Book review: Stumpwork embroidery designs and projects by Jane Nicholas

I have owned this book, ‘Stumpwork Embroidery: designs and projects’ by Jane Nicholas, ever since it first came out in 1998, and it is one of my all-time favourite embroidery books. It is the book that got me started on doing stumpwork embroidery.  So, although it’s definitely not a new book, it most certainly is a classic, so I thought I’d do a review of it.

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Jane Nicholas is a stickler for detail. Her stitching is so neat, it’s unbelievable. I should think the back of her stitching is as neat as the front, but she’d never let you see, I bet!

This book covers instructions for 26 different projects – from single pansy flowers, to drawstrings bags, needlebooks and more complex pictures. The photography is very clear and detailed, and there are hundreds of diagrams to show you exactly how to achieve the results that Jane describes so eloquently in her text.

The book is a large (8 1/2 x 11 inch) hardback book, with 192 pages. Each project is carefully explained, with lists of materials required, the order of work, and the patterns needed, all together (rather than having to turn to the back of the book for the pattern templates, for instance, which is common in other books). There is a stitch glossary and index at the back, and also thread conversion information. This is a useful section, as Jane realises that although she loves to use the more unusual/expensive threads such as Soie d’Alger, many people do not have access to these, so the thread conversion page gives alternatives for Soie d’Alger, Madeira Silk, Cifonda and Minnamurra thread to DMC equivalents. Very helpful! There is also a good bibliography too.

Jane’s take on Elizabethan stumpwork, updated for today, is just wonderful. Take this, for example:


Or these roundels, stitched on black and white silk:


My favourite project in the book is this drawstring bag etui set, with woodland animals and plants embroidered on the pieces:


I made the hedgehog pipkin from it a few years back.


And I have used the squirrel needlebook assembly process (but not the squirrel motif) to make a needlebook (although the design on the front is still by Jane Nicholas – but this one appeared in Inspirations magazine, as a motif for a sweet bag!).


It is not always available in the UK, but has it at the moment.  Maybe it’s on it’s way to being out of print, so if you’re interested, I’d track down a copy sooner rather than later. Embroidery books as good as this one are few and far between!

Stumpwork Embroidery: designs and projects by Jane Nicholas.

Milner Craft Series

192 pages

ISBN 186351 208 X (Hardback)

£19.99 / US$24.95



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Carolyn Pearce Home Sweet Home workbox 25: assembling the needlebook

Now that the embroidery on the needlebook from Carolyn Pearce’s book ‘Home Sweet Home: an embroidered workbox’ is complete, I just need to assemble it. Here are the materials I need, all gathered together:

Needlebook 18

I’ve found, over the years, that it saves me loads of time if I get everything ready, cut out, and put out neatly before I begin, rather than have to leave something half way through assembling it to go and rummage for the next item. In this picture above, you can see the card shape (scored for the spine), the interlining to back the embroidery, the striped lining cotton fabric, and the doctor flannel for the needle pages.

Needlebook 19

I stuck the interlining to the cardboard with double sided tape.

Needlebook 20

The interlining was deliberately cut too large at first, and then trimmed down, leaving about an eighth of an inch overhang, to allow for a bit of padding around the very edges of the needlebook.

Needlebook 21

The interlining for the cotton fabric was iron-on. After attaching it to the cotton, I pressed the seam allowances over, including the corners (ironed at a 45 degree angle).

Needlebook 22

Then I tacked them down.

Needlebook 23

The embroidery was laced over the card shape with Perle cotton number 12 – I find that this is very strong , thin thread, and perfect for doing this.

Needlebook 24

I stopped lacing each side about 3/4 of an inch from each corner, to give me enough to fold in each corner and mitre it after doing the lacing.

Needlebook 25

Carolyn Pearce suggests stitching the doctor flannel pages to the cotton lining fabric using a sewing machine, but I couldn’t be bothered to get mine out for such a small bit of stitching, so I did mine with hand-sewn backstitch. The doctor flannel is carefully cut with the inner pages a little bit smaller than the outer one along the short sides, so that when the needlebook is finally closed, the pages line up neatly.

Needlebook 26

To disguise the central line of backstitch, I worked a line of Coral stitch along the centre.

Needlebook 27

Then I placed the lining wrong sides together with the embroidery on its card, and slipstitched around the edge.

Needlebook 28

Finally, I worked a buttonhole stitch loop at the centre of the front right hand edge of the needlebook, and attached an 8mm cloisonne bead to the centre of the back edge.

Needlebook 29

This is the back of the needlebook, once finished.

Needlebook 30

Above, you can see the needlebook standing open, to show the pages for the needles, and below, you can see how trimming the doctor flannel to slightly different sizes works – when closed, the edges match up really well.

Needlebook 31

Lovely, isn’t it?


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Carolyn Pearce Home Sweet Home workbox 24: ladybird and small flowers on the needlebook

I’m not usually very keen on embroidering insects. After all, they’re, well….INSECTS!!! Yuck!!  But somehow ladybirds don’t seem to be quite so ‘insect-like’, so I’m OK with embroidering them, which is just as well, really, as Carolyn Pearce loves to scatter ladybirds among her designs. This one shown below features on the back of the needlebook which forms part of the Home Sweet Home Workbox etui set (described in Carolyn’s book).

Needlebook 14

To make this specimen (which is only about half an inch across in real life), I first worked split stitch around the edge of the round body shape. Then I worked two layers of satin stitch padding (each layer at right angles to the one beneath), then finished with a final layer of satin stitch – all worked in Gloriana silk. The head is four straight stitches. The legs are straight stitches too. I think I made these a little bit too long for a ladybird, but never mind. The little dots on the ladybird’s back are tiny seed stitches.

Needlebook 15

The ladybird hovers above wild flowers worked in granitos stitch for the blue flower at far left, lazy daisy stitches for the daisies, raised cross stitch for the anemones, French knots for the blue flower buds and straight stitches for the grass.

Needlebook 16

This is the whole needlebook panel (front and back), with the main embroidery finished.

Needlebook 17


To complete the embroidery, I worked a border of chain stitch in dark green Anchor stranded cotton (two strands). Carolyn explains that to have the chains going in the right direction, you need to start at the bottom left corner and work along the bottom and up the right hand side, then start again at the bottom left and work up the left hand side and along the top to the right hand corner again. She recommends whipping the chain stitches, but I didn’t bother to do that bit. Finally, I edged the chain stitch with stem stitch worked in Kreinik Very Fine Braid.

I’m really pleased with this so far. Now I just need to assemble the needlebook.


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Carolyn Pearce Home Sweet Home workbox 23: pea flower, leaf and snail on the needlebook

Now that the pea pod on the needlebook that I’m making from Carolyn Pearce’s book ‘Home Sweet Home: an embroidered workbox’ is complete, I have moved on to stitching the pea flower.

Needlebook 8

I stitched this in long and short stitch, in three pale shades of Anchor standed cotton, with dark pink highlights. The subtle shading doesn’t really show up in the pictures, unfortunately, but it’s very pretty.

Needlebook 9

The sepals behind the flower itself are stitched in two shades of green.

Needlebook 10

The pea leaf is stitched in two shades of variegated green silk from Gloriana – the outer edge having first been defined in split back stitch in one strand of Anchor cotton, and then the pale shade worked first, with the darker inner shade worked next, leaving a tiny gap along the central vein line of the leaf, for stem stitch in pale tan to be worked. Straight stitches, also in pale tan, define the diagonal leaf veins. Finally, gold highlights using one strand of Kreinik Very Fine Braid alongside of the pale tan stitches are worked.

Needlebook 11

The instructions for working the snail seemed OK in Carolyn’s book, until I saw the scale at which they were to be done….absolutely tiny! This snail shell is only about 5/8 of an inch across. So, I simplified it a bit, and decided to stitch the snail shell in buttonhole stitch over the felt padding, rather than the much more complicated ladder stitch that Carolyn recommends.

Needlebook 12

Several rounds of decreasing size made a very successful snail shell, if I do say so myself! A single row of stem stitch in Kreinik braid along the underside of the shell completed this section.

Needlebook 13

To finish off my snail, I worked the body in raised stem stitch band, and then made two straight stitches for his eye stalks, with tiny size 15 bronze colour beads for the eyes. In real life, I loathe snails, but I actually quite like this one!


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