The Collection

collection1.jpgThe Guild has a magnificent collection of embroidery dating from Coptic times to 2015, items from which are often loaned to museums and art galleries.

The History of the Collection

The collection started from humble beginnings. Embroideries, photographs, articles on embroidery and original designs were accumulated for the purpose of distribution, in boxes to members. They were called ‘Model Boxes’. They were the forerunners of present day folios used by members and Guild branches for study, inspiration and learning.

collection2.jpgThe collection received a substantial boost when our then Patron, Queen Mary, made a significant donation of a wide range of pieces. This, coupled with increasing numbers of pieces being donated by members, formed the basis of the collection we have today. In 1935, 15 pieces of historic embroidery were bequeathed by Lady Mary Cayley, including some of our 17th century pieces.

collection3.jpgOver the years the collection has been stored in a number of locations including Hampton Court Palace and before that in Wimpole Street, London and, during WW2, many pieces were moved to the relative safety of members’ homes.


The Collection Today

Today, there are c.11,000 catalogued items in the Collection. It is an exciting record of embroidery from the 16th century onwards and is worldwide in its content from Britain through Europe to Asia and beyond. Ranging in date from Coptic times to the present day and gathered from around the world, these embroideries give insight into how embroidery has been made and used in the past and present cultures around the globe. Catalogued items also include designs, threads and needlework tools.

Our earliest pieces are Coptic fragments, preserved in the dry and sandy conditions of their owners' graves. These are actually woven rather than embroidered but of tremendous interest and value to the collection.

Stitches and techniques from around the World and throughout the centuries are to be found within the collection. From raised work and metal thread in the 17th century, crewel work and silk embroidery from the 18th century to woolwork of the 19th century and contemporary techniques from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Included in the collection you willl find exquisite Ayrshire work, flamboyant silk work, beautiful lace and precisely made petit point pictures. Beetle win and fish scale embroidery can be found alongside Wessex stitchery and Dorset feather stitchery. Paper, felt, plastics and synthetic fabrics are a feature of 20th and 21st century embroidery.

The criteria for a piece to be part of the collection is that embroidery should be a significant feature, in the best possible condition and well executed.



Cataloguing and Storage

The catalogue is stored on computer software Adlib, including a photograph of every piece, a description and its provenance where it is known. We also record exhibitions and documentation for each piece and its location. An accession number is allocated to each piece which is recorded in an accession register, together with a brief description, date of acquisition and how the piece has arrived in the collection. The accession number is written on a label stitched to each piece.

Most pieces are stored in acid free tissue in conservation grade boxes. Framed pieces are contained in calico bags and stored on racks and large soft hangings are rolled around cardboard tubes and stored on the top of the racks.

The collection is colour coded for major categories. A chart indicates the colour of each category and a disc in the appropriate colour is attached to each box. Also on the outside of the box is a label, listing the major contents and within each box is a detailed list, including accession number, which can be used to access the catalogue for further information. A system like this allows access to the collection for members.

The collection is currently stored at the Bucks County Museum Resource Centre in Halton, Bucks. From 1st July 2017 there will be an exhibition featuring many items from the Collection in the main galleries of Bucks County Museum which will run until the end of October 2017. Thereafter the Embroiderers' Guild Beryl Dean Gallery will be prepared and should be ready for visitors from January 2018 with a permanent display of some of the Collection's important pieces. The display will change from time to time so that many pieces from the Collection may be exhibited. The Gallery will be available to Guild Members, Branches and the general public during normal Museum opening hours. However if Embroiderers' Guild branches wish to visit both the Museum and the Resource centre they should make a booking by emailing There will be no charge for the combined visit. Parties of up to 30 can be accommodated on any weekday and Saturday by arrangement. As part of the visit to the Resource Centre members may wish to see something of the Bucks County Textiles and Costumes Collection. If they wish to, there will be a small charge to cover the cost of Bucks County Museum staff being present for the visit. The charge will be £10 per head. Please see the webpage Aylesbury Gallery for more information.

The Story of the Collection

The talk and slide show "Story of the Collection", presented by one of a number of Embroiderers' Guild members who have volunteered to give the talk, is available for Embroiderers' Guild Branches to book for one of their meetings. For more information please see the Story of the Collection webpage (you will need to log in). Please email to make your booking.

Footer Break Line