The Sampler Sleuth
Opportunities for Needlework Education Abound
Finding needlework education and tutoring has never been easier. Most anyone can hop on social media, do a quick internet search, or ask a trusted friend. While much has changed from the days when “dame schools”—a term used in the 17th–19th centuries for a private school led by a female teacher— advertised “proficiency in plain sewing and needlework,” much has stayed the same.
For the most part, needlework in the 21st century is considered more of a leisure pursuit than a necessary skill. Most of us no longer embroider initials on our linens to identify them, and if we do, we have machines that can do that. Few of us seek employment creating elaborate embroidered tapestries or ecclesial vestments. But there are many of us today who take quite seriously the task of passing on needlework skills to children and adults alike.
Take for example The Royal School of Needlework (RSN) in the U.K. Founded in 1872 during the reign of Queen Victoria, this venerable institution welcomes students from across the globe to its extensive array of educational opportunities for everyone from beginner through advanced. RSN tutors “a wealth of experience, technical knowledge, and enthusiasm to each student.” The school’s link to royalty continues today with the Duchess of Cornwall as a patron. The school receives no government funding and relies on charitable trusts, friends and businesses as supporters.
Theresa Bailey is in the midst of a three-year bachelor’s degree program in Hand Embroidery for Fashion and Interiors at the RSN. Her introduction to stitching came early in life, “I was about 3 years old when I was first introduced to needlework by my mother. She cross stitched and taught me. I worked on blue plastic canvas and used a large plastic needle. She wouldn’t even allow me to use safety scissors yet. I did put it down and pick it up periodically throughout my childhood. It wasn’t until high school that I began to stitch consistently.”
Shortly after graduating from high school, Theresa started attending The Embroiderers’ Guild of America (EGA) meetings. She was hooked on needlework.
Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, EGA was formed for “the express purpose of fostering the art of needlework and associated arts. EGA seeks to promote cooperation and the exchange
of ideas among those who are engaged in needlework throughout the world by encouraging a high standard of design and technique in embroidery. ... It is our purpose to conduct instruction and research in the art of needlework and to distribute related materials and publications to members and to the public.” Initially, EGA was a branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild of London, established in 1906. The current organization is comprised of 13 regions across the United States and Canada, 280 chapters and three online chapters. The 8,800 members hail from across the globe.
EGA membership is open to anyone interested in embroidery—from beginner to professional. The organization and individual members are involved with museums for education and preservation purposes.
A new but formidable entry into formalized needlework education is the San Francisco School of Needlework & Design. Founded in 2015 by passionate embroiderers, the school seeks “to inspire the next generation of hand-embroidery artisans, building on traditional knowledge with updated skill sets, expanded technical abilities, and a fluent understanding of the vast methods.” Recognizing that needlework is pursued for art, fashion and leisure, the school offers both formal and drop-in classes in a collegial environment. The school’s vision statements include the goal of “spreading the enjoyment of the everyday cognitive and creative benefits of practicing a slow craft in a hyper-fast world.”
To that end, many guilds, needlework shops, organizations and museums offer a variety of education opportunities throughout the year, including Annie’s Needle Arts Festival: Christmas in Williamsburg.
For additional resources, see these websites: www.royal-needlework.org.uk www.egausa.org www.sfneedleworkanddesign.org Just-CrossStitch.com/seminar
Classroom instruction provides an opportunity not only for needlework enthusiasts to learn new skills, but also to meet new friends with the same passion for creating artwork with needle and thread.
A Reward of Merit card that was given to students for successful completion of their studies in the 19th century.
An image from the cover of an early 20th century issue of The School Arts Magazine.
Through the years, needlework education has taken many forms. This 19th century handkerchief shows young school children learning to ply their needles while learning their ABCs.