I was asked what my recommendations were for person who was learning embroidery and wanted to purchase their first stitch dictionary but as I wrote this I realised these books are a good foundation and reference for any hand embroiderers library. I don’t think you need all 3 books but if you have one of these you will have a good book in your hands to introduce you to the wonderful world of hand embroidery stitches.
So here is my recommendations for three good reference books There are many specialised books and many dictionaries that are useful for intermediate and advanced stitchers but owning one of these I see as a foundation to a stitchers library. They are all general hand embroidery dictionaries which cover a range of embroidery styles in an accurate and clear manner. They are also books I have on my shelves and use frequently.
My first recommendation is
The Embroidery Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden as an essential reference for hand embroiderers. This spiral-bound, 256 page publication contains diagramed instructions for over 200 stitches. One feature of this book is that diagrams are accompanied with photographed samples of stitches on fabrics which makes is good for people who have trouble envisioning a stitch on a finished item. This makes it particularly good if you a new hand to embroidery as you can see what the stitch looks like.
The contents house colour thumbnail photos of the stitches covered in the book. This form of index means if you have seen the stitch but do not know the name of stitch you have a chance of identifying it. Stitches are arranged according to their use such as stitches used for outlines, or filling stitches, stitches used for edgings, hems, and insertions or flat stitches, and stitches used in backgrounds etc
This book also covers a number of hand embroidery styles such as canvas work or needlepoint, smocking, basic drawn-thread work, cutwork, and techniques such as cut work and applying sequins and beads. Additional information such as alternate names for the stitch, suggested uses and short tips are also provided.
This stitch dictionary has a concealed spiral binding which makes the book even more useful as it allows you to have the book lay open on a surface completely flat so you can refer to the diagrams and stitch simultaneously.The size is small enough so you can carry it to a workshop or have it in a large sewing box and the covers are sturdy enough to take some wear and tear.
My second recommendation is Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches which was first published in 1934 and is now a favourite classic. It has been updated by Jan Eaton, and it now illustrates and describes over 400 embroidery stitches. If by any chance you have Jan Eatons 1980’s classic The Complete Stitch Encyclopedia you already have a similar book.
The 298 page paperback is a great resource that also illustrates many of the stitches on fabric which makes is good for beginners as often they have trouble imagining what a stitch would like on a finished item. There is a brief overview on starting hand embroidery covering topics such using frames, choosing needles etc before it launches into the stitches is useful and does not bog down a beginner in the intricacies of more advanced techniques.
This best seller is also an economical resource for all embroiderers so I don’t hesitate in recommending it.
My last choice is also a reprint of a classic as it is the A-Z of Embroidery Stitches which is a reprint by Search Press of the classic book of the same title published by Country Bumpkin. It has a different cover but it is the same book.
The A-Z of Embroidery Stitches is an excellent stitch dictionary. The original book which is the copy I have, advertises that there are more than 1200 step-by-step colour photographs with step-by-step instructions for over 100 stitches. The A-Z series has a reputation of providing easy to follow clear directions. There is a good general overview on starting hand embroidery covering topics such transferring designs, choosing needles etc and all stitches are clearly photographed and described.
Thos are my 3 best picks. I don’t think you need all 3 book but if you have one of these you will have a good book in your hands. It was actually hard to narrow this down to 3. As I said I don’t think you need all 3 books but one of these will take you a very long way. I have thought is terms of very clear illustrations and colour to tempt people to try the stitches. So although there are some wonderful older books published if they were black and white I left them off my list. I think however there is a post to be written about stitch dictionaries that are retro gems. Do you agree with my choices? Perhaps leave a comment if you have others to add to the list as I would love to hear your opinion.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you follow the link and purchase any of the books I have recommended I get a small commission. The items do not cost you any more than a normal purchase, but it helps offset the cost of running this site. It is also not the reason I recommend these particular books. I have them in my library and use them regularly.