The best hand embroidery reference books

The best hand embroidery reference books

Are you new to embroidery, and want some help getting started? Or are you an experienced stitcher looking to expand your range of techniques? Maybe you’re more of an inventor and you’re searching for ways to experiment with your stitches to create some exciting outcomes?

Here’s the good news – we’ve done the hard work and gathered a list of books to help you. 

We searched for modern reference books that are easy to source and suitable for all embroiderers. And we asked members of the TextileArtist.org Stitch Club to recommend their favourite stitch books, too. They came up with some great titles, including some old favourites, which we’ll mention later on.

Read on to discover our list of the best hand embroidery books. These are all great guides that you can keep in your reference library, and return to again and again.


Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery by Sharon Boggon

Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery 

Contemporary embroidery calls for an inspiring modern publication, so why not consider Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery by Sharon Boggon?

This stunning visual treat describes 120 stitches, with instructions for left- and right-handers, and gives you plenty of ideas for adapting them to create exciting and colourful patterns and textures.

Stitch Club member Jocelyne Simon recommended this book, telling us she was drawn to the author’s practical and illustrated presentation, and how it presents lots of stitches and ideas for creating texture, step-by-step. 

Australian textile artist Sharon Boggon is also the creator of the blog PinTangle. This paperback edition was published in 2020, by C&T Publishing.

Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery (2020), by Sharon Boggon. ISBN-13: 978-1617458774


Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches

Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches

A highly-regarded reference guide, Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches includes a comprehensive stitch dictionary with over 400 stitch types. 

The book was first released in 1934, and has become an absolute classic.

This paperback edition, published in 2018 by Search Press, has been revised and updated by the well-respected embroiderer and textile designer Jan Eaton. 

It’s organised into categories including filling stitches, straight stitches, outline stitches and more, and each stitch technique has clear diagrams and photographs, alongside easy-to-follow instructions. This makes the book suitable both for beginners and more experienced stitches looking to expand their repertoire.

Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (2018), revised by Jan Eaton. ISBN-13:‎ 978-1782216438


Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion (2010), by Yvette Stanton
Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion (2010), by Yvette Stanton

Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion

Are you a left-hander who sometimes struggles to follow instruction guides created for right-handed people?

One solution is to try looking at the diagrams through a mirror… But this can be tricky, so perhaps the Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion by Yvette Stanton is just what you need. 

Not to leave out the right-handed stitchers, Yvette has also written the Right-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion

The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion was recommended by Stitch Club member Mary-Jo Eckhart: ‘This book has thorough, clear photos, easy to read diagrams, plus words that make sense. Yvette started with the left-handed book, then published one for righties, too, who felt left out! I must have over 30 books on stitches and this is the one I reach for again and again.’

Amberley Kemp from the Stitch Club team also recommends this book: ‘The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion is an absolute lifeline for left-handed stitchers as the majority of materials out there are geared towards those who are right-handed. And from my teaching experience, it’s not easy to teach how to do a stitch with your left hand when you are right-handed.’

Both of these straightforward stitch dictionaries feature clear step-by-step instructions, photographs and diagrams which are simple to follow. They include over 170 stitches, including a large range of surface stitches. 

Yvette Stanton is an Australian embroidery designer and lover of whitework, and self-published these paperback books in 2010 through Vetty Creations.

Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion (2010), by Yvette Stanton. ISBN-13: 978-0975767733

Right-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion (2010), by Yvette Stanton. ISBN-13: 978-0975767740


The Embroidery Stitch Bible (2017) by Betty Barnden

The Embroidery Stitch Bible

Another popular stitch dictionary is The Embroidery Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden, a needlecraft designer, teacher and author. In this book you’ll find over 200 stitches photographed with easy-to-follow charts. 

This paperback edition was published in 2017 by Search Press, and was recommended by Stitch Club member Janet Woo.

‘I love the Constance Howard Book of Stitches as the photos are lovely, but I prefer The Embroidery Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden as it explains how to do the stitches, as well as providing diagrams and photos.’

The Embroidery Stitch Bible (2017) by Betty Barnden. ISBN-13: 978-1782216025


Hand Embroidery Dictionary (2021), by Christen Brown

Hand Embroidery Dictionary

Another great reference guide by teacher, author and stitcher Christen Brown. This book is useful for stitchers of all abilities. It contains a vast number of stitches, over 500 stitch designs, all with step-by-step instructions.

The stitches are organised into categories using a useful visual content guide, which should help you find what you are looking for.

There’s also a section on tools, tips and tricks to aid your embroidery work, and help for left-handers. This paperback book was published by C&T Publishing in 2021.

Hand Embroidery Dictionary (2021), by Christen Brown. ISBN-13:‎ 978-1644030097


Hand Embroidery Stitches for Everyone, 2nd edition (2021), an ebook by Juby Aleyas Koll, of Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials.

Hand Embroidery Stitches for Everyone

Would you prefer the versatility of an ebook when learning new embroidery stitches? Hand Embroidery Stitches for Everyone is written by the respected embroidery artist behind the popular website Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials, Juby Aleyas Koll.

This ebook, available in PDF and Kindle formats, allows you to zoom in on the photographs which can help you to understand the stitches. 

It’s easy to navigate too, with the stitches helpfully organised into stitch families using a picture dictionary, with clickable links to each section.  

It includes over 300 hand embroidery stitches with step-by-step photographs and clear instructions. There’s also tips and techniques for beginners, such as how to handle needles, threads and embroidery hoops, and some printable patterns so you can practise your stitches too. 

This ebook also features interesting snippets of information on the origin and history of many of the stitches. This second edition was published in 2021 by Roxy Mathew Koll and Juby Aleyas Koll. 

Hand Embroidery Stitches for Everyone, 2nd edition (2021), an ebook by Juby Aleyas Koll, of Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials.


The Intentional Thread: A Guide to Drawing, Gesture, and Color in Stitch (2019), by Susan Brandeis

The Intentional Thread

If you want to take your stitches further, The Intentional Thread by Susan Brandeis explores how to use thread to communicate your thoughts and ideas.

Several of our Stitch Club members recommended this book, including Ali Taylor, for whom it’s a firm favourite: ‘I find myself going back to this book time and time again, for creative new ways to make marks with some of the simplest of stitches.’ 

And Deb Elliott: ‘I love this book. It’s definitely my stitching bible. I was originally loaned this book by my friend Claire Benn, a mixed media artist. After turning the first pages I knew I had to get my own copy!’

This book, published by Schaffer Publishing in 2019, will help you to use stitch with intention, sharing ways to use line, shape, colour and texture in your work. Suitable for stitchers at all levels, it’s both a reference book and an education tool, with suggested projects to help you explore the ideas covered in the book.

Susan Brandeis is a renowned American artist and educator. She is founder of the Southeast Fibers Educators Association, and a member of the Surface Design Association.

The Intentional Thread: A Guide to Drawing, Gesture, and Color in Stitch (2019), by Susan Brandeis. ISBN 978-0764357435


Constance Howard, Book of stitches

And finally…

When we asked the TextileArtist.org Stitch Club community which books they most used to aid their stitch explorations, many members told us about their favourite old books. 

Some stitchers have owned these books for decades, others found them in thrift shops, online or in second hand bookstores. Here’s their recommendations:

  • The Constance Howard Book of Stitches (1979), by Constance Howard, published by Batsford. ISBN-13: 978-0713410051
  • Stitches: New Approaches (2004) by Jan Beaney, published by Batsford. ISBN-13:‎ 978-0713488876 
  • Encyclopaedia of Embroidery Stitches, Including Crewel (1975) by Marion Nichols, published by Dover Publications. ISBN-13: 978-0486229294

Several Stitch Club members mentioned The Constance Howard Book of Stitches, including Jane Cook: ‘I love books which show how to use the stitches, rather than just learning them. My favourites are Stitches: New Approaches, by Jan Beaney and the Constance Howard Book of Stitches (of course).’

And another Stitch Club member recommended the Encyclopaedia of Embroidery Stitches, Including Crewel, by Marion Nichols, explaining that it was ‘a very clear ‘how to’ book for all the stitches you could ever want to use.’

So keep an eye out for these worthy classics, and other gems. These books may be out of print and only available second hand, but they could become valuable treasures – how-to  books that you can return to again and again for inspiration.

Books featured in this article

Sharon Boggon, Seahorse Caves and Lakeside contemporary embroidery.
Sharon Boggon, Lakeside contemporary embroidery.
Sharon Boggon, Seahorse Caves contemporary embroidery.
Sharon Boggon, Seahorse Caves contemporary embroidery.

With one of these books by your side, and inspiration from the huge range of embroidery artists featured on TextileArtist.org, it’s time to start your stitched journey of discovery. We encourage you try out some new stitches, and see where they take you. 

If you’re looking to discover more about the inspiring work made by modern embroidery artists, check out Discover: Five contemporary embroidery artists, Stitching the great outdoors: Landscape textile art and Delightful distortion: Seven abstract textile artists.

Are you looking for more books about textile art? Read Top textile artist books: Our recommendations.

If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops.

Book mockups by pmvchamara courtesy of Freepik.

Have you used one of the hand embroidery books listed here? Let us know why you would recommend it, by leaving a comment below.

Wednesday 17th, July 2024 / 18:34

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25 comments on “The best hand embroidery reference books”

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

    • Sam says:

      Thanks Caroline. I couldn’t agree more – The old ones are always the best ones. It can be tricky to find them in a good condition and at a reasonable price though.

  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 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
    http://www.vettycreations.com.au

  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.

  8. Gill Tyson says:

    What a great article and recommendations for some great stitch book gems. I love the way you have turned the stitch club notions into a really helpful summary and a quick reference point for furthering our knowledge and potential to expand our stitch library.

  9. Excellent! thank you so much.

  10. Joan Hamilton says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that the Constance Howard, Creative stitches for contemporary stitchers and The Intentional Thread are the best. I have those three books on the coffee table where I stitch nightly.

  11. Jane Cook says:

    Don’t forget to try your local library for the older books. Ours is now in a consortium with so many libraries that I have been able to reserve loads of books which I couldn’t get from our county collection or afford to buy. Check the electronic catalogue – I discovered I could also borrow the electronic copy of Embroidery magazine only last week. And if we keep borrowing them from the library, they are less likely to sell them. I wanted to buy a book I had borrowed from the library and one second-hand copy available online was an ex-library copy for £40! I have managed to get the same one for £3.50 with free postage – you just have to keep looking!

  12. Thank you so much for featuring my book Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery.I am so pleased textileartist.org likes it. I recently joined your stitch club too and am enjoying it thoroughly

  13. S Fisher says:

    I have a copy of the The Madera Book of Embroidery Stitches by Jenny Bullen. A classic book of stitches clearly illustrated and my go to. Also love Mary Thomas and Constance Howard.

  14. Marion Wale says:

    Hi. Thank you for information on embroidery reference books, they are all real treasures. For those who may have creaking bookshelves, can I draw your member’s attention to the absolutely brilliant Royal School of Needlework’s “Stitchbank” accessed through their website. It is a brilliant site, clearly designed by expert stitchers. It gives history of the stitch, both diagrams and small videos on how to execute the stitches and you can flip the instructions to see left handed demos. All websites should be as clear as this one.

  15. Karen Sampson says:

    I will have to look into these suggestions. My favourite book is Elegant Stitches by Judith Baker Mantano which came out in 1995. Very small, 5×7, about 176 pages with many beautiful full colour images and precise directions on each
    stitch and combination of stitches, my go to book. I also like the Royal School of Needlework, Book of Embroidery.

  16. Helene Knott says:

    I have most of these and love them all, but you missed an awesome one – The Stitches of Creative Embroidery by Jacqueline Enthoven. This older book continues to be published in new editions and presents stitches and ways of using them that I’ve not seen elsewhere.

  17. Sharon Bee says:

    I have Sharon Boggins book and it is excellent. Not only does it give great photos of the steps for each stitch, left and right handed, but she gives great contemporary examples.

  18. Sarah says:

    Your stitch club is wonderful. It is great that you are providing a list of some of the best books for reference. Thank you so much for mentioning our Hand Embroidery eBook amongst other printed hand embroidery books. It is an honour.

  19. Sally Young Eslinger says:

    After reading the raves for “The Intentional Thread,” I immediately ordered a copy. It arrived even with an included bookmark! The most thought-through, put together book among the many hundreds I own. Saying, “Superb quality & inspiring!” Is not adequate. I draw & illustrate as well as embroider. This book presents approaches of splendor, which will affect my work in both genre. I’m so thankfulI stopped to read about this book! Thank you!

  20. Thank you so much for these book recommendations. I am immediately going to get the
    Left handed guide for embroidery.
    Ann

  21. joylene says:

    Hope you get this. I just found your site. LOVE< LOVE.
    I have been dabbling for a couple of years with found items and unstructured stitching. The book I like best is Creative Stitching by Sue Spargo.
    Judith Baker Montana does a couple of good idea books also

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