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5 Books about Historical Needlework: Plain and Fancy

Updated on May 16, 2017

Amazing Embroidered Gloves

Not practical, perhaps, but beautiful
Not practical, perhaps, but beautiful | Source

Historical Needlework: An Annotated Bibliography

Dillmont, T. (1996). The complete encyclopedia of needlework (3rd ed.). Philadelphia: Running Press.

This comprehensive volume is a reprint of an 1884 book by a woman who ran an embroidery school and opened shops in several cities in Europe. The needlework encyclopedia was the culmination of her many years of study, teaching, and research in the field. From the hand sewing of plain seams, hemming, darning, and mending, Dillmont moves on to an amazing array of needlework techniques, some of which are almost forgotten today.

While this book would be worthwhile if only for its vast quantities of information on embroidery techniques, it also covers knitting, crochet, tatting, weaving, appliqué, and various lace making techniques. Black and white illustrations and charts abound, making this a good book for those who want to try some historical needlework for themselves or identify the techniques used in a treasured heirloom textile.

Note: some free, e-book editions of this book do not include illustrations, so the e-book is not very useful. Get an illustrated version!

Knox, G. (Ed.). (1988). Traditional american crafts . Des Moines: Meredith Corp.

While not exclusively devoted to needlecraft, this book includes chapters on patchwork, Victorian needlework, colonial crafts and samplers. Each chapter includes a discussion of the craft as well as projects with complete instructions and patterns. Some patterns will need to be enlarged on a grid while other projects include full-sized templates to trace or charts to follow. All projects are shown in full-color photographs. This is a good resource for anyone decorating a home in traditional American styles.

Macdonald, A.L. (1988). No idle hands: A social history of American knitting. New York: Ballantine Books.

The knitting enthusiast will enjoy learning about knitting as a social activity as well as a useful craft. The history of knitting in America follows the history of America: knitting for the revolution, knitting on a wagon train, knitting for the troops during the War Between the States and the World Wars, knitting in good times and bad. Photographs include first ladies knitting, men and children knitting, and some of the projects knit in decades past.

The author is both a history teacher and an accomplished knitter, ideally suited for creating this interesting book! Knitting is not just a pastime for old ladies.

Parker, M.S. (2002). The Folkwear book of ethnic clothing . New York: Lark Books.

Ethnic clothing involves a variety of decorative needlework techniques. This book is lavishly illustrated in color and blends history and sociology with sewing and embellishment. Project instructions are included so the reader can try techniques from around the world: Seminole patchwork, Hmong squares, a Japanese kimono and much more.

Swan, S.B. (1995). Plain & fancy: American women and their needlework, 1650-1850 . Austin: Curious Works Press.

Swan has done extensive research from primary sources and pored over examples of historical needlework from the Winterthur Museum collection to create this wonderful book. Swan gives humble housewives their due, explaining the sheer volume of plain sewing and knitting required by the households of times past. For girls fortunate enough to be educated, plain sewing and fancy needlework were always part of that education.

A fine discussion of samplers and of schools for young ladies is included. Illustrrations from the Winterthur collection are interspersed with discussions of childbirth, mourning customs and indentured servitude. Women's history is recorded in diaries, letters, magazines and textiles. Swan knows where to look for this history and provides access to all through this excellent book.

Note: This bibliography is done in APA style.

Written by an Historian and a Knitter


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    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Links added for anyone seeking more info. I highly recommend the latest issue of Piecework magazine for anyone who loves old lace and lacemaking techniques.

    • profile image

      PWalker281 5 years ago

      I've been dropping hints all over the place that I want a Kindle Touch (doesn't even have to be the 3G) for either Mother's Day or my birthday, both in May and a week a part. We'll see ...

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Yes, I use Kindle for PC. I'd rather have a Kindle, but the PC version is free and it enables me to get books quickly when the price is right--like $2.99!

    • profile image

      PWalker281 5 years ago

      P.S. and FYI - I just found a Kindle version of a book called Encyclopedia of Needlework by Therese de Dillmont that sounds a lot like the first book on your list. And while there are no illustrations, at least in the preview, it's, in a word, comprehensive. The Kindle edition is currently free so I couldn't pass it up.

      Double checked again and there's an illustrated Kindle version for $2.99 and I don't even have a Kindle. But, there's the Kindle for PC app which I'm taking full advantage of!

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      I prefer hand sewing sometimes. It is easier than getting a machine into awkward angles, for example. I also enjoy quietly hemming by hand while watching a good movie. I'm sure hand sewing would get old real quick, though, if I had to sew everything my family wore!

    • profile image

      PWalker281 5 years ago

      It always amazes me when I think of how the women of years past made such incredible garments before the advent of the sewing machine. I'd like to do some hand stitching of small projects (e.g., linings for crocheted purses) since I don't have a decent sewing machine at the moment, and The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework sounds like a book that would help me do that. Thanks for sharing this bibliography. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Nat Amaral profile image

      Nat Amaral 5 years ago from BC Canada

      An interesting piece. I love doing crafts, including needlework. :)

    • CR Rookwood profile image

      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      What an interesting hub! I love old needlework, and always look for handworked linens at yard sales. Voted up.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      I got all these books through my money-saving strategies--didn't pay retail for any of them, although they would have been worth it.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Nice! I love needlework and books. The combination is a collector's dream. Mckbirdbks here on HubPages is a book seller. He might have some nice books on needlework. I will ask him. Thank you for a lovely Hub.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for this look at these books on historical needlework. They sound like good examples of why technology can't justifiably replace hard copies!