The international centre of excellence for hand embroidery, steeped in history with unrivalled expertise.
The highly skilled team create beautiful bespoke commissions for the future as well as restore historical textiles and bring heirlooms back to life. Customers come from all over the world, including fashion designers, places of worship, private individuals and the Royal Family. The RSN’s close links with royalty started when it was founded and still continue today with Her Majesty The Queen as Patron.
1875 - Received its royal prefex when Queen Victoria became the first Patron
1880 - Published the Handbook of Embroidery, a key influence in the art of needlework, and still in publication today
1902 - Made Coronation regalia for Edward VII
1902 - Embroidered a dress for the House of Worth
1910 - Made Coronation regalia for King George V
1935 - Embroidered the trousseau for the Duchess of Gloucester
1953 - Made the Robe of State for Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II for which the RSN was awarded a Coronation medal
1981 - Embroidered slippers for HRH The Prince of Wales and a monogrammed lace pillow for Lady Diana Spencer on the occasion of their wedding
2011 - Worked for Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen on HRH The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress
2013 - Embroidered the Red Carpet Green Dress worn by actress Naomie Harris at the Oscars
2014 - RSN Degree students collaborated with E. Tautz menswear for Autumn/Winter 2014 Collection with embroidered shirts, ties, badges and bomber jacket
2015 - Collaboration with Nicholas Oakwell Couture. Hand embellishment for a couture dress and designed exclusively for GREAT Britain Campaign launched in Shanghai
The team for this project comprised RSN Studio stitchers, former staff, tutors, graduates and current students. Hands were washed every 30 minutes to keep the lace and threads pristine; needles were renewed every 3 hours and only short lengths of thread were used, each no longer than 30cm. To maintain an even appearance, no securing knots were used and it was important that the back of the work looked as neat as the front, another RSN hallmark.
Chief Executive of the Royal School of Needlework, Dr Susan Kay-Williams says: ‘We were absolutely delighted to be called upon to work on this unique and eagerly-awaited commission. Our involvement with such a very special event continued our long tradition of work for royal occasions.”
Using a selection of vintage gold threads, beads and sequins the RSN spent some 680 hours using traditional stitching skills to interpret Michael’s concept in a contemporary way. All embroidery was done by hand at Hampton Court Palace which delivered a major reduction of carbon footprint and showcased the importance of hand embroidery as a sustainable art form.
The design was based on ‘volcanic lava’ which lent itself well to using Goldwork embroidery. Goldwork is an ancient technique associated with ceremonial pieces and uses a variety of gold and other metal threads. Beads, sequins and gold foil were added to give texture, depth and to catch the light.
Working with E.Tautz Creative Director Patrick Grant, his Design team and Degree staff, students were given the autonomy to develop individual responses to the E.Tautz design brief. Following original designs supplied by E.Tautz and colour palettes developed between the design team and academic staff, each student was then able to apply their knowledge of design and embroidery towards the creation of each motif and its placement on the garment.
The students worked directly on key pieces for the collection including two shirts, a waistcoat and a contemporary twist on the classic biker jacket. Every motif, letter and symbol was a bespoke creation designed for each of the specific garments within the Collection.
The project took over 300 hours to complete and contributed to the students’ professional development and portfolio.
LES PETITES MAINS
The team stitched between three and 12 groups of feather fronds at a time onto 25 dress panels over a period of six weeks. Following the Haute Couture tradition of 'les petites mains' (which literally means “small hands”), the RSN embroiderers collectively brought this Haute Couture creation to life.
THE DEGRADE EFFECT
The expert team hand stitched separate fronds of ostrich feathers to the layers of delicate silk organza. The ostrich feathers (sourced from a British farm), coloured in 18 hand-dyed shades were stitched following an intricate grid design to create a ‘degradé’ effect in colour and density.
THE FINISHED DRESS
The dress was proudly worn by singer and television personality Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the 2015 X Factor UK final. The “Best of British” theme was the perfect event to showcase the beauty of the GREAT Britain Dress.
Nicholas Oakwell said: “I wanted it to make a big impact, so volume and colour became the starting point for my design. I also wanted it to involve as much of the British couture industry as possible, from the creation of the dress to its presentation. This was an opportunity to highlight some of the amazing companies and organisations in Britain working in the industry and it was my chance to work with them.”
As a registered charity, the Royal School of Needlework relies on the generosity of individuals, companies and trusts to continue teaching the traditional skills of hand embroidery and ensure these techniques are passed onto future generations. For more information, please visit www.royal-needlework.org.uk or call +44 (0)20 3166 6932.
This online exhibit was created by the British Fashion Council in collaboration with the Royal School of Needlework. All models and photographers have been credited where known. All rights belong to the Royal School of Needlework unless otherwise stated.