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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Books for Embroidery Inspiration – but not Embroidery!


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Inspiration for needlework can be found just about everywhere – and I like to find it in books that aren’t necessarily needlework books, but are somewhat art-related.

Last year, I added two books to my library, and I really, really like both of them. Especially if you’re interested in botanical subjects for embroidery, you might find them enjoyable, too.

For me, it’s the tie-in with literature and poetry and art that caught me with these two books, Botanical Shakespeare and The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

Books for Inspiration for Embroidery

Both books feature flora (and sometimes fauna, in the case of the Country Diary) accompanied by text, whether it’s the text of Shakespeare or the text of various poets and writers throughout literary history.

In Botanical Shakespeare, which we’ll look at first, explores all the plants – herbs, fruits, flowers, trees, seeds, grasses! – that show up in Shakespeare’s works. Quotes from the Bard are accompanied by lovely botanical illustrations.

Books for Inspiration for Embroidery

Each visual representation is accompanied by the text in which the plant is mentioned.

When I look at beautiful renderings like these, my mind extracts certain notions about floral shapes, colors, shading, contrast and the like.

I’m not an artist of this type – not by a long shot – so I rely on other artists’ skills to teach me what to see and how to see it. I need books like this to feed my imagination, to point me in certain creative directions, and to spark further ideas.

Books for Inspiration for Embroidery

Check out these apples! Aren’t they fabulous?

They’d be an excellent exercise in needlepainting and shading techniques. And because they are already rendered artistically – they aren’t photographs – I think it gives an even better idea on how to handle the shading on similar objects.

Books for Inspiration for Embroidery

Pinks! Carnations! and even Gillyflowers – or gillyvors, as Shakespeare put it. Whatever you call them, they show up frequently in 17th century needlework and other artwork, like illumination.

Books for Inspiration for Embroidery

I just love the scope of the botanicals in this book!

If you’re a Shakespeare fan, if you love botanical art, this might be a book that you’d like, that could further inspire your needlework.

Books for Inspiration for Embroidery

The second book, Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden is perhaps the most thorough, intentional, and meticulous example of nature and literature journaling ever.

This is a beautiful book, a lovely collection extolling the months of the year in drawings, watercolors, poetry, literary quotes, natural occurrences, and little happenings.

Books for Inspiration for Embroidery

The style of art is less meticulous and a little less refined, compared to the Shakespeare book, but the overall presentation and the connections between the written content is so charming.

Books for Inspiration for Embroidery

This is the type of book that makes me realize I really should work on improving my handwriting! I love the precision and clarity of the text.

But more so, I like the way Edith Holden drew connections between the seasons, literature, and her own art.

Books for Inspiration for Embroidery

You’ll find birds and bugs and such in this one, too – a very nice smattering of the flora and fauna Holden observed in the British Isles in the earliest part of the 1900’s.

If you have an interest in or a love for journaling, or you are interested in diaries and artistic observations of naturalists (especially 19th century), botanical drawings, and literature and poetry, you may find much to inspire you in this book!

It’s one of my favorite “end table” books. I like to pick it up and roam through it now and then, randomly, when I’m relaxing. Every time, I walk away from it feeling a bit more inspired, a bit more interested in the natural world around me. It’s just a lovely book!

I find these two books – and similar books – very helpful when I’m considering botanical elements in embroidery. Maybe you’ll find that they help you, too!

Where to Find Them

In the US, you can find both books available through Amazon. You’ll find them listed under my Amazon Recommendations on my page here.

Worldwide with free shipping, you’ll find Botanical Shakespeare available here through Book Depository. You’ll find the Country Diary available here.

This article contains affiliate links to book sources, which means that Needle ‘n Thread receives a small commission for purchases made through those links, with no extra cost to you. Thanks!


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(4) Comments

  1. I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this, but there is a “Country Diary Book of Crafts” by Annette Mitchell (ISBN 0-86350-081-1), published in 1985, in which there are all sorts of crafts based on Edith Holden’s original Diary. Lots of different sorts of embroidery, plus knitting, crochet, tatting, rag doll making, sewing, dried flowers and all sorts of Christmas crafts. There’s also a rug which calls itself woven but in fact is worked in half cross stitch on rug canvas. It is a lovely book and is itself full of inspiration.
    I suspect that it is now out of print, but I was lucky enough to come across my copy in a charity (thrift) shop.

  2. Morning Mary – I have the book ‘Diary of an Edwardian Lady’ and it’s a beautiful book. Used her writings extensively when I was creating my own calendar/journal in Excel. So sad the way she died too, drowning in a river while pursuing entries for her diary. Thank you for recommending her book.

  3. Dear Mary

    These are certainly lovely books and I can understand how you can get inspired by them, such beautiful nature filled ideas. They both look very relaxing and peaceful just the thing for taking time out and browsing through them. Thank you for sharing with us the Botanical Shakespeare and The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady books, they are lovely and I hope they have inspired you to create and share with us for future projects.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  4. Thank you for these book reviews. I have had the Country Diary since it came out in the 1970s. Two years later, Janet Marsh’s book “Janet Marsh’s Nature Diary” was published by the same publisher as Edith Holden’s facsimile. Janet’s book is not publicised very much at all and I didn’t discover it till 25 years after its publication, in a second-hand bookshop. It is my treasure. It is contemporary with the modern times of concern over the destruction of the environment, which gives this nature diary an extra dimension. However, the whole book is one of cosy nature writing with detailed drawings and watercolours. The diary covers 12 months at the Itchen Valley in Hampshire, where a motorway was to be built. The diary was Marsh’s plea to save the valley, which did not happen. Regardless of this, the book is relaxing and beautiful because of the watercolours, and Marsh’s writing, that situates the reader deep into nature.
    Thank you again for your blog and these books. I have ordered the Shakespeare botany book from my library to have a closer look. I think this botanical link with the plays is lovely.
    Bi for now,
    Sandi x

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