Wednesday 12 June 2013

Samplers and Stitches: Mrs Grace Archibald Christie

'Without stitches there could be no art of embroidery. They are the means by which ideas and memories of pleasant things can be pictured upon fabrics'.

The words of Grace Christie, who wrote as Mrs Archibald Christie. I had another 'find' this week! I popped into our local Oxfam bookshop and there was a 5th edition (1950) of her 'Samplers and Stitches! Now this is an embroidery book I have coveted for years,  but never managed to get hold of. It was printed right up to the 1980's and is available on-line on the Internet Archive,  but for me - well, digital copies are just no substitute for the real thing. 

Grace is one of my embroidery heroines. She began her career as a painter at the Slade School of Art in London and then, despite not having a background in textiles, became the first instructor of embroidery at the Royal College of Art from 1909 to 1921. She wrote a number of embroidery books and  'Samplers and Stitches' was originally written  in 1920. Now, as far as the technical aspects of the book go, Mary Corbet  has a great review on the brilliant Needle 'n' Thread. I'm approaching it from a slightly different angle.

To me this book is just art and pleasure intertwined.

Here's the new coloured frontispiece which was added in the 1947 edition.

I love it not only because it describes and catalogues the stitches so well, but because Grace Christie was a simply marvellous illustrator,  and writes in such an enthusiastic and engaging way about her subject.

I've got to say Grace's perception of embroidery comes after my own:

'A stitch should be chosen for use because it expresses perfectly the subject to be embroidered. Perfect expression is not attained by absolute imitation : it is a mistake in embroidery, as in all decorative art, to be realistic. To absorb and transform the real is the true function of art. '

Her instructions are so clear and explain exactly what you need to do, and they're perfectly supported by the excellent black and white illustrations. Instead of using boring old lines, Grace used small motifs to demonstrate the versatility of the stitches.

' The technique of embroidery, rather than being disguised, needs emphasising, for rightly chosen and used it has much intrinsic value. Stitches, apart from what they express, possess qualities such as beauty of form, ingenuity and mystery, for they are sometimes curiously wrought and in this there is charm.'


Here's a famous piece which is in the V&A collection. Fantastic portrayal of harvest mice in trellis stitch; so charming and beautifully executed!

Grace completes every chapter with one of these wonderful little characters, each with it's own stitching 'theme'.

Aren't they fabulous? I feel she must have had a great sense of humour, and a love of nature, as many of her designs include birds and animals.. I'm guessing she may have influenced Lalla Ward's wonderful Countryside Embroidery Book, which encouraged me to begin designing my own embroideries all those years ago. How I wish I'd taken photos of all those I gave as gifts now!


But - I digress  ( I just love that expression!)  while browsing through the book I found the original publisher's card circa 1950 from Batsford Press  nestling between the pages where it's obviously been for over 60 years!

Here are yet more whimsical creatures, this time created by pattern darning.

And illustrated again at chapter end.

I am  very grateful to whoever donated this book and made my week. If you love embroidery and you have the opportunity to get a copy, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.x


  1. I can tell you are over the moon with your book purchase, looks so interesting, one I have not come across myself.

  2. It sounds like a book one could read, and not simply refer to, with such vivid writing!

  3. How fortunate you are to have found such a treasure! I love vintage books too ;)

  4. Your book looks fascinating, a little treasure!

  5. So happy to find your blog, i love embroidery :)

  6. Lovely! I am trying to research Grace Christie and I was wondering how you found out the biographical details about her? It would be wonderful if you could email me

  7. A full account of her life and achievement: COATSWORTH, Elizabeth (2014). ' 'A formidable undertaking.' Mrs. A.G.I. Christie and English medieval embroidery,' in: Robin Netherton and Gale Owen-Crocker (eds.), Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol. 10, pp. 165-194.

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  10. Grace Christie is a well known name in the field of embroidery digitizing. She was a great designer and artist and her book was an awesome read for newbies. Thank you very much....


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