Creative Embroidery


Rediscovering Historical Embroidery: contemporary textiles inspired by stitches from the past

This is a class which welcomes those who are new to embroidery as well as those who have more experience.  We will look at English historical embroidery techniques, beginning in the Anglo-Saxon period and progressing through the centuries.  Topics will include the Bayeux Tapestry, medieval goldwork, blackwork and strapwork, stumpwork, crewel work, canvas work, quilting and whitework.  Students will then be encouraged to experiment with each of these techniques in adventurous and creative ways to produce innovative hand stitched samples.  Reference will be made to contemporary textile artists who reinterpret traditional stitch techniques to create modern designs.  Support will be given to those who wish to work on personal projects using the skills studied in class.

Tutor:               Yana Krizka

Time:                Fridays 10.30am – 1pm

Dates:              Sept 22 – Dec 01 (half term Oct 27)

                         Jan 12 – March 23 (half term Feb 16)

                        April 27 – June 15 (half term June 1)

Venue:              Gosling Room

Fees:                HLSI members £120 for a 10-week term

                         £89 for 7-week summer term

                         Non-members £145 for a 10-week term

                         £107 for 7-week summer term


Term One

Anglo-Saxon Embroidery: Durham Vestments:  Exploring split stitch, stem stitch and surface couching.  Creating pattern with couching.  Couching down mixed media.

The Bayeux Tapestry: Experimenting with Bayeux stitch and laid work.  Creating a contemporary design for Bayeux stitch using torn paper collage.  Embroidery used to document historical events: the Operation Overlord embroidery, the Quaker Tapestry, the Great Tapestry of Scotland, Magna Carta 800th embroidery.

Medieval Goldwork: Opus Anglicanum:  Looking at underside couching and/or nué.  Contemporary metalwork using found objects such as rusty metal, foils, broken jewellery, paper clips and washers.

C16th Blackwork and Strapwork:  Sampling counted and non-counted blackwork.  Shorleyker’s ‘A Schole-House for the Needle’ pattern book.  Creating tonal designs for contemporary blackwork samples using cut newspaper collage.


Term Two

C17th Stumpwork:  Exploring raised relief work.  Experimenting with needlelace and three dimensional embroidery stitches.  Using wire creatively in embroidery work.

C17th Crewel Work:  Sampling Jacobean crewel work with wool on linen fabric.  Contemporary designs for crewel work.  Creating experimental samples with the stitches used in crewel work (fly stitch, feather stitch, chain stitch, French knots) using a variety of materials.

C18th Quilting:  English, corded and stuffed quilting.  Making surfaces for contemporary quilting samples using stencils and rubbings.  Creating texture and dimension by shaping, stuffing and stitching.

C18th/C19th Whitework:  Comparing the different types of whitework, including Ayrshire work, broderie anglaise and Mountmellick.  Working a small sample of broderie anglaise.  Creating contemporary samples using cutting, slashing and withdrawing threads.  Creating texture using white on white.  Working with translucent fabrics.


Term Three

C19th Berlin Wool Work:  Looking at tent stitch, cross stitch and velvet stitch.  Creating surfaces for contemporary canvas work using colouring, bonding and cutting, and embellishing them with freeform stitch.

C19th Appliqué:  Looking at appliquéd quilts, broderie perse and inlaid appliqué.  Appliqué with pins: sweetheart pincushions.  Contemporary samples created with collaging, layering, fusing and cutting into fabrics.  Creating bonded ‘sandwiches’.

C19th Patchwork:  Pieced, pictorial and crazy patchwork.  Soldiers’ patchwork quilts.  Making a contemporary crazy patchwork sample.  Experimental patching and piecing.  Contemporary pictorial quilts using photographs.


Materials List

Variety of needles to accommodate different thickness of thread.

Embroidery threads of different colours and weights.


Embroidery hoop: 6” is a good size for samples.

Variety of fabrics: calico is especially useful for samples.

A4 ring binder with plastic pockets for handouts and samples.

Paper for note taking and designing.

Pen, pencil, black felt tip, fabric marker of your preference.


Students will be advised on a weekly basis of any materials needed to work on a specific technique.

It is a good idea to start collecting all sorts of found objects that you can incorporate into your contemporary samples, such as shells, driftwood, rusty nails and washers, curtain rings, leaves, sweet papers, coloured foils, packaging papers, gift wrap pieces, vegetable netting, buttons, ribbons, beads, wire, string etc.


Suggested Reading List

None of the following is essential to the course.

For exploring stitches in innovative ways, I recommend:

Stitch Magic: Ideas and Interpretation by Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn (1998).

Constance Howard’s Book of Stitches by Constance Howard (1979).

Stitches: New Approaches by Jan Beaney (1985).


For traditional techniques, Mary Thomas’s Embroidery Book (first edition, 1936) is clear and comprehensive.


For those especially interested in historical embroidery, Barbara Snook’s Embroidery (1974) provides an accessible introduction with useful line drawings.  Pamela Warner’s Embroidery: a History (1991) is good but difficult to find affordably.


It would be helpful to bring a dictionary of embroidery stitches to the class if you have one.


Lists for further reading will also be provided for each textile technique and century covered.