Learn more about a 34-part object, an embroidered alphabet box, completed by Dr Isabel Elliott in 2007. The suite of embroidered objects is an encyclopaedia of hundreds of stitches, a teaching aid, and an illustration of one woman’s astonishing embroidery skills.

Isabella Rosner is the curator of the Royal School of Needlework, where she leads on digitising and cataloguing the Collection and cares for the RSN’s many historical textiles.

In 2007 Isabel Elliott, the Mistress of Embroidery at Gloucester Cathedral, completed a stunning feat of embroidery: a 34-part embroidered alphabet. The suite of embroidered objects is an encyclopaedia of stitches, a teaching aid, and an illustration of one woman’s astonishing embroidery skills. This embroidered alphabet, given to the RSN in 2019, involves a large box that holds 32 booklets. Every inch of the box is embroidered, including the inside and both sides of its lid.

Each of the 32 booklets brings together a letter of the alphabet with an embroidery technique and a slew of motifs that begin with that letter. The vast majority of the motifs are floral and faunal. Elliott chose A for appliqué, B for blackwork, C for canvaswork, D for drawn thread work, and so on for the entirety of the alphabet. For some letters, such as C and S, she created two booklets – C covers both canvaswork and cutwork and S stands for both stumpwork and shadow work. Included in the suite are four panels, three of which serve as a guide through the booklets.

She begins her first panel with an introduction to the project and to herself; following a polychrome alphabet are two inscriptions which read, ‘I read and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand’ and ‘Isabel Elliott is my name with my needle I wrought the same’. At the bottom she writes, ‘finished 2007’. Elliott uses a typical sampler rhyme, ‘[maker’s name] is my name and with my needle I wrought the same’, to sign her work and makes a Confucius quote her own by swapping out ‘I hear and I forget’ to ‘I read and I forget’. Through her stitches we come to understand who Isabel Elliott was. She was a keen and talented embroiderer who loved the natural world.

Elliott became the Mistress of Embroidery at Gloucester Cathedral and was a travelling embroidery tutor throughout the UK.

One of her pupils recalled that you could ask her about any stitch and not only did she know what you meant but she could demonstrate it without having to look it up.

Sounds like Isabel Elliott was her own walking RSN Stitch Bank! She was a member of the Cotswold branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild, where she enjoyed embroidering for competition and display.

In 2015 she was presented with her 50 years Embroiderers’ Guild badge by HRH The Duchess of Gloucester.

When Susan Perkes (Isabel Elliott’s goddaughter) donated the alphabet box to the RSN in 2019, she gave us more information about Isabel and this precious object.

A description reads, ‘The alphabet series is particularly close to Isabel’s heart, originally started as a teaching aid, to show others how to embroider…she believed it is very important to have a foundation, a vocabulary of stitch, on which to build one’s work…Just as handwriting reveals the character of the writer, this collection truly reveals Isabel’s character and will amaze and inspire all who view it. She dedicated her life to the art of embroidery’.


It is an honour to house Isabel Elliott’s alphabet suite and to share it with the public via our Collection and Archive website. You can view every page of Elliott’s work in great detail alongside a thorough description of each booklet, panel, and part of the box here. We have endeavoured to identify all of the motifs and the hundreds of stitches Elliott used to craft these 34 objects. This alphabet suite is just one of a large oeuvre of embroidered works by Elliott, which you can see on HOME – Isabel Elliott Embroidery. We are very grateful to Susan Perkes for her donation of Elliott’s work and her efforts to share Elliott’s embroidery with the world.