The Royal School of Needlework Collection contains more than 4,000 embroidered objects and many thousands of designs.
From intricate artwork on clothes, textiles and designs to its development documented through papers, books and photos, the items have been collected and donated from all over the world.
Enthusiasts are able to have a rare insight to this special collection by attending a Collection Study Day at Hampton Court Palace.
Access to the RSN Collection is currently limited and we are actively seeking sponsorship to enable us to catalogue these embroideries, textiles and designs and in the future make them accessible online. However, it is possible to have an insight into the Collection by attending an RSN Talk & Tour with our current exhibition.
The RSN Collection is particularly rich in designs commissioned by the RSN from the leaders of the Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic Movements: Walter Crane, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Rev Selwyn Image, George Aitcheson, Gertrude Jekyll and many others, some of which were featured in the 1880 Handbook of Embroidery published by the RSN. In September 2010 we re-published the 1880 Handbook of Embroidery with a new introductory essay by Lynn Hulse.
Very few of these invaluable designs have been seen in any exhibition for decades. In fact, some designs were assumed to be lost. (Two designs by Walter Crane formed part of the V&A Museum’s Cult of Beauty exhibition in 2011)
The Collection also contains the RSN’s own early business records which show the history and development of art embroidery, and especially the RSN’s leading role in the development of art embroidery in the UK and the US.
The archive contains a very full record of work done by the RSN and sent to Philadelphia in 1876 for the International Centennial Exhibition. It was this room-sized display which launched art embroidery in the US and was very influential on the work of Candace Wheeler. The RSN archive includes a catalogue of the objects made, many of the designs commissioned, some autographed in the artists’ own hands, and a picture of the room.
As a non-profit organisation which has moved to much smaller accommodation than it once occupied, the Collection is mostly in storage and even the most splendid pieces are rarely seen other than by visitors to the RSN at Hampton Court Palace. Even off-site exhibitions tend to request the same few textile pieces rather than really using the glory of the Collection: the designs.
Furthermore, it has been a ‘stored and closed’ Collection rather than catalogued and accessible. As a result, secondary sources about the RSN are invariably wrong, with inaccurate information based on little more than anecdotal evidence, while other writers omitted the RSN altogether. It is only in the last few years that the RSN Archivist and Curator, with the help of a volunteer team, has been able to unpack some of what we have, and delve into what we know about it – though we accept there are still huge gaps, especially in relation to the whereabouts of many of the textiles.
We want to be able to share our collection with everyone who has a passion for embroidery as well as inspire those who don’t yet know the history of embroidery. We’re fundraising to help get our Collection into an online repository for everyone to be able to enjoy.
We also accept donated items of embroidery, fabric and embroidery tools. Find out how to donate your items.