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Royal School of Needlework

Welcome to the Royal School of Needlework The International Centre
of Excellence for the
Art of Hand Embroidery

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History

The early history of the RSN is linked with the social, cultural and political history of Victorian and Edwardian Britain. 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.  

The founding principles of the RSN were two-fold: to revive a beautiful art 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.

The RSN began operating in a small room above a bonnet shop in Sloane Street, London, initially employing 20 ladies. By 1903, after sterling fundraising efforts from Princess Helena and others, George, Prince of Wales (later King George V) was able to open a new purpose-built centre on Exhibition Road, close to the V&A Museum where, at its peak, the RSN employed around 150 workers.

RSN 140 - Staff and student reminiscences from the 1940s to 2000s

Key dates
1872 - Founded as the School of Art Needlework, Princess Helena becomes President
1875 - Granted Royal patronage and became the Royal School of Art Needlework
1876 - Exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition
1880 - Published the Handbook of Embroidery (re-published 2010)
1880s - worked large-scale art embroideries including Musica and Poesis by Edward Burne-Jones 1901 Made Queen Victoria’s funeral pall, described as ‘a labour of love’ by Princess Helena
1903 - Moved into new building: Princess Helena helped raise the funds and it was opened by HRH The Prince of Wales, the future George V
1910 - Made coronation regalia for George V
1910 - Created embroidered banners for the Festival of Europe
1914-18 Taught returning soldiers how to stitch as an active therapy
1922 - The word 'Art' was dropped from our title, became Royal School of Needlework
1923 - Duchess of York succeeds Princess Helena as President
1937 - Made the Robe of State for Her Majesty the Queen (formerly Duchess of York and later Her Majesty the Queen Mother)
1940 - Designed badges for all the British regiments and later allied forces for transfers to be worked by men and women.
1940-45 Principal, Lady Smith Dorrien collected lace to be sold for the war effort.
1946 - Lady Smith Dorrien designed a victory sampler featuring all the allied countries
1946 - Following their destruction in the blitz, the RSN remade the ceremonial crowns for the Worshipful Company of Girdlers
1953 - Made the Robe of State for Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II for which the RSN was awarded a Coronation medal.  60th Anniversary press release
1966 - Hastings embroidery made to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings
1969-1974 Created the Overlord Embroidery: 34 panels depicting the events of D Day, now at the D Day Museum in Portsmouth
1981 - Embroidered slippers for HRH The Prince of Wales and a monogrammed lace pillow for Lady Diana Spencer on the occasion of their wedding
1984 - Made the current version of the Lord Chancellor’s Purse in which is carried the Queen’s Speech for the State opening of Parliament.
1997 - Made new Curtains for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
2000 - Created six high altar frontals and vestments for Wells Cathedral to celebrate the millennium
2002 - Created the balcony hanging at Buckingham Palace for Her Majesty The Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
2002 - Sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Broderer’s the RSN created a new woolsack to carry the ceremonial mace for The Royal Hospital Chelsea
2002 - Embroidered the official logo for the FIFA World Cup in Japan and Korea
2004 - Created an altar frontal for the nave of Canterbury Cathedral
2006 - Embroidered Sir Paul McCartney’s Ecce Cor Meum album cover
2009 - Created hangings in the style of Henry II for Dover Castle (English Heritage) for the Kings Throne Room and the Guest Room
2010 - Conserved an altar frontal made by Princess Alexandra and her daughters in the 1880s for the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace
2011 - conserved the Te Deum Altar Frontal and Canon Carpenter’s Cope for Salisbury Cathedral
2011 - Worked for Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen on HRH The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress
2012 - Created new lectern fall for the Worshipful Company of Broderers to celebrate the 450th  anniversary of the granting of their first Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1561

 

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