Mary Corbet

writer and founder


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

Contact Mary

Connect with Mary



2024 (72) 2023 (125) 2022 (136) 2021 (130) 2020 (132) 2019 (147) 2018 (146) 2017 (169) 2016 (147) 2015 (246) 2014 (294) 2013 (294) 2012 (305) 2011 (306) 2010 (316) 2009 (367) 2008 (352) 2007 (225) 2006 (139)

Weekend Reading: Old Needlework Books Online


Amazon Books

I love to come across old needlework books available online. There are several good sources for public domain embroidery books that are digitally archived, thanks to the effort of many institutions and individuals.

For your weekend reading, inspiration, leisure, perusal, browsing, curiosity, or for downloading for later, I thought I’d highlight a few online books from my own lists.

While I have physical copies of a couple of these, they’re not in the best shape! So when I want to glean a tidbit of information, or maybe find some inspiration for designs or projects, I prefer to look at them digitally.

You’ll also find some tips below on how to view and download.

I hope you enjoy these!

Old embroidery books online - public domain

There are five books that I’ll highlight today. They’re all available on Internet Archive.

When you go to the link on Internet Archive, the book will most likely open in the full screen, two pages up – that is, showing a two-page spread.

If you go to the bottom right corner of the screen, you should see a little row of icons or “tool buttons,” and the one on the far right should look like a little inverted four-corners cross. If you click on that, it will reduce the size of the book so that you can see all the bibliographical information.

On the right side of the bibliographical information, you’ll see a list of formats for download. Click on the one that says “PDF,” and the book will open as a PDF and you can view it easier that way, and also save it by going to “File” in your main menu of that window and scrolling down to “Save As.” Or right click on “PDF” and choose “Download Linked File” to download the PDF to your computer, and then open the PDF directly on your computer.

There are other formats – you can save it to Kindle, for example. Just peruse the list of download links to see what format you’d prefer.

Ladies’ World Embroidery Book

The Ladies’ World Embroidery Book by Helen Purdy is more of a pamphlet, created to sell stamped designs. You’ll find examples of how the designs were used in clothing, household accessories, and so forth.

There are some delicate little designs in there, plus a section of stitching instructions.

1883 Manual of Needlework

The 1883 Manual of Needlework from Patten Publishing Company was 50 cents back then – about the equivalent of $13.50 today. So it was a decent sized and scoped needlework book for the day.

Perusing the book is an interesting way to discover what was trending in needlework in the early 1880’s. The book covers embroidery, knitting, crochet, tatting, rug making, and popular lacing, like macrame, darned netting, some point lace, and Honiton.

Each technique is more of an overview. Don’t expect the same level of detail in visual instruction that you see in books today. Many of the techniques are described verbally, without visuals. But there are plenty of illustrations, too.

Alphabet für die Stickerin

In Alphabet für die Stickerin (Alphabet for the Embroiderer), you’ll find a lot of alphabets for the embroiderer – plus monograms and accent designs.

The book begins with cross stitch alphabets and then works into embroidered alphabets and monograms.

The Ladies’ Guide to Needlework and Embroidery

The Ladies’ Guide to Needlework by Sarah Annie Frost Shields was published in 1877.

It’s an overview of all kinds of needlework and embroidery techniques popular in the era, full of all kinds of detail. It’s fun! There’s a project in there that captured my imagination years ago – I have yet to re-create it. Some day! (Maybe?)

The Ladies’ Hand Book of Needlework

The Ladies’ Hand Book of Needlework published in 1879 is not a handbook as we think of it.

It’s funny – whenever I see the cover of this book, I think it says “The Ladies’ Hard Book of Needlework.” If you actually wanted to sell the book, I couldn’t think of a worse title.

But anyway, like I said, it’s not a handbook as we think of it. It’s a collection of charted designs. They’re sweet! You could work them in color or monochrome – in cross stitch, needlepoint, Assisi work – they’re all possible.

There are lots of animals and florals.

I do hope you find something interesting, exciting, useful, inspirational … and all of the above … in these lovely old resources!

Coming Up on Needle ‘n Thread

Next week, I’ll share some project updates with you. I might – I just might – sneak peek some color choices for the next How to Embroider (Blank) project with you, to see if you can guess what we’re going to embroider together. (I love the color scheme! I’m very excited about it!)

I’ve got a simple but really run new project underway for summer. This one has been in the works for a while. The designs have been hiding in my notebook, pining for the light of day. Well, they saw it earlier this week. The colors have been selected, the prototypes made for the finished item, the design transferred, and the first stitches have gone in. It’s just a simple, fun thing, but it says “summer” to me.

I can’t wait to share these with you! Enjoy your weekend!


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(11) Comments

  1. I have quite a few of these types of books saved online. I never thought about downloading them to keep.

  2. interesting that when I look at the patterns in the Ladies Handbook of Needlework my first thought is what wonderful old filet crochet patterns 🙂

  3. Thanks, I downloaded The Ladies’ Guide to Needlework and Embroidery which has lots of ideas I haven’t seen before.

    I love these old books and even learned to make bobbin lace from one many years ago. The instructions were more practical than contemporary books!

  4. Dear Mary

    Long time no write. I been really busy lately and then I was away visiting my sister in Kent, we can do that now, so I took the opportunity of going and met my Great Nephew for the first time, he was born in November and reacquainted myself with his brother. Anyway the articles above look really interesting and I will have to browse them with a nice cup of coffee later. Thank for the link to the sites of the needlework books and for sharing them with us. I can’t for you to show us your new projects they sound really interesting.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  5. Thank you Mary! While there are many books/pamphlets with similar content, I don’t recall seeing one that included how to make pearl & crochet buttons. Check out page 27 The Ladies’ World Embroidery Book/Helen Purdy. For anyone who already makes Dorset buttons, these are terrific. Stylish petite buttons are so hard to come by. I do own some vintage ones but have been reluctant to use them for anything but CQ for fear of damaging them in the laundry. Following Helen’s instructions, it would be easy to add pearl/crochet buttons to a sweater or blouse cuffs. Very girlie! Oh my, I’d wear them in a heartbeat. Bet you would too!

  6. Thank you Mary, for sharing these wonderful old needlework booklets. There are some really interesting designs in them.

  7. Caveat Emptor.

    IME, YMMV … the Kindle books almost never have the illustrations in them! The Kindle edition of de Dillmont? Not. One. Single. Figure.

    And I just found out my old paperback copy doesn’t have the 16 color plates in it … no even in monochrome!!


  8. Oh, the alphabet book is one of many of the de Dillmont books that they have. But they do NOT have the 800 page Encyclopedia of Needlework. The one they do have is like 567 pages. Embroidery History is my “thang.” If you’ve never seen it, they have a copy of Symonds which is a somewhat dated, but awesome nevertheless book.


More Comments