Royal School of Needlework

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Royal School of Needlework
Hampton Court 02.jpg
Hampton Court Palace, the location of the Royal School of Needlework
Established 1872 (1872)
Academic affiliation
Chief Executive Dr Susan Kay-Williams,

The Royal School of Needlework (RSN) is a hand embroidery school in the United Kingdom, founded in 1872 and based at Hampton Court Palace since 1987.


The RSN began as the School of Art Needlework in 1872 founded by Lady Victoria Welby. The first President was Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, Queen Victoria's third daughter, known to the RSN as Princess Helena.[1] She received help from William Morris and many of his friends in the Arts and Crafts movement. It received its royal prefix in March 1875 when Queen Victoria consented to become its first patron. The word "Art" was dropped from the title in 1922.[2]

Its initial space was in a small apartment on Sloane Street,[1] employing 20 women. The school had grown to 150 students, moving in 1903 to Exhibition Road, near to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The purposed-built building was designed by group of architects, including prominent British "Arts and Crafts" architect James Leonard Williams (d.1926), who designed All Saints church in Oxted (1914–28) and St George’s in Sudbury, Middlesex (1926–27).[2]

The RSN established a Studio which works new bespoke embroidery commissions and replicas of antique textiles as well as restoration and conservation projects. The work of the Studio has been used in many important events, including a joint effort with Toye in producing the velvet cushions on which the Royal Crowns were carried into Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of King George VI.[3]

In 1953, the School created the gold embroidery on the Purple Robe of Estate, part of the coronation robes of Queen Elizabeth II.[2]

The school moved from Princes Gate in Kensington to Hampton Court Palace in 1987, occupying rooms in Christopher Wren's construction, more recently found to overlay the former Tudor accommodation of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour.[4] A variety of new courses have been developed since the relocation.

In 2011, the school was responsible for appliquéing machine-made floral lace motifs onto silk net (tulle) for the wedding dress of Kate Middleton, now Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge.[5][6]


As part of the Arts and Crafts movement's efforts to make arts and crafts more accessible to a wider audience, in 1880 the school published the Handbook of Embroidery. Over a century later, in 2011, the school reprinted the work with a preface essay by Lynn Hulse.[7]

William George Paulson Townsend, who taught drawing and became master of design at the school, also published several works including Embroidery, or, The craft of the needle and Plant and floral studies for designers, art students, and craftsmen, the latter of which was reprinted in 2005.[8][9][10]


The RSN has an archive of over 30,000 embroidery-related images covering every period of British history. There are also over 5,000 textile pieces, including lace, silkwork, whitework, Jacobean embroidery and many other forms of embroidery and needlework.[citation needed]


The Royal School of Needlework is a registered charity[11] and has always been under royal patronage. The current patron is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.[citation needed] The school is governed by a board of trustees currently chaired by Nik Rochez. Susan Kay-Williams is Chief Executive.[12] Standards are overseen by QAA who, in 2014, commended the quality of student learning opportunities at the school.[13]

Current facilities[edit]

The RSN runs leisure classes from one to five days starting with classes for beginners and leading on to more complex and varied techniques as embroiderers become more experienced. There is a Certificate and Diploma in technical hand embroidery for those who want to develop practical embroidery skills to a high level; also a unique Degree in hand embroidery which encompasses some technical training, with the emphasis on contemporary practice, alongside academic studies. The degree course in hand embroidery is accredited by the University for the Creative Arts.[14] In 2012 the RSN introduced a new three-year Tutors’ Course which combines high-level technical embroidery training with teaching practice and business skills required to work as a freelance embroiderer/tutor.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sheppard, F.H.W., ed. (1975). "Royal School of Needlework". South Kensington Museums Area. Survey of London 38 (London). pp. 231–232. Retrieved 17 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "History". Royal School of Needlework. Retrieved 17 August 2015. 
  3. ^ "Toye History". Toye, Kenning and Spencer. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  4. ^ Kennedy, Maev (12 February 2015). "Hampton Court's lost apartment foundations uncovered". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  5. ^ "Royal wedding: Dress embroiderers were kept in the dark". BBC News. 30 April 2011. Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  6. ^ "The Royal School of Needlework’s hand embroidery expertise helps Sarah Burton create Miss Catherine Middleton’s wedding dress" (PDF). Royal School of Needlework. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  7. ^ Greensted, Mary (September 2011). "Handbook of Embroidery". The Antiquaries Journal (The Society of Antiquaries of London) 91: 394–395. doi:10.1017/S0003581511000576. 
  8. ^ Berry, Chris (27 Mar 2013). "100 years of the Guild" (PDF). Embroiderers' Guild. 
  9. ^ Townsend, William George Paulson; Pesel, Louisa F. (1899). Embroidery, or, The craft of the needle (1 ed.). London: Truslove & Hanson. "Embroidery; or, The craft of the needle". Hathi Trust. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  10. ^ Townsend, William George Paulson (1901). n. London, New York: Truslove, Hanson & Comba. (Reprinted 2005 by Dover Art Instruction and again in 2012 ISBN 9780486148670)
  11. ^ Royal School of Needlework, Registered Charity no. 312774 at the Charity Commission
  12. ^ "About us". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  13. ^ "Higher Education Review (Plus) of The Royal School of Needlework" (PDF). QAA. June 2014. 
  14. ^ "RSN at hampton Court Palace". University for the Creative Arts. Retrieved 18 August 2015. 

External links[edit]