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Editorial blog

Behind the scenes at the Royal School of Needlework

11 Dec 2017

From Royal patronage to Game of Thrones, RSN External Relations Manager Emma Doggart gives Craft Business readers a glimpse at the workings of the world’s hub for hand embroidery.

The Royal School of Needlework (RSN) is the international centre of excellence for the art of hand embroidery.

Founded in 1872, the principles of the RSN were twofold: to revive a beautiful art form which had fallen into disuse and, through its revival, to provide employment for educated women who, without a suitable livelihood, would otherwise find themselves compelled to live in poverty.

Today’s RSN

It continues to be a thriving organisation today, offering a wide range of courses in the UK and internationally. Exciting and innovative, the Embroidery Studio works on bespoke commissions, ranging from private conservation pieces to a recent collaboration with Neopop artist Philip Colbert creating large scale embroideries which form part of his ‘Nudes’ series.

Steeped in history with unrivalled expertise in the techniques of hand embroidery, the RSN has taken this captivating, traditional art and made it relevant today.

Back to school

Students can choose to study Day Classes, a Certificate & Diploma in Technical Hand Embroidery, BA (Hons) Hand Embroidery for Fashion, Interiors, Textile Art or the RSN’s Future Tutor programme. There are over 150 Day Classes to choose for all levels and in many different techniques. The Certificate & Diploma concentrates on core techniques and develops students to the highest level. It is a flexible course so easy to manage around other commitments such as family and work. The Future Tutors programme teaches the Tutors of tomorrow. And the BA (Hons) Hand Embroidery for Fashion, Interiors, Textile Art is the only Hand Embroidery Degree Programme in Europe, mixing traditional hand embroidery skills with the contemporary world of fashion and arts.

The RSN moved from central London to Hampton Court Palace in 1987 and has recently celebrated 30 years at this historic venue. The school has continued to grow throughout its time at the Palace and students have a wealth of inspiration all around them, not only from the rich history of the RSN but the stunning views of the gardens and beautiful Palace itself. The school also teaches in other areas around the UK in Exeter, Bristol, Rugby, Durham and Glasgow, and internationally in Ireland, North America and Japan.

Royal connections

The RSN’s specialist Embroidery Studio is based in Hampton Court Palace and has customers from all over the world, including fashion designers, Oscar nominees, cathedrals, private individuals and the Royal Family. The RSN’s close links with royalty started when it was founded and continue today. Royal projects have included Coronation regalia for King George V in 1910; the Robe of State for Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress in 2011. The current Royal Patron is HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and previously, Royal Patrons have included Queen Victoria, The Queen Mother and Her Majesty The Queen.

Epic projects

All the stitchers in the Embroidery Studio are experts in hand embroidery and have been trained by the RSN. Each piece of work in the studio can be stitched by many of the different embroiderers but clients would be unable to see any difference as they are all taught the same techniques and stitch to the same incredibly high standard. There is a saying at the RSN that ‘No seat is left to go cold’ which basically means that during tight deadlines, as soon as one stitcher goes for a break, another can take their place and continue the work.

There are many exciting projects the RSN has been involved in over the years. From a recent project for one of the world’s biggest TV shows Game of Thrones to create an epic 6mx4m embroidery of one of the battle scenes, to hand embroidering 200,000 dyed ostrich feathers on a designer dress for the GREAT Britain Campaign which was then worn by X Factor judge Cheryl at the final of the UK X Factor 2015.

Exciting times

And not forgetting, the RSN is home to an amazing 60,000 unique Textile and Archive pieces capturing the passion for embroidery throughout history. Some of these can be seen in special exhibitions at Hampton Court Palace and continue to provide inspiration for students. Currently, visitors can book a tour for Embellishment in Fashion – an exciting new display for capturing embroidery and embellishment in fashion from 18th-21st centuries.

The art of hand embroidery can appeal to so many people for all different reasons. Some students learn embroidery to enhance their skills for their career, in particular, with the resurgence of embroidery in fashion and interiors, whilst others a therapeutic hobby. Whatever the reason, it is wonderful that the traditional skill of hand embroidery continues to influence fashions and new generations. It is definitely a very exciting time to be in the world of embroidery and the RSN would encourage people to pick up a needle and thread – you never know where that skill might lead!

For more information on the Royal School of Needlework and its courses, please visit uk or call 020 3166 6932.

A stitch in time

1872 – Founded as the School of Art Needlework. Princess Helena (Queen Victoria’s fifth child) becomes president.

1875 – Granted Royal patronage and became the Royal School of Needlework.

1901 – Made Queen Victoria’s funeral pall, described as ‘a labour of love’ by Princess Helena.

1910 – Created embroidered banners for the Festival of Europe.

1940 – Designed badges for all the British regiments and later allied forces for transfers to be worked by men and women.

1953 – Made the Robe of State for Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II for which the RSN was awarded a Coronation medal.

1981 – Embroidered slippers for HRH The Prince of Wales and a monogrammed lace pillow for Lady Diana Spencer on the occasion of their wedding.

2006 – Embroidered Sir Paul McCartney’s Ecce Cor Meum album cover.

2011 – Worked for Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen on HRH The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress.

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