My top 3 recommendations for a stitch dictionary

My top 3 recommendations for a stitch dictionary

I was asked what my recommendations for a stitch dictionary for a  person who was learning embroidery 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 a stitch dictionary that are 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.

cover of stitch dictionaryMy 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.

cover of bookMy 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.

cover of stitch dictionaryMy 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 recommendations for a stitch dictionary. 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 and  recommendations for a stitch dictionary.

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.


  1. Hi Sharon,

    One more vote for The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Stitch Dictionary by Yvette Stanton. As a lefty, I’d have to say it’s my top list all by itself!

    Online though, I LOVE yours and Nordic Needle’s Save The Stitches site is amazing too.

    All the best,

  2. As books go I have both of the A-Z books which are invaluable, but on-line your tutorials and stitch dictionary are my ‘go to’ places. I also have the Anchor book which a number of people have mentioned; it’s a bit ‘elderly’ – but there again some of us are 🙂

  3. OOPS! I hate when I push the send button before I proofread. I should have said, Hazel Blomkamp on crewel embroidery and ‘other needleworker’s books too numerous to mention’, etc.

    You may not care, but I do. My grandchildren call me the grammar nazi.

    Charlotte Wells
  4. I agree with your first three choices, absolutely. I also like The Embroider’s Handbook by Margie Bauer. Here are my suggestions for specialized books:

    The Art of Crewel Embroidery by Mildred David
    The Needlepoint Book by Jo Christensen
    Hardanger Basics and Beyond by Janice Love
    Long and Short Embroidery by Trish Burr
    Silk Ribbon Embroidery by Joan Gordon
    Stumpwork Medieval Flora by Jane Nicholas

    for starters. Hazel Blomkamp on crewel embroider, more by Trish Burr, other talented needlework books too numerous to mention, AND Sharon B on crazy quilting. Can’t wait, Sharon.

    Charlotte Wells
  5. If you only have 1 book, it has to be stitches separated by use. (edging, filling, outline etc) Avoid alphabetical stitch dictionaries as they are too time consuming when looking for a stitch to use for a particular spot. I have used Mary Thomas’s Dictionary since the 70’s so it is comfortable for me. Creative Stitching by Sue Spargo is my 2nd go to stitch book. Fabulous step by step diagrams for beginners. Neither has lefty directions, so sad.

  6. I have the first two of your three recommendations and I use them frequently–sometimes just for inspiration. Although I have several other stitch dictionaries, I agree with you that these books are the ones I would recommend. A very helpful post, even though (or because) it took you four hours to compose it.

  7. I have to confess I was diappointed with the Mary Thomas Book – may be because I was no longer a beginner when I found it. I think it toughes on too many different embroidery techniques without really, thoroughly explaining any . However, it did have a stitch or two I have jet to find elsewhere. I did not want the stitch bible after leafing through it, for the same reasons. However, the A-Z of embroidery stitches is on my list of things to get one day, because I hope there will be something new.

    For a beginner, I would recommend downloading some of the old classics, may be Beeton’s Book of Needlework and the Books of Grace Christie would be easier than Dillmont’s books. I also would suggest stitching some kits or stuff from magazines/the internet in techiques that appeal. When they are sure they like needlework, and have an idea what techniques they want to try I would recommend to invest in specialized books.

    I started with only the Encyclopaedia of Needlework by Therese Dillmont, and then went on to buy specialized books on techiques I liked.

  8. Great choices. I also rate very highly the old versions (1987) of the ‘New Anchor book of……… Embroidery Stitches’ series, which can often be found secondhand on Amazon, Ebay etc for pence plus postage ( Not the revised A sized versions though – which are poorly produced and uninspiring.) I love this series because the books are small, softback, have excellent clear instructions and colourful designs (a lot of the projects are now retro and very cool!). Fab for beginners, unintimidating and can easily be carried with small stitching products. Nearly all my class have got copies of the ‘Free Style’ stitches book now.

  9. Can’t believe it! Just the other day a friend asked me to recommend a stitch dictionary and two of my recommendations are on your list! Mary Thomas and the Search Press one. What a co-incidence. Just goes to show how good they are I suppose. The other one I recommended was The Batsford Encyclopedia by Anne Butler. xx

  10. Hi Sharon, I have all of the above books you recommend and they are excellent, however there is another I also like that is also excellent and that is Yvette Stanton’s “right-handed embroiderer’s companion” she also does a left hand version, this book is worth a looking at.

  11. Thanks Sharon … i know your the right person when it comes to embroidery.
    Could you do your list of recommended books on intermediate ,advanced and specialized stitch embroidery books?

    Good luck with your book and hope books too .. they are going to be a best seller !

    1. Hi Rudaina you ask “Could you do your list of recommended books on intermediate ,advanced and specialized stitch embroidery books?” yes I can but it may take a while and I would have to divide up the topic a bit also time constraints as there was much dithering around over what was actually my top 3 then it took me 4 hours to write it!

  12. Thanks Sharon! I am downsizing and it is nice to know which books to keep as I value your opinion. Thank you for all of your hard work and generosity. I too, love your stitch dictionary.

    Marianne Squire Maszer
  13. Another terrific one is the Right (or Left) Handed Embroiderer’s Companion by Yvette Stanton. The diagrams are very easy to follow. But I have to say your website is just terrific.

    Mary Ann
  14. Sharon, the only addition I would make to your list would be the seond volume of the A to Z Embroidery Stitches.

    I am fortunate enough to have all four volumes, but there are still many times when YOUR website provides the right stitch for the right effect. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

    PJ in Georgia, USA
  15. There’s also Yvette Stanton’s “Embroiderer’s Companion”, which comes in left handed and right handed version, and which gives better instructions for some of the trickier stitches than any of the six other stitch dictionaries on my shelves!

  16. Thanks Sharon for the recommendations. My daughter is learning to embroider and I think I’ll put one of these in her Christmas stocking this year.
    I must say, though, that I constantly refer to your Stitch Dictionary and consider it a valuable resource.

    Terry Decker

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