The Royal School of Needlework, the pinnacle of British craftsmanship, celebrates 140 years of keeping the traditional art of hand embroidery alive

This year the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) celebrates 14 decades of teaching, practising and promoting hand embroidery. 140 years ago the RSN’s first student enrolled on 5 November 1872 and today over 1000 students a year learn traditional hand embroidery on our thriving education programme whilst our Embroidery Studio continues to offer a unique UK-based service for hand embroidery commissions and restoration projects.

Established in 1872 to provide a source of income for women with no financial support and to safeguard traditional craftsmanship against the backdrop of emerging mass-production, the RSN soon became the leading authority in, and source of, hand embroidered items. The 21st century RSN continues to safeguard these same traditional hand embroidery techniques through a range of leisure and professional courses for men and women, including a Degree in Hand Embroidery, throughout the UK and internationally in the US and Japan. The RSN embroidery Studio works large and small commissions for individuals and organisations and most recently received international acknowledgement for helping designer Sarah Burton OBE create the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress.

To celebrate its 140 years the RSN will be holding a special exhibition at its home at Hampton Court Palace. RSN 140 – A Continuous Thread (from September 2012 and extended to March 2013) will highlight the RSN’s work over 14 decades showcasing past and current students’ work and embroidered commissions worked by the RSN.

The 140th exhibition will feature more than 140 exhibits including a piece worked by the RSN in 1900, designed by Nellie Wichelo (the longest-serving member of staff), which formed part of a set of wall hangings which won the gold medal at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle and the whitework embroidery for Sir Paul McCartney’s Ecce Cor Meum album cover from 2006.

To view the exhibition you do need to make an appointment and there is a charge.

As a registered charity the RSN is self-funding and receives no government grants. A Gala Dinner will take place on 26 October 2012 at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall in London and a two day Grand Sale of needlework related items will be held at the RSN on 9 & 10 November 2012.

If you would like details of their classes go to