Project Canterbury













Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007



Prefatory.--For whom written.


The class of Embroiderers required.--The present calls for Embroidery.--Its elegance.--The Leisure it ensures.--The possibility of combining with it other pursuits.


Requisites for a good Embroideress.--Light, &c., necessary for work.


Materials in use and applicable.


Various stitches, with mode of performance, illustrated by Diagrams.--How to begin, and fasten off, and arrange the silks.---How to mount the finished work.--Lessons in Embroidery.--Little Hints.



"And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto Me in the Priest's office."--Exod. xxviii. 3.

"Teach me, my GOD and King,
In all things Thee to see;
And what I do in any thing
To do it is for Thee.

"All may of Thee partake,
Nothing can be so mean
Which with his tincture (for Thy sake)
Will not grow bright and clean."


IF the following pages should appear to those well acquainted with the subject to descend to ridiculous minutiae, it must be borne in mind that these practical hints are addressed [5/6] to those who are not yet embroideresses, but wish to learn something about the method of doing the work, the price of materials, the nature of the silks, &c., the remuneration to be gained, the time required to perform the several sorts of embroidery, and the likelihood of sufficient employment rewarding those who propose to acquire an art, which in itself and in the beauty and interest of the work, (to say nothing of its intended uses,) would amply repay in enjoyment any time expended upon it.

As it does not appear that any little book of the kind is at present in print, it is proposed to attempt to supply the blank as well as a slight knowledge of the subject may render possible, trusting that the attempt, however weak, may induce some one more thoroughly conversant with embroidery in all its branches to deal worthily with an art of so much utility, interest, and beauty.

It is unnecessary in a little work of this kind to attempt anything like a retrospective review of the rise and progress of embroidery. We find it more or less in vogue in all [6/7] countries, and every museum testifies that the most savage and barbarous nations are not destitute of a taste for the work, but evidence a large amount of patience, industry, and invention, using materials difficult of application, and often succeeding in producing beautiful combinations.

It was natural that this art at an early period of the history of the Church should have been devoted to the adornment of His service, Who is to the devout heart "chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely;" and the most beautiful remains of ancient embroidery left to us are always those which have been used in Divine Service.

But embroidery was worn and used also at one time by all the nobility of the country, and perhaps may yet again take its old accustomed place. At any rate, it is undeniable that a taste for embroidery is reviving in England, and that every year proves the call for such work is increasing, and that while every other method of gaining a livelihood is overstocked, there is more embroidery to be done than there are embroideresses to do it. Why should this [7/8] be so? And the answer seems to be, because people do not know how to do it, and there is no School of Embroidery where those inclined might study the subject, nor are there willing teachers to be found seeking for apt pupils. Indeed many people scarcely know what real embroidery means, and dignify wool work, and bead work, and braiding, &c., with the name.


"Bright, busy needle, thine's the praise,
To quickly pass the longest days,
And e'en the dullest wits can find
The needle will employ the mind.
We see sometimes quick wits at fault,
And conversation makes a halt;
When labouring thought in vain they try,
Delightful that steel bar to ply:
Till from its active bright reflection,
The converse takes a new direction."

"By doing nothing we learn to do ill."

Jaculum Prudentum.

HOW much is said, and very justly too, of the overstocked governess market, of the multiform incapacity of numbers of poor ladylike girls who aspire to teach, and do their best too, but really not having the great gift of knowing how to impart knowledge, however intellectually well furnished they may be themselves, fail to well fulfil their vocation, and sink gradually but surely to a lower level [9/10] than that they aimed at. Among such educated ladies, we may look for future embroideresses. How much better to be a good and sufficiently remunerated embroideress than an indifferent and ill-paid governess!

As "work" embroidery is graceful and becoming beneath the hand of the richest and most refined lady in the land. It combines independence, sufficient leisure for recreation, a graceful home employment, a fair remuneration, and permits the economy of dress, which the daily governess knows to be an impossibility to her, obliged continually to expend in the replacement of weather-spoiled habiliments the money sorely needed for other uses. Why then do not more young ladies who are obliged to seek employment of some sort, turn their hands at once to embroidery? Because there are a few practical difficulties in the way. Embroidery is an art to be learned, facility to be acquired only by practice, and supposing a young lady to possess the requisite qualities to make a good embroideress, how can she learn without a teacher? A teacher must be paid; how can she pay without money? And even [10/11] having learnt, how can she, to whom time is money, afford the time and materials necessary to acquire the quickness and readiness without which she cannot fairly expect to "make it answer" in the market of the world, which, in the nature of things, can only be expelled to take any product at its fair value?

It is indeed worse than useless to prove obstacles without suggesting a remedy, unless truly it be done to prevent people from making a hopeless attempt, and wasting time and money for nothing. To this end it may be desirable to consider what are the requisite qualifications to produce a good embroideress, not possessing which she had better try some other employment? Neither does it seem out of place to suggest the possibility of a "School of Embroidery" being formed by some of those ever-active and benevolent spirits so numerous among us, which would offer the needful advantages to such young ladies as those previously described, while it would give facilities of instruction to others willing and able to pay for it. It would, of course, be necessary to procure an energetic and capable teacher or [11/12] teachers, but that would be a requirement easily met either at home or abroad.

Surely it would be a "good work" to provide an extensive field of occupation for a class of our young people who especially require sympathy and help. A very large portion of the best embroidery now used in this country is being worked by men on the continent, because there are not in England people who can undertake it. The altar-cloth at Upper Streatham Church is an instance in point.


"He that hath not the craft, let him shut up shop." --Jaculum Prudentum.

"Love makes one fit for any work." --Idem.

"My home, my home, though thou art small, thou art to me the Escurial!" --Idem.

BEFORE describing the method of embroidering, it will be well to mention the qualifications necessary to enable any one to embroider satisfactorily to themselves and their employers.

A dry and smooth hand with a cool and soft touch is the first thing, as nothing is more quickly dimmed by common handling than the silks used in embroidery.

A good eye for colours, both to distinguish one from another, and to assort the gradations of shades. A knowledge of colouring, so as by arrangement of tints to make backgrounds retreat, and bring forward objects intended to [13/14] be prominent, as well as to preserve the general "tone" of a piece of work.

Some knowledge of drawing, the more the better, to prepare or copy patterns, and to invent them if possible, but at any rate sufficient to be able to discern when a line is truly parallel or perpendicular, or a circle or oval correctly formed.

Method, patience, perseverance, order, nicety of arrangement, exactness, and quickness of observation, are all precious possessions to an embroideress, as well as power of adaptation and invention. The materials accessible to her are as capable of mixture and combination as the paints in an artist's colour-box.

Refinement and good taste should belong to every one undertaking this employment, and to those engaged in Church embroidery a knowledge of ecclesiastic symbols and conventional forms is very valuable.

It is almost unnecessary to add that good eyes are indispensable. A clean, light, and well ventilated room is a positive necessity for embroidery.

As embroidery can only be well done in the [14/15] daylight hours, many another occupation might be combined with it, if necessary either for profit, or amusement, or usefulness. The work of an amanuensis, copying, drawing, inventing patterns, or preparing and mounting microscopic slides, &c., might fill the evening leisure of a young girl, thus happily enabled to remain at home in her own family, instead of being thrown on the sympathy of strangers, or bound to strive to arouse affection in the hearts of children who only too often can never be brought to think of her in any other light than the "governess."


"And they did beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it
into wires, to work it in the blue, and in the purple, and in
the scarlet, and in the fine linen, with cunning work." --
Exod. xxxix. 3.

"GOD provides for him that trusteth." --Jaculum Prudentum.

THE materials on which one may embroider and with which the work may be performed are almost endless, from the finest gauze, velvet, silk, and linen, to the coarsest canvas. Calico is inadmissible on account of the stiffening put in it, which would destroy and entangle the silks. Embroidery may be done at once, but is not very often, on the velvet, and when done is of a peculiar nature, but thick silk may be very well used at once for any kind of work. The more general way is to work on some kind of linen or canvas, and then cut out the work and mount it on silk or velvet by covering the [16/17] edge with embroidery or cords sewn on. This mounting will be described in another place. For raised embroidery string, whipcord, and wire, flannel, cotton wool, and glazed cotton, are all by turns applicable according to the work to be done.

The silks used, are floss, dacca, mitorse, purse silks of various sizes, and fine sewings. Floss silk is an untwisted silk, very easily ruffled and entangled, and once in that condition, useless, as it never can be again made to work smoothly. This is said of English floss, for the floss used on the continent is very remarkably different from our English manufacture. Whereas ours, like theirs, is composed of seven to ten strands untwisted, the strands of English silk seem to have an affinity or sympathy for one another, and cling together and ruffle up together, and in a soft unsmoothable tangle cling to everybody and everything that offers the least roughness or unevenness of surface. The strands of the foreign silk start apart as they would do if held near an electrical machine in action, can be used even singly or two or three together according to the fineness required, [17/18] and if entangled can be drawn out, and placed side by side again almost uninjured. So great a disposition has this silk to separate that it is necessary when working to save time by wetting it before cutting off a needleful, or the separated ends fly hither and thither, and give some trouble to secure them. It is much easier to work with the foreign silk, and it produces a finer and smoother surface. Perhaps a silk manufacturer if applied to could explain the cause of the difference between the two silks. Dacca silk is a twitted floss in two strands of floss, and very lightly twisted. Mitorse is only a very fine purse twist, as fine as ordinary sewing silk, but even and cordlike, being closely twisted in three strands. The silk called cord is only an exceedingly coarse purse twist. The cotton used is a soft glazed flat cotton thread, called "floss cotton," useful as a foundation, afterwards to be covered with silk lying across the cotton hitches.

Gold and silver cords and thread and wire, crystals, pearls, and other jewels, wings of insects, shells, and mother-of-pearl, may all be used to enrich embroidery.

[19] No embroideress of the present day can think of the gold she uses without a wholesome measure of indignation, and a feeling of sorrowful disappointment, knowing that however brilliant her work may look for a week or two, a month is often sufficient to destroy the effect, for the so-called gold will become tarnished, and turn either copper-coloured or black as the case may be. Whether the art be lost of preparing the gold so that it will remain untarnished, or whether the art lies in the covetousness of the manufacturer, from whom true gold is not to be had for money, who perhaps may reckon "the sooner it is spoilt the sooner they must come for more," cannot be said here; but until the gold can be procured of better quality, the embroideress may be well employed to produce effects by the combination of silks and colours without any gold at all. These at least, whatever success she may attain, will stand. The greatest part of the provocation lies in knowing that gold might be had to keep its colour and brilliancy, for it would repay the trouble of picking it out of embroidery three hundred years old and [19/20] using it again; it is still so bright in that ancient work. We know, too, that a lady's trinkets do not tarnish by lying in her dressing-case, but a reel of gold thread placed amongst them seems to know well it is not the true metal, and blushes itself black in no time: H. C. Andersen would imagine from shame at the "no conscience" of its maker.

Crystals, pearls, and jewels are mounted in different modes, sewn on the work, and the sewing concealed either by silk, gold, or silver.

It is difficult to fix any time for the execution of embroidery, as it manifestly must depend on the quickness and capability of the worker, and the finer the work the longer time it must occupy, the coarser kinds requiring less close attention and accuracy.

A competent embroideress, fully employed, ought to earn nearly L100 a year. Perhaps from L35 to L70 would be the usual average. It is only fair to reckon "skilled work" of the kind at L1 a week, as a moderate computation.

With regard to the prices of silks, purse [20/21] silks vary according to the sizes and colours, and, of course, from year to year as to the value of the material, ranging at 76s., 73s., 66s., and 56s. the pound. The number of skeins in an ounce depends on the size of the silk. In fine dacca, for instance, sixty and seventy skeins go to the ounce. When silks are procured from a warehouse, less than two ounces are not sold. Dacca silk ranges about 60s. and 70s. the pound. Carmine is always dearer than any other colour, is dyed ingrain, and is the most troublesome silk to use. Black is cheaper. Filoselle is also useful in mounting some kinds of work, to cover the edge of the canvas, and embroider over it with the same colour in dacca.

"Fine sewings" is a thin and delicate silk, useful to sew on the gold twist or cords, and this kind of silk is used for figures, in the faces and hands, &c., and even the whole figure occasionally.

Floss cotton is about 18s. the pound, possibly higher at the present time.


"Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise
hearted man, in whom the LORD put wisdom and understanding
to know how to work all manner of work for the service
of the sanctuary, according to all that the LORD had commanded."
Exod. xxxvi. I.

"Things well fitted abide."

"We do it soon enough if that we do be well."

Jaculum Prudentum.

ONE of the first lessons in embroidery, or at least one of the easiest is to cover a card-board form with purse twist. Whatever the form used may be, it must be sewn on in its proper place by alternate stitches, first on one side, then on the other. The needle must be passed through and through being held perpendicularly, and this must be done with the right hand only, the left being engaged holding firmly the cardboard form, and great care must be taken to watch that it is not forced from its due place. Whenever it is possible to go by the threads of the stuff, it is well to use [22/23] it as a guide. A good pair of compasses and their timely use will often save much trouble.

It is taken for granted that the method of straining the material to be used in the frame is understood, and that all the stitches spoken of are to be worked on some material or other in a frame. When the cardboard form is securely fastened, the silk being passed through from beneath, while making the first stitch, must be held tightly underneath with one hand until the needle is passed down and up again, catching round the end, and securing it from drawing through, every succeeding stitch works it in firmer, until it is quite out of sight. No knots must be made in any kind of embroidery. After the first stitch the work is done with one hand below and one above the frame, always passing the needle through upright, and close to the cardboard, one stitch succeeding the other as closely and as regularly as possible, and no one being pulled tighter than another. When the work is completed, it should appear smooth and glossy with a perfectly uniform surface. The position [23/24] of the lines of silk may vary according to the form to be covered, being worked with either perpendicular, parallel, or slanting lines, but the silk must always lie thread for thread, touching each one the other so as entirely to hide the form underneath.

In No. 1 diagram [transcribers note: this diagram was missing from the booklet] an attempt is made to show this in the drawing: the colour showing the lines of the silk, and the marks at the edges showing the mode of fixing on the cardboard form. This applies to every way in which cardboard or vellum may be used as a foundation in embroidery. Very many beautiful effects are produced by basket-work and diaper stitches. These are done with gold, silver, or silk cords stitched down in patterns with silk of another colour, or sometimes the same: the latter often when used as a background. The cords are passed through from the back of the work, one, two, or three at a time, according to the pattern to be produced, and being held tightly by the left hand the stitching is done with the right.

No. 2 shows a fleur de lis begun to be worked in basket stitch.

[25] No. 3, a back-ground stitch worked in dacca silk, in which the silk is used double, and kept on the surface of the work, by working first from top to bottom, bringing the silk down over the face of the work, then putting the needle through, (taking care that the silk is straight up and down,) bring it through to the front one-sixteenth of an inch in a parallel line, and take the silk
to the top in a straight line again; again put the needle through the work in a parallel direction, but put it back; and this is continued throughout, always as it were doing a stitch in advance and returning to make the one omitted, so that the back of the work is stitched in a line like a hem, the same silk is next drawn at chosen distances across the upright strands of silk, and stitched down at regular intervals.

No. 4, is a Cross worked with cords in a diaper pattern, tied down in the same manner as the basket-work stitch. The way in which diaper patterns can be formed is of course very numerous, as the strands of silk or gold may be fastened down in any number [25/26] and in any direction at the worker's pleasure.

When working a diaper pattern, the intended stitches are planned beforehand, as to their position in the space to be covered, and whether the stitch spans over one, two, or three lines of silk, it is made as soon as they are severally placed, instead of waiting till the pace is covered with silk, and then working in the stitches as one might work a sampler. And this for two reasons: by fastening down the silk at first the strands of silk will lie closer, while the worker is able to see that those she has fastened are equal in tension throughout, either tightening or slackening the silk as required as soon as the stitches forming the pattern are completed on each succeeding line of silk; and also, in this way it is easy to avoid splitting the silk with the needle. This last misfortune would unavoidably occur in attempting to put in diaper stitches after the ground-work was finished, besides little gaps would appear from some of the silk being tighter or looser than the rest. Diaper work requires great care and patience; well done, [26/27] it is very effective, but a very slight irregularity is a glaring defect. An irregular stitch should be instantly picked out and remade, as it will never be hidden by any succeeding one and cannot be remedied afterwards. In making these stitches, the needle should be put through perpendicularly from the back of the work on the outside of the last strand of silk, and returned with a point slightly turned under the last finished line, and the work should be done from the left to the right hand.

The ordinary embroidery stitch is attempted to be shown in diagram No. 5. When possible the stitches should be taken in line either with the warp or woof of the stuff on which the embroidery is done, and about one quarter of an inch long with the foreign silk, and about one half inch with English floss or dacca, but a little practice soon determines this. The silk must be always pulled quite tight and every stitch be smooth. In the diagram the stitches are drawn as apart, to show the mode of ending one stitch towards the middle of those in the preceding line, but in real working they cannot be placed too [27/28] close, always turning the needle-point so that the last stitch's ending shall be concealed under the bulk of the one lying parallel to it. The surface being required to be level, the embroideress must watch and put in a stitch in an unusual length, (as it may be,) to effect her object, then passing the needle in a slanting direction under some stitch already made, when the silk being pulled tight will disappear and fill up the hollow. Otherwise the needle should be held nearly upright.

When fastening on, it is best to begin by passing the needle downwards through the face of the work, and detaining the end of the silk with one hand, secure it with a little stitch over the end. This is easily done, if when threading the needle, the end of the silk is moistened in the mouth, and being pressed down on the canvas as it is about to pass through it will flatten, and be easily secured. When fastening off two or three little stitches should be made in the same way, and the end immediately cut off. Nothing is more embarrassing than ends of silk either hanging or flying about. It is best to have a china [28/29] saucer or a glass, and put in it all the ends or bits of damaged silk, which otherwise left clinging to the dress, or floating from a puff of air, are generally found in the last place the convenience of the embroideress would desire.

If the least floss should draw through with the silk the back of the work should be immediately examined, there must be some untidiness which needs rectifying.

Long Point is a similar stitch, only much longer, and the silk kept more on the face of the work by returning the needle a very short distance behind the last stitch, and on again with a long stitch, something like tacking stitches. This is done very close, pushing the silk with the needle and putting it through underneath the stitches. The object is to produce a thick and smooth surface to be tied down with gold or silk cord, and fastened again in a pattern of some kind. This is attempted to be shown in diagram No. 6.

When working in shades, and forming wheels, small scrolls, or anything similar to diagram No. 7, the work is done very differently, [29/30] something like satin-stitch, only done in the frame: as much silk behind as before. Always begin with the lightest colour first, and take care that the edge is smooth and firm. This is more easily effected by working the outline with silk in the same way that ordinary satin-stitch on muslin would be begun. It is also well to make a stitch the contrary way, and cover it with the true stitch like an X or S. Andrew's cross. It saves silk and gives a softness and fulness to the edges. This is only to be done with the lightest colour at the edge of the work. The next colour is worked over and over like satin stitch, and the needle must be put through higher up than it is required to appear, as it should be drawn down through the silk, giving a shaded, pointed, or raylike appearance, and the needle must be put first higher then lower, the embroideress watching the effect. In fact it is painting with a needle and silk for brush and colours. The sharp and defined outline is gained by a strand of black floss guided in the desired shape with one hand, and sewn down with the other.

[31] It is a necessary hint to give as to preparing the silk. It is well to keep the skeins till wanted tightly rolled in a fine pocket-handkerchief: to make the threadpapers quite long enough to enclose the silk, which should be in short needlefuls, cutting each skein in two, and cutting off the inch or two which is crinkled by the tying round and round of the ends of the skein. It does not work well, and it often entangles in the paper, and pulls up all the skein in a tangle. The various colours being sorted in their shades and tied together in separate bundles, so that the blues are taken out at once, the reds, &c.; the whole should be enclosed in a bag which will hang on the frame. Too much care and attention cannot be paid to keeping the silks free from dust, damp, or friction. The embroideress is amply repaid the trouble by the time such care ultimately saves, and the comfort and convenience to herself, besides the beauty and brightness of her work.

When the work is finished on the canvas, it is taken out of the frame and cut out all round the edges, leaving the eighth of an [31/32] inch more or less as the border is intended to be formed. The velvet or silk is then placed in the frame, and the work put in the position upon it, which it is intended to occupy. In this position it must be very carefully and firmly secured. If it is desired to keep it very flat, gelatine glue smeared over the back of the work, and then applied to the silk, or velvet, &c., will secure it for a beginning, and when dry it must be stitched round in the fashion of putting on a cardboard form. The filoselle, or silk, or whatever it is to be mounted with of colour is then laid along the canvas edge, and embroidered over in longstitch till quite covered. This again is finished by a cord of gold or coloured silk, or a strand of floss silk to give a clear and defined outline. If desired to be raised work, if it is secured round the edges, and worked like satin-stitch over the edge of canvas, always putting down the point of the needle through the edge of the work, it will rise of itself according to its shape without further trouble. This does very well for small crosses, crowns, &c.

In any difficulty, a lesson from a competent [32/33] person is of more value than reams of written directions. The address of an embroideress who would give this assistance on reasonable terms to any one requiring it, can be obtained from Messrs. Smith and Co., 13, Southampton Street, Strand.

A pair of scissors fastened to a ribbon long enough to reach every part of the work should be tied to the surface of the frame, where they can be put through one of the lacings of the frame always ready for use. Also a pin-cushion, soft on all sides, to receive needles and pins, of which a good supply should be at hand. Long-eyed embroidery needles, (that do not "cut at the eye,") work more easily than the oval-eyed needles. Sharp pointed rug needles are necessary for using gold and thick purse twists. As fast as the work is completed it should be papered up on the face and back of the work. It is better when possible to put in all of one colour, or of the same description of embroidery before proceeding to another colour or different kind of work. The hand being accustomed to a certain style of embroidery, it is easy to understand [33/34] the work will be done more evenly and quickly than it can be if a little of this, and then a little of that is tried for variety's sake. Patience should be pre-eminently the watchword of the embroideress.


E. H.

Project Canterbury