books, which are definitely worth acquiring for your needlework library.

A graduate of the Royal School of Needlework, Erica Wilson deserves much credit for the revival of the needle arts in the US in the prosperous decades following World War II. She made needlework accessible and appealing to the masses. I think the comparison of her to Julia Childs (what Julia Childs did for cooking, Erica Wilson did for needlework) is a good one!

Erica Wilson embroidery show available at Open Vault, WGBH

A couple years ago, I mentioned that a few episodes of Wilson’s embroidery show (called Erica, produced by WGBH Boston) are available on YouTube.

Well, a few are never quite enough, when it comes to these charming, quick little insightful episodes that demonstrate all kinds of helpful points about needlework.

So I’m happy to tell you that there are many episodes of Erica available for viewing here on Open Vault at WGBH. If you have a quiet Saturday or Sunday ahead, you could “binge watch” all of them!

Although the series is certainly dated (it was produced in the 1970’s, which is quite evident from the style of embroidery, the materials used, and so forth), the embroidery principles Erica talks about are timeless.

In 15 minutes or fewer in each episode, Erica manages to demonstrate several useful things about embroidery – from transfer tips to stitching tips, to advice on fabric, to general encouragement. There’s always something helpful to take away from each episode.

They’re fun to watch, too! Erica’s sense of humor is perhaps not as boisterous as that of Julia Childs, but there are definitely some Chuckle Moments peppered throughout the episodes.

I found the best viewing for the videos, which are rather low in resolution, is on a tablet. I also air-played them from an iPad to an Apple TV, and they looked ok on the TV screen. On larger computer screens, if you extend the video, you might find that your screen resolution is just too much for the low resolution video. Smaller, in those cases, is generally clearer. On smaller laptops and desktops, though, and on tablets, they’re fine. Any way you look at them, they’re a little grainy, but even though you might miss some detail, it doesn’t detract from the pleasure of watching them!

Enjoy the weekend!


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(23) Comments

  1. I often find and purchase Erica Wilson and Elsa Williams kits from eBay and Esty. My webpage shows several of these kits that I have embroidered.

    Be careful not to get caught up in bidding on eBay. I have seen several of Elsa Williams kits go up over a hundred dollars but if you take your time and do a bit of web surfing you can still find unopened Elsa Williams and Erica Wilson kits in the $20 range. Sometimes I’m web surfing for weeks before I find a kit at a low enough price for me to purchase.

    Remember this kits are 1980 era and may required that you open them up and air them before you begin to stitch. Plus read the bid’s write-up to ensure you are getting an unsoiled and original kit as I got one that came with replaced yarn and just tossed that crap out and used yarn from my stash. But I did get that kit for around $15 and I purchased it for the printed fabric as I like the linen fabric that they used in some of their kits.

    1. While putting away some of my library book sale score I found my Erica Wilson Crewel Embroidery book as well as an Elsa Williams one. I think I got them before I really understood enough about what they were trying to teach. I will definitely need to pull them off the shevles and read them again (when I’m finished going through all my other ‘new’ books!).

      It is nice to know WHO the greats are/were as some that wrote on the various subjects didn’t know what they were talking about. In mind, I’m thinking of one book I got to review and I believe the instructions for making a quilt involved 3 steps! And drawing your quilt pieces using your rotary ruler onto the fabric and then manually cutting in out! I would hate for any beginner to think that book was one to follow!

  2. Thanks, Mary, for the wonderful Erica Wilson article. I remember watching her way back on PBS. She was one of the reasons I began doing needlework. It’s so much fun to watch her all over again.

  3. Erica Wilson though I never met her, made such an impact in my life. She was my mentor. I simply devoured her books. The videos are timeless. Thank you for the post Mary.

  4. Thanks SO much for the Erica Wilson info! I remember watching her show on PBS back then. I had small children and not much time for myself, but she inspired me to get back to handwork–mainly needlepoint and crewel embroidery then. I have indulged my passion for most any kind of needlework (EPP, needleturn applique, silk ribbon embroidery, crazy quilting, etc) ever since. Little did I know at the time how much her videos would affect my life.

  5. Thank you for sharing this! My mother and her crowd were great fans of Erica Wilson! I’ve been enjoying the videos today. The monogram segment is wonderful, and has an example with letters that have been filled in with flowers, which reminded me of your lovely work as well. Thank you for the memories, and the continuing inspiration.

  6. I recently purchased several of her kits on ebay. I tossed the yarn out – poor quality! And then I hand washed the printed ground cloth. Test a corner first if you do this. So far the printed designs have been permanent. I worked “Owls in a Tree” with wool threads from my stash and stitches from my “experience.” It looks very nice. Maybe a bit dated but so am I. 🙂

    Elaine in New Mexico

  7. One summer when I was 4 or 5, the tv happened to be turned on to Erica Wilson’show. I watched the episode then dug through my mother’s sewing basket, found a tiny scrap of fabric, some floss, and a big needle. I then followed her directions a embroidered the outline of a polar bear (an obsession when I was a preschooler). I’ve been fascinated by embroidery ever since.

  8. Thanks so much for the links to Erica’s videos! Here in the UK her series was called Erica on Embroidery and I had the book of the series for years after. Still turns up in charity shops occasionally – must get it back in my library! Its late Saturday night here and I’m taking my tablet to bed for an Erica binge! :o)

  9. I remember watching her PBS program. She was a hoot!

    If you’ll allow a little horn-blowing, Mary: I’m of the opinion that you’re this generation’s Erica Wilson.

    Don’t argue. Just accept. 😉

  10. Thank you so much for access to these videos. What fun!! I have her Embroidery Book from like forever. It’s a large and heavy volume that is an excellent resource. It is also useful for pressing fabric pieces flat!! Thanks again. These clips are priceless! Barbara

  11. Thanks for this information on Erica Wilson. She was one of my favorite needlework people, so entertaining and so knowledgeable about a very broad range of needlework types and the history of needlework. Her “Embroidery Book” is one of my favorites and I always enjoyed visiting her shop when in Nantucket to see her latest offerings. It was interesting to see how those offerings evolved over the years as needle workers’ tastes changed. I was lucky enough to take a class from her several years ago and enjoyed it so much. Really wish she was still with us.

  12. I used to watch Erica in the UK with my dad when I was a little girl. It was on at Sunday lunchtime so mum wasn’t too happy as we were supposed to be sitting down to eat! I’ll definitely watch some of these

  13. Hello, Mary – As always, I love, love, love, your blog and appreciate all the wonderful information you share with the needlework world! I have to say how timely this post is to me personally. I did see someone post on a Facebook page somewhat recently about these Erica Wilson videos and I had it vaguely in my mind that I wanted to check them out. However, this past weekend, I attended the needlework symposium at Winterthur in Delaware. One of the afternoon workshop opportunities was about Erica Wilson! It turns out that Winterthur now has (owns?) about 80 pieces from Erica Wilson, mostly pieces she treasured and were “hanging in her dining room, not put away in storage,” according to Anne Hilker from the Bard Graduate Center who has been working with the material and was running the workshop, just walking us through the pieces that are now at Winterthur. These came there less than a year ago; if you go to Winterthur’s online collections database and type in “Erica Wilson” you can see somewhat poor pictures and only some minimal descriptions; they are literally in the process of actually getting everything formally catalogued. For example, all of her working pieces from her time at the Royal School of Needlework are now at Winterthur and I got to see them up close this weekend! In the TV episode on “Satin Stitch”, she begins by showing one of her Royal School samplers – that is now at Winterthur. As is the skirt owned by her great-grandmother that she wears in that episode. One of the women in my workshop session commented about one of the crewelwork pieces of Erica’s: “I made that back in the day, I did that kit. And here is the original!”

    I just wanted to share this information with you and your readers. Again, there is only minimal information to be seen and learned from the online collections portion of Winterthur’s website at this time, but hopefully more information over time.

    Many thanks for all your wonderful work,
    Arlene C. in NJ

  14. Dear Mary, !How lovely! The accent is so charming,but boy is it dated. If only the English still had such wonderful vowels. But sadly they have been mocked out of existence (apart that is from the Queen).
    I though of you ‘specially, today in a wet London at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I went to the Opus Anglicanum Exhibition. I remember you talking about this work. It was exquisite, the thousands of tiny stitches, the
    sweetness of the faces, the devotion but the scale of such work. Breathtaking. I will go as many times as I can before such a wonderful collection from so many different countries is gathered together again.

  15. Hi Mary! I love Erica Wilson and often look for her books at library book sales. I can’t help but share my excitement, my husband is taking me to London as my Christmas/Anniversary present this year. He specifically wanted me to be able to tour the RSN, but sadly we have discovered it will be closed for remodeling while we are there. The castle and the grounds will be open and I believe if we time it right so will the needlework store, even if the actual school is not. I thought it was so exciting to see your review of one of their books on their website. It is a small world. I also discovered there was still an opening at the school program they are offering in Williamsburg, VA, just in case you or anyone else would like to go. Now, I must return to my own stitching so I can be ready for the big trip. I will plan to take pictures, if you would like me to share them you can message me through private email so I know where to send them. Debbie

  16. I had the privilege of taking one of her workshops WAY back in the mid 70s. I loved her work. I did a number of her kits and had her big book autographed. Thanks for reminding me again about this lovely talented lady!

  17. That big orange comprehensive book on embroidery by Erica Wilson accompanied me on my overseas Peace Corps two-year assignment as I knew I’d do some sort of needlework in my spare time, etc. When I returned to US and eventually joined the EGA, my wish list of techniques to learn because of Erica Wilson’s text was Mountmellick. I agree with others that you, Mary, now fulfill the inspiration and clearly illustrated stitch diagrams that propel the threaded needles of myself and many others enchanted by your site.

  18. Thank you so much for pointing me in the direction of these videos. I just watched the one on applique and loved it. Wow! She packed a lot into it and showed me things I did not know. I can’t wait to watch the rest. So inspiring!

  19. Just attended an Embroidery Conference at Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The family recently donated many original pieces of Erica’s stitched pieces, including her practice sampler from the Royal School of Needlework. There are pieces of needlework that inspired her designs. I’m fairly certain that the person who is taking on the task of documenting this donation would love any additional information your readers could provide. One problem she discovered was that kits didn’t always have a copyright date before 197? something. Plus kit instructions and contents changed as reprints and yarn sources changed.

  20. My connection with Erica Wilson came many years ago. I had bought her book on things to make for children, and had started a lovely little sweater, when I found a mistake, at least it seemed that way to me, not an expert knitter. I called the store in NYC, and the girl answering said she wasn’t a knitter, and she checked with others there. “Why don’t you call Erica ?” and she proceeded to give me a phone number at her Martha’s Vineyard home. Erica . We had a lovely conversation for about ten minutes herself answered the phone, got out her copy of the book, helped me discover where I had misunderstood something, and then began to speak about other things for about ten minutes. Have done many of her projects since then, warmed by how she was such a lovely person.

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