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Embroidered Book Covers

I noticed that my blog statistics package that an awful lot of people were searching for information on Embroidered Book Covers – and finding my project.
I thought I’d provide some links on them, to further help :-)

Examples and history :-

Prose, poems, points & purls: Embroidered book covers

by Christian de Holacombe

An excellent paper on the various types of embroidered covers, particularly in the 15th and 16th C.

English Embroidered Bookbindings

by Cyril Davenport, 1848 – 1941

All about the history, types, design and making of Embroidered BookBindings in canvas, velvet and satin. Many beautiful pictures.

Princess Elizabeth’s Embroidered Books

A short news article that describes the books that Princess (later Queen Elizabeth 1) embroidered, including pictures

Textile bookbinding - Koninklijke Bibliotheek – National Library of the Netherlands

A description of a book cover, 1615-1620. Includes a history of embroidered bookbinding

The Guide to English Embroidered BookBindings in the British Library

History :

Viewing examples :

    • Go to
    • Choose “Perform a Keyword Search”
    • Select either “List or Gallery” (I prefer List myself – you see more of them on the page)
    • Type ‘embroidered’ into the search box
    • Hit the “Search” button
    • (of course, you can always choose the Advanced Search if you are looking for Embroidered Book Covers of a particular origin/era)


Making an Embroidered BookCover :-

Project – Show and Tell : A period bookbinding

by Iulitta Rowan of Arran

“This project is a book cover inspired by the embroidered binding of a Bible presented to King Henry VIII of England in 1543.

The thread used is metal twist, made with a flat ribbon of metal wrapped in a spiral around a central silk core. The design is a deceptively simple-looking single-line drawing. The outer border is a reversible flame pattern, separated from the inner pattern by a double straight-line box. The inner design is a flowing pattern of flowers and leaves surrounding a central double circle. The pattern incorporates points, curves, circles, straight lines, right angles, sharp corners, and the solid initials (“HR”) of the intended recipient, Henry Rex. I reduced it to fit my book, adapted it slightly for simplicity, and changed the initials to “IP,” the initials of the friend for whom I made this.”

She then goes on to describe the process of making this cover.

Elizabethan Embroidered Book Bindings

Mistress Martelle von Charlottenburg
Baroness of the Bright Hills, Atlantia

Cover #1 After a bookcover embroidered by Elizabeth I for Katherine Parr
Cover #2, After a bible cover owned by Henry VIII
Both of these book covers are made in velvet.

Lady Martel tells how she created her own versions.

Making a Removable Elizabethan Embroidered Book Cover

Mistress Martelle von Charlottenburg
Baroness of the Bright Hills, Atlantia

Instructions on how to make a removable book cover. These are the instructions I used to make my own cover – they are very clear, and it works.

Mary’s Communion Bookcover

by Mary Corbet (

Mary makes an embroidered book cover for her niece’s first communion. These entries are mainly about the preparation of the linen to be used, the design, and the stitching she does, including couching padded with string

Elmsley Rose’s Book Cover

under the label “Embroidered Book Cover” in this blog – where I discuss the design, embroidering and making of my own Elizabethan Embroidered Book Cover

Embroidered Book Cover – Finished!

This is old news now, since I finished about 5 days ago.

I was just given a digital camera for my birthday – ideal for taking photos of the book – but we’ve been having a fight and the camera (actually, the computer) won. For the moment, anyway.

I wanted to show the book spread out, both front and back sides – but it was too wide for the scanner, so I haven’t.

* Buttons for the Spine

I was going through my button collection, selecting a couple to weave or buttonhole cover or whatever, when I discovered two round silk velvet buttons in black that were absolutely perfect.

You can’t really see them, since this is a scan of the book, but the threads are wrapped around them.

They fit in so well with the black silk velvet of the base cover it was a case of “simple. Job done”.

* Buttons/beads for the ends of the strings

Now here, I ended in disappointment. The thicker cover meant the strings had to cover more ground. By the time they wrapped around the spine buttons, there was very little length left. Less than an inch. Putting decorations on the ends of them would have looked crowded, as they would have hung right up beside the spine of the book.

I could have tied more string (assuming I had some waxed string to match, or even contrast nicely) but I thought “enough”.

I will “do” buttons another time. I was looking forward to them, but design needs must.

* I put a gold cord right around the edges of the cover. I thought it pulled the design together nicely. It was actually some gold fringeing that I unravelled!

* Pasting the cover down

In period, the cover would have been pasted to the goat vellum that forms the cover that is part of the construction of the book. However I didn’t want to do this, because I want to be able to take the cover off, and be able to see Helen’s (the maker of the book) beautiful stitching on the spine.
This means the cover can slip up or down a few millimetres but that’s not going to hurt. It’s just a matter of adjusting it if I’m showing it to someone.

I am very pleased and proud of this project. And I’m keeping it for myself – which was the object of the exercise – to make something beautiful for myself (and I just happened to get involved in Elizabethan embroidery along the way! *grin)

Embroidered Book Cover – Base Cover, Take II

I ended up making the cover by a different method.

I cut two of the cover pattern from the paper copy – one in black velvet and one in burgundy velvet.
I then hemmed each of them, and sewed them wrong sides together.

I realised that I had to make holes for the strings, so I made scalloped button holes (from Dillmonte) in gold DMC. I did start off using a metallic gold thread but it was just impossible to use.

While testing the fit of the now double sided cover, I realised that I’d have to sew the edges and make sure that it fit tightly at the folded over edges at each end before I could sew on the embroidered panels. Any slackness, and who knew which way the panels would end up sitting.

I used Sally’s extra strong black thread to sew the ends, and now I had my fitted cover.

I’ve pinned down the front cover panel and now I’m ready to sew it on, as invisibly as possible, which will mean a lot of poking the needle around just underneath the panel.

You can just see the burgundy on the inside edge, as the cover is just a bare millimetre or so taller than the height of the book.

However the angled edges of the cover of the extended back flap (just above and below where the strings come out) are just slightly turned, so you can see some burgundy there. I’ll need to cover it with couched gold thread or some cord.

Embroidered Book Cover – Making the Base Cover I

I’m making the base cover (to sew the embroidered panels onto) according to .

Lady Martel’s Embroidered Bookcover

I cut the paper pattern and it fitted nicely against the book. It was a little tricky with those sloped edges on the back flap but with a bit of paper folding, I worked out how it should go.

I was going to use a maroon thin silky lining material, but I discovered a hole. I switched to a slightly thicker lining material in tea rose.

Also, I noticed the velvet I had was polyester velvet, not silk velvet.

I cut the two pieces, one velvet, one tea rose lining, pinned the edges right sides together and started to sew.

After doing one long side, it all went to hell in a handbasket.

I don’t know if the materials were too slippery and I should have tacked, or I did something else bad – (I dislike practical sewing and there’s a reason!) but rounding the corner I found that the edges didn’t meet anymore. There was heaps of velvet seam allowance, and very little tea rose.

I managed to sew it according to the seam line on the tea rose anyway, thinking it wouldn’t matter if strange things happened with the seam allowance since it’ll all be trimmed anyway.

On finishing, and turning it inside out, I found the cover was several sizes too small. Should have expected that!

So I’m taking a different approach.

I’ve cut another piece of velvet. I’m going to hem it to the right size, just on it’s own.

I’ll then sew the embroidery panels onto it at the appropriate places.

I will then cut the lining material. I’ve decided to go for some penne velvet purple/burgundy. I was thinking that i needed a fairly heavy cover to support the weight of the panels. (as well as to match aestheticaly in a ‘heavy’ sense).

I’ll hem that, and then sew the two pieces, wrong sides together. This will hide any sewing on the back of the black piece from the embroidery panels.

The lining reaches to half way inside the back and front covers, and you sew the edges of these (invisibly as possible) to the lining on the outside of the back and front covers so there’s some tension holding the cover on. (Lady Martel explains it better)

You won’t be able to see the burgundy velvet lining much, unless you actually take the cover off.

I’ll scan as I go along, to hopefully make it all clear.

This is definitely a boring bit – hemming velvet invisibly as possible because I don’t want the stitches to show on the front of the cover.

I have also just joined every SCA Needlwork on-line group that will have me – to suck their braaains!

I found a most interesting thread in the archives of “Thimble” all about “Silk Filament, Twist and a Mystery” I think it was called – quite long, and over a couple of months.

I learnt heaps reading that.

I visited ThreadNeedleStreet for the first time, and was able to appreciate the different types of silk.

Today I hope to make it to the library since there are EIGHT interlibrary loans waiting for me. Books like “The Batsford Book of Canvas” and “16th and 17th C Catalogue of Embroidery” and some Thomasina Beck. I’m going to be a busy reader in the next fortnight :-)

Embroidered Book Cover – Front Panel Finished

The making up of the Front Panel

It’s a little out of square – see the top right. I hope that when I sew it onto the actual book cover I might be able to fix that a little. Other than that, I don’t know what to do. I can’t wet it because of the gold. I’m not that worried about it.

Getting the corners neat, and invisible from the sides and top was a bit of a nightmare. Lots of oversewing.

The difference in the couched gold on the edges – two sides with three threads, the other two with two different threads – didn’t make as much difference as I thought they might, because the hemming has pulled them over to the actual sides a bit (given the panel is a few mm thick). When the panel is sewn onto the cover, it’ll be raised above the velvet cover.

I’ve put in a panel of felt on the back of this panel, so it’s of even thickness (rather than raised edges because of the folded over edges, then thinner in the middle).

I decided not to with the back flap because I decided that it was sufficiently small that it’s not going to make a difference in its’ er, ‘ even raised-ness’.

Now onto making the actual cover, according to Lady Martel’s book cover making instructions (which I put in a post somewhere further down).

I’m doing the lining of the book cover in a maroon lining material (that thin silky stuff?)

Little Decorative Bits for the Completed Cover

As a reminder of what the actual book I’m covering looks like :

See how the back cover extends over the front, and the book is tied shut by strings extending from that back flap. They tied around buttons on the spine (of which you can just see the edges).

If I place the two panels where they are to go …..

and of course there will be the black velvet cover between the panels and the book, to sew the panels onto.

The book cover folds over the edges of the book in order to stay on. ( I have a feeling that a lot of people reading this will be saying ‘oh, is that what she meant by all this front/back flap stuff all this time!! *grin*)

After the construction of the velvet cover, I’m going to have some fun playing with different little things, and making more design decisions! It won’t end up looking entirely like a “Silk and Spangles” book cover from the 16th C though :-). Having the book of a Coptic construction (ie the back flap and spine buttons) is mainly why.

It’s occurred to me that I need

* two new flat “buttons” – On the actual book spine they are of blue leather, but these will be covered by the velvet cover.

I could cut holes in the cover (make buttonholes) so they could poke through but the bright blue leather doesn’t actually go with the book cover and it’s panels.

I need to research how to make these. I’ve read about them, especially in 18th century Embroidery Techniques (book) but I need more on how to *make* them.

* to cover the beads that are on the ends of the strings (purely decoratively).
I found a lovely buttonhole stitch covered button method at

and want to use that. NOT in gold – I have so much gold in the piece, it’s practically made it ‘vulgar’.

Hand made trims (braids) for the edges of the velvet cover also come to mind (like finger looped braids) but I’ll see if the cover needs them when I’ve gotten that far.

Incorporating the existing strings (which are plain white) into braids is another idea. No way would I cut those strings from the cover – they’d have to be incorporated as is. They are actually sewn into the book. (into little blue leather panels – you can see them on the ‘naked’ book)

The front cover did have two lines of black and gold lace sewn to the edges.
I put it on because it reminded me of the bobbin lace of the time.
I took it off because I thought it was excessive.
It may end up going back on again.

It occurs to me that it’s been far too long since I mentioned that this lovely book was made for me by the lovely Meisterin Katarina Helene. Without the book, the project wouldn’t exist.

Embroidered Book Cover – Back Flap Finished


I’ve put the velvet I intend using for the actual book cover behind the back flap panel for the scan.

After trimming, I gently rolled the edges between my fingers, folded them over and sewed them down so the lines of couched gold thread were right on the edges of the panel.

It is now ready to be used. It’s got a bit of 3D’ness about it because the panel has a bit of thickness to it from the folded edges.

I’m thinking about cutting a piece of felt to insert in the middle of the back, to fill the rectangular gap where the edges don’t meet – so the whole panel will be properly raised, rather than just being raised by the folding over of the double layer of material (brocade and muslim) at the edges.

Next is to finish adding gold thread to the front piece, then hemming it in the same way.

I’m very very pleased with how the back flap has turned out. :-)

Someone (I think it was a lady called Margaret) commented the other day that she couldn’t believe that this is my first project.

It isn’t.

If you pull up the posts with the tag “Embroidery” and travel backwards you will see :-

(and I will have have to do something about the specificity of my general “Embroidery” tag now I’ve done a big embroidery project. It was easy keeping the smaller projects all under one tag, but this book cover has resulted in a lot of posts)

* the frontspiece for the book cover (my first experience with Elizabethan work)

* A panel that was originally intended to be for the book cover, but I gave it to a friend who was very ill. I have a second unfinished panel with me, but by the time all this happened I had learnt a lot and decided to start afresh, and change the design to the current one.

It contained some very naively worked raised goldwork (just gold thread sewn over a padding of wool thread) and my first attempts at satin stitch

* a stumpwork poppy, and a

* a stumpwork dragonfly – where I learnt buttonhole stitch, and how to do detached pieces

The other embroidery I have done, which is not shown in my blog is

* one of the smaller of the Jane Nichols stumpwork projects (which I didn’t end up liking)

* a stumpwork piece that was my first – I gave it away and have regretted it ever since

* 1 completed cross-stitch, and 2 uncompleted ones. I have decided that cross-stitch is beyond me. I just don’t enjoy having to keep my place that closely on a pattern.

* around 5 pieces of bargello

* a piece that had the pattern already on the canvas, which I did in tent stitch – a Jacobean tree of Life bell pull. I also have “The Maiden and the Unicorn” and it’s more than half done but I’ve lost the wools, since I’m now talking about 18 years ago.

So I’ve been doing bits and pieces for years. It’s only now that I’m developing a serious interest in it.

Embroidered Book Cover – Spirals

As I’ve been couching, I’ve been revising some of the spiral shapes.

I originally had to draw the design in pen, freehand – because of the nubbiness of the background material. I wish I’d known about the “drawing the design on tissue paper, stitching through, then tearing away the paper” method then. I tried everything else I knew.

Anyway, as I’ve looked at more Elizabethan work over time I decided that I needed to do a few adjustments and re-did much of the couching I’d done the day before.

It does mean that there are a few pen marks showing, but I was reading somewhere recently (and I wish I remember where) that this was quite acceptable historically. And there are a couple of avante-garde spirals in there that cross each other. It’s a fix-it job.

I re-did the leaf in the middle in plain dark olive green satin stitch. It had been multi-coloured and it just wasn’t working. There was too much colour going on, what with the carnations right next to it.

I am only going to use 2 threads of the DMC around the edges, not 3 like I did with the other thread on the frontspiece, because it’s thicker. I’ve just laid them down – I haven’t started couching yet.
I’m awfully awfully close to the edge – I only had a scrap of the brocade left to work with. Playing danger mouse! The couching will re-place the thread slightly, and squish them together, so it won’t end up sitting on top of the elements on the side as it is currently. The thread isn’t secured at the end yet – it’s just pierced through the material at the corners.
I hope doing three sides at once doesn’t end up being a bad idea. I should start at the bottom corner, so I don’t end up with thread with loose tension ‘backing up’.

I’ve been experimenting with using 1, 3 or all 6 strands of the thread as I’ve outlined various elements. The outline of the beaded strawberry is hard to see in the scan – but I think if I made it’s outlining thread any thicker, it’ll dominate the piece.

Traditionally a mellor (metal tool) was used to shape and manipulate the gold thread, because it tarnished from sweat. Since this is imitation gold, I can use my fingernails, and found I have found it necessary to do some shaping, helping the thread go around corners and edges.

I think the prettiest part is the lower right with the ‘lily’ (that’s what I call it), the two small leaves and the beaded strawberry.

After finishing with the gold, I need to spangle, and then go back to finish the gold on the front piece. Then make the actual base book cover in black satin velvet. I am surely weary of struggling with the gold thread atm!

Embroidered Book Cover – Strawberries Finished, and Couching, couching, couching

Top left strawberry : Laid and couched. I really like this technique – it’s textured, but subtle.
I had to do a bit of thinking to see how close to lay the top threads.

Top right : This has a trellis on it. So – the two strawberries do look very different. The tension on the couching isn’t quite right – the lines of the trellis look a bit loose.
Long and Short stitch underneath, in two reds. You can see a bit of a highlight in the top right corner.

Bottom : Detached buttonhole – first attempt. I found this one heck of a lot easier than the trellis stitch. (I’m not going mad, am I? You lay a trellis, but you also do trellis stitch, and they are totally different).
Finding it easier, of course I like it a lot more.

I haven’t done sepals for them. I want to do woven picots, but doing such small woven picots might be a bit of a stretch. I’ll have to experiment. I didn’t want to leave gaps for the sepals at the top of these strawberries when it was my first time dealing with laid & couched, a trellis and detached buttonhole, and I didn’t want to deal with shapes even more non-rectangular than the strawberry shape itself in laying the couching and adding/dropped stitches.

I’ll probably end up doing chain stitch sepals, like I did for the trellis stitch strawberry.

The uneven French knots are gone – I’m thinking about not putting French knots on these 3 at all, to show off the textures of the strawberries.

The Light Effects Stranded gold DMC finally arrived a couple of days ago. I found that it didn’t match what I’d used on the front cover – which was a mysterious thread in a tangle that had lived there for years – but oh well. I can’t go out to match threads.

I have one heck of a lot of couching to do around the outsides of the elements (one on the front cover too, as well as some edging).

The couching really brings out the carnations, and that one has light edges and the other dark.

I’m kind of at a point where design mistakes are really annoying me. The design isn’t traditionally Elizabethan – but I’m just beginning, and also I’m dealing with small areas of a square (the front) and the long rectangle (the back flap). To get proper spirals in, I’d have to do awfully small elements hanging off them, or do partial spirals or something.

But it is my first piece, apart from that sampler I did where I was learning satin stitch.

I have an awful lot of couching to do *grin*. All around the edges 3 times as well as the elements!

Embroidered Book Cover – Laid and Couched Technique

Paula mentioned “laid stitch – (like satin stitch but the thread does not travel across the back of the work)- a crewel embroidery technique.”

and I have confused this with “Laid and Couched Technique” which was used in the Bayeux Tapestry and described at

and in detail

(under the name Refilsaum) in a paper by Racaire of Drachenwald at

I’m using Laid and Couched to get the effect – next to the strawberry with the trellis on top of it, I want to see how different they look

Embroidered Book Cover – Trellis Stitch and the Latest Strawberries

I’ve updated my last entry (A Collection of Strawberries) to update with the stitch suggestions from Paula and Celeste, and a bit more thought about the strawberries.

This is my second attempt at a trellis stitch strawberry.

The tension is just all over the place, as you can see.

I read the instructions provided by The Embroiderer’s Story, (ThistleThreads), and after this attempt, the instructions in the back of Jane Nichol’s Stumpwork book and made a better attempt.

Jane Nichols suggested that silk was best, and I think she is right. The top looked a bit furry by the time I was finished.

I’d been a bit chicken of learning trellis stitch, but it didn’t turn out to be too hard. I don’t know if I’ve gotten the tension correct. The hardest thing was picking up the straight line bits in the row above to add new knots while I was working so small.

I’ve had a bit of fraying of the brocade on the right hand side where the material is made of gold thread. I’ve sewn the edge, and Fray-Stopped all of the edge (which I should have done in the beginning). The 3 strands of DMC might have to be a bit closer on that side that I intended.

Here’s the panel as it appears at the moment :

The trellis stitch strawberry is the leftmost one at the top.

I’ve also done one in the middle (above the beaded one).
That was done in shaded satin stitch, with a lattice laid over the top. And yes, the French Knots sunk in again. I did them between the intersections, as the strawberries spots from the historical pieces were all done (shown in the last entry). Should have done them ON the intersections. I’ll probably take them out and re-do them on the intersections so they don’t sink.

I was thinking with laid stitch – you’d have to do the Knots on the intersections of the base threads, the same as doing them on a lattice, or you’d have the same problem.

Now to watch Mary’s woven picot video, so I can put some on my latticed strawberry :-). I watched the one on making a lattice before.

It’s my birthday in a month and I’ve asked for plants and Amazon vouchers as presents. I’m crossing my fingers and toes that I’ll get enough in vouchers to get :-

18thC Embroidery Techniques – which I have out from the library at the moment, and I just love. The embroidery style isn’t quite me, but the goldwork is! That padding with string thing.

Trish Burr’s Long and Short Stitch – which has heaps heaps more on stitch direction that the Redoute book, and some lovely flowers. I’m going to do two of them for the dreaded “my two best friends who have their birthday’s in the same month” (August), which I think is also a good idea before attempting a Redoute flower.

Country Bumpkin Embroidery Encyclopedia – Mary’s recommendation


Mary Brown’s Embroidery Encyclopedia which I’ve seen highly recommended around the Net.

If there are a squillon dollars I’ve got other books in mind. The Batsford Book of Canvas is coming to me from another library in a few weeks, and I’ll be able to check it out. Funny that I’m getting special permission to have it at home, since it’s kept by the State Library but it only costs $9 to buy from Amazon. I guess it’s because it’s the only copy held by a library in Australia.