Embroidery can be used as an artistic medium in its own right and to embellish items of beauty and practical use.  The wide variety of techniques can be used in traditional and contemporary designs adding detail and focus. Here is some interesting history behind some of the techniques used and taught at the RSN.

There are many beautiful techniques in hand embroidery, traditional goldwork used for centuries to symbolise wealth and power; delicate whitework for weddings, christenings and formal household linens; crewelwork with the Jacobean style bringing design traditions from Asia; blackwork seen as a costume decoration of status in 16th century portraits and still used today for dramatic effects in portraiture; and numerous other techniques for creative and imaginative use.

We offer courses in a wide variety of these techniques to introduce you to something new or to develop your skills further. Discover more about these stunning embroidery techniques and their history:


Steeped in history, this technique involves using intricate patterns which have an almost graphic quality to create an embroidered picture.  Blackwork was traditionally used as decoration on caps, collars and cuffs and usually depicted small floral motifs in the repeat design.  Both sides of the embroidery were to be seen so it was worked in a double running stitch (also known as Holbein stitch), making the front and back identical.

Read more about Blackwork


Canvaswork was used in a basic form on medieval vestments and furnishings, but it is really during the second half of the 16th century that canvaswork in its current form became a part of everyday life.

Read more about Canvaswork


Dating back over 1000 years, with its roots in religious and royal embroidery, goldwork has a luxurious and opulent quality. Goldwork embroidery uses a wide variety of metal threads including gilt copper and silver and can be combined with other techniques such as silk shading to produce sumptuous effects.

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Jacobean Crewelwork

One of the earliest forms of surface stitching, crewelwork uses a range of stitches and elements of shading using crewel wool on linen. Jacobean-style designs, developed in the 17th century were influenced by exotic flora and fauna found on imported Indian chintzes.

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Silk Shading

This beautiful technique, sometimes known as ‘painting with a needle’, uses a number of colours in cotton or silk threads, skilfully blended together to create the natural appearance of a flower, fruit, plant or animal.

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Stumpwork, also known as raised embroidery uses an array of different materials and embroidery techniques to tell a contemporary story in stitch using three dimensional elements.

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The term apples to a variety of techniques ranging from the bold stitches of Mountmellick and Hardanger to the delicate work of Ayrshire and Fine White embroidery. Traditionally worked with white thread on white fabric and used for bridal and christening wear and ecclesiastical embroidery.  Whitework techniques adapt well to contemporary designs and the introduction of colour.

Read more about Whitework