The best hand embroidery books – Part One

The best hand embroidery books – Part One

Hand embroidery is one of the most written about subjects of all the textile mediums – there have been so many books written over the years, each in varying quality and clarity, for different degrees of skill from beginners to experts. In part one of our pick of the best hand embroidery books we take a look at 5 great instructional manuals that aim to teach through explicit step-by-step instructions.

Contents at a glance

(click the links to be taken to the book review):

The Constance Howard Book of Stitches
Anchor Book of Freestyle Embroidery Stitches
Royal School of Needlework Embroidery Techniques
The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion
The Right-handed Embroiderer’s Companion: A Step-by-step Stitch Dictionary

The Constance Howard Book of Stitches 

The Constance Howard Book of Stitches

The Constance Howard Book of Stitches by Constance Howard

This classic book, first published in 1979, is written by ‘arguably the most influential British pioneer in textile design of her generation’ (The Guardian), Constance Howard. An authority on embroidery she aims to show the vast variety of stitches and their versatility whilst teaching the reader how to combine and alter them to make new ones. Illustrating over 70 different hand embroidery stitches, this book is a must for textile artists of all skill levels.

What to expect: Out of print since May 1991, new copies of The Constance Howard Book of Stitches can be expensive – make sure to double check the condition of cheaper used copies. Despite the majority of images being in black and white it does not weaken the clear explanations and majestic use of stitches.

Anchor Book of Freestyle Embroidery Stitches

Anchor Book of Freestyle Embroidery Stitches

Anchor Book of Freestyle Embroidery Stitches by Eve Harlow

The Anchor Embroidery Series are a great introduction to beginners wanting to learn more about hand stitching. These hand embroidery books for beginners cover basic techniques and list 48 different types of stitches from Antwerp Edging to Wheatear Stitch – all are explained in great detail using step-by-step instructions, diagrams and trace-off patterns. Although more experienced stitchers may want to give this a miss it is a perfect aide for students and those wanting to learn the fundamentals of popular hand embroidery techniques.

What to expect: Clear stitch directions for beginners only. Some reviews suggest the earlier 1987 edition is superior but is more expensive.

Royal School of Needlework Embroidery Techniques

Royal School of Needlework Embroidery Techniques

Royal School of Needlework Embroidery Techniques by Sally Saunders

Published by the esteemed Royal School of Needlework, this colourful book offers an inspirational introduction to the most popular hand embroidery techniques. The four sections of the book are split into silk shading, crewel work including jacobean, blackwork and gold work, all introduced with a historical overview and accompanying stitch glossary. Each section includes practical tips and projects for both beginners and more experienced stitchers. This is a great book for those wanting to begin their journey as well as those looking to expand their knowledge of the basics with clear illustrations showing different stitches and techniques throughout.

What to expect: 16 easy to follow projects of varying difficulty including 4 for beginners. Only negative is that the stitch glossary could be more comprehensive.

The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion

The Left-Handed Embroiderer's Companion

The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion by Yvette Stanton

Written by left-hander Yvette Stanton as a solution to her frustration of having to mentally flip right-handed embroidery illustrations, this is the ultimate resource for any left handed stitcher. Described as a stitch dictionary, the clear, step-by-step style illustrates over 170 left-handed stitches. Alongside these are comparisons of the difference between right-handed and left-handed techniques for use as a teaching tool.

What to expect: An essential one of a kind reference book  for left-handers. Carefully explained with helpful diagrams and photos. Includes some unusual stitches such as nun stitch, parma stitch, spiral trellis and Breton stitch.

The Right-handed Embroiderer’s Companion: A Step-by-step Stitch Dictionary

The Right-handed Embroiderer's Companion

The Right-handed Embroiderer’s Companion: A Step-by-step Stitch Dictionary by Yvette Stanton

The right-handed twin to The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion, this details the same information but clearly and concisely for right-handers. The fact that this is aimed at right-handed stitchers is not us usual but the content is so detailed that it was also worth a mention in this list. Includes the same 170 stitches for right-handers, illustrated and explained in the inspirational manner of the previous book.

What to expect: Described by one Amazon reviewer as ‘the best all round handbook I’ve ever seen’ in over 40 years of stitching.

Hand embroidery books in this article

Do you have a favourite hand embroidery book that you’d like to tell us about? Let us know by leaving a comment below. 

Saturday 28th, March 2020 / 23:55

About the author

Sam is the co-founder of and son of textile artist Sue Stone. Connect with Sam on Google+c/a>

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10 comments on “The best hand embroidery books – Part One”

  1. Agree wholeheartedly about the Constance Howard book. I think with books about embroidery stitches the old ones are definitely the best.

  2. I love the left-handers companion, use it all the time. One of my other favourites is Jacqueline Enthoven’s Stitches of Creative Embroidery. It’s about 50 years old (but with newer editions) and I find it very inspiring.

  3. Jen says:

    The Constance Howard book is great. Now knowing it can cost from £66 I shall enjoy my £2.99 purchase from Oxfam Books even more!

  4. Sam Sam says:

    What an absolute bargain Jen

  5. Rose says:

    I have many embroidery/needlecraft books some of them are quite old but the one I love the most is “the left-handed embroiderer’s companion”. I’ve struggled with trying to use other books and when I got this one it was wonderful, she understands the left-handed perspective perfectly.

  6. Hi Sam, thank you very much for mentioning both my left- and right-handed stitch dictionaries. I am honoured that you like them so much that you’re recommending them in the company of the other three great books!

    To Rose, who commented that I understand the left-handed perspective perfectly, that’s because I am left-handed. 😉

    Yvette Stanton
    Vetty Creations, Sydney Australia

  7. kathleen codyrachel says:

    Thank you so much Sam ! As someone who is going back to embroidery after a 40 year break, I think I’m going to get Constance Howard’s book.

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