Royal School of Needlework

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

It has an archive of over 30,000 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.

The Royal School of Needlework is a registered charity[1] and has always been under royal patronage. The current patron is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.


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. 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.

Its initial space was in a small apartment on Sloane Street, 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).

The school moved from Princes Gate in Kensington to Hampton Court Palace in 1987 since when a variety of new courses has been developed. 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. 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. All classrooms feature fine views of the Palace gardens.

The RSN also has 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.[2]

In 1953, the School created the gold embroidery on the Purple Robe of Estate, part of the coronation robes of Queen Elizabeth II.[3]

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.[4]

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