Royal School of Needlework Celebrating 140 Years

[from your blogger, Elizabeth Ellers]

In 1872 Lady Victoria Welby founded the School of Art Needlework in London.  Princess Helena, Queen Victoria’s third daughter, became the President and by 1875 the School had the Queen’s Patronage and became the Royal School of Art Needlework.  Some of our Loudoun Sampler Guild members have visited the RSN, now located in Hampton Court Palace, or taken classes there. I myself was lucky enough to spend a month studying there a few years ago, halfway completing my Certificate in Needlework.

In honor of its 140th anniversary, the RSN has assembled an exhibition of 140 objects including archive materials, photographs and embroideries from the different decades.  A recent trip to London gave me the opportunity to see the exhibition.

There were about 20 of us for a Saturday afternoon tour, and we filled up the classroom that had been set up for us.  First, the chief executive of the RSN, Susan Kay-Williams, gave a lecture on the history of the school, including information on its founders, the various places it has been located, and the most famous commissions (Queen Victoria’s funeral pall, Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation robes, Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, a whitework piece for a Paul McCartney CD).  After the talk, the group was split into two, and guides showed us through two rooms of memorabilia and needlework.  There were many stunning pieces – some were the diploma pieces that students were required to stitch, and others the projects that the school has taken on over the many years.

The scale of the pieces can be staggering for those of us who stitch for our own use and entertainment.  The color photo below shows work for  The Great Hall,  Dover Castle.  Six large pieces were produced including the King’s Hall backcloth; a canopy and tester; the Guest Hall backcloth and a standard and altar frontal.

And the story of the funeral pall for Queen Victoria is amazing, too.  The pall used for the funeral procession in 1901 was made of ivory white satin, and motifs included the rose, shamrock and thistle (for England, Ireland and Scotland), a gold crown, and the Royal Arms embroidered in heraldic colours at each corner.  A group of RSN stitchers worked around the clock for 21 hours to complete the pall.

The record-keeping of the RSN has been haphazard over the years. They have archive boxes that have barely been opened, so there are undoubetdly other treasures yet to be exhibited.  This exhibition will run until March 2013 with tours held roughly one week in each month.  They are very popular and must be pre-booked in advance.  If you have a trip planned to the UK, I highly recommend it.  Information can be found at



The Loudoun Sampler Guild is a group of sampler enthusiasts based in northern Virginia. We meet monthly for lectures, needlework classes and workshops, and field trips.

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