Archive visits : National Museums Scotland

The National Museums Collection Centre at Granton, Edinburgh, provides a home for many of the objects and specimens that are not currently on display in the museums which included the textile archive. This includes the original 198 NDS items gifted to the then ‘Royal Scottish Museum’ in 1961/62 under the care of assistant keeper of Art and Archeology Revel Oddy.  Having studied correspondence between Revel Oddy and Colin Martin, the then director of J&P Coats, regarding the gift of the NDS pieces to the museums, and having read about many of the individuals involved in the scheme alongside reproductions of specific pieces, e.g. Susan Riley’s machine embroidered The 3 Kings in NDS publications, the anticipation of the visit was particularly exciting at this point in the project.

Care and conservation of textile archive

Studying the care and conservation of textiles at the NMS collections center was also an important aspect of the visit to help us all in making further plans for the re-housing of our collection at ECA.  Lisa Mason guided us through the current housing arrangements for the NMS huge textile collection which includes garments, accessories, curtains and framed pieces.  As well as picking up hints on packing in Tyvek bags, acid free tissue and conservation grade mounts, we also discussed storage boxes.  As well as clever ties for joints, to my particular delight we were introduced to boxes constructed using a glue gun, safe “as long as the glue does not come into contact with the textile itself”

Framed pieces are wrapped in tyvek and stored upright on shelved racks.  Photographic reference tied on with conservation grade cotton tape help with quick identification


Labelled identification with accession numbers


smaller items stacked in boxes within drawers.


Viewing selections from the NDS archive collection

A selection of pieces chosen from the NMS’ NDS collection for their significance and complimentary to the collection held in the University collection were out on display of us to study in detail.  Typical of its era and always popular with the NDS, a  Winsome Douglass piece can never go amiss for its design detail and superlative execution.

Winsome Douglass trinket box, 1954. diameter 9.5 inches (24 cm)


…..and of course the detail on the back of the Winsome Douglass box

There were many highlights to the pieces selected for study from this textile archive, however the star attraction had to be Susan Riley’s 3 Kings.

This piece demonstrates her command of the medium.  The image features on the front cover of Embroideries from Needlework Development Scheme, published in 1965 as a catalogue of the collection gifted to the museums in 1961.  More digging needs to be done as there are 213 items in this catalogue but only 198 listed as having been gifted to the Royal Scottish Museum in the NDS list of 1961. This research project keeps uncovering more twists and turns of this fascinating story.

selection of NDS pamphlets including the Royal Scottish Museum catalogue

Detail of machine embroidered piece by Susan Riley. Height 61.5 inches, width 41.5 inches

Close up detail of machine embroidery on Susan Riley piece above.

Other community groups working on this project over the next few months will be making similar visits to the Collections Centre to see these pieces at close hand for themselves.

Grateful thanks to Lisa Mason, Georgina Ripley and Emily Taylor for facilitating our visit.


Archives visits: Centre for research collections, Edinburgh University


Putting our textiles archives into context, through group visits to study associated items and material.  Follow the story on :-

instagram @embroiderednds and #embroideredstories

University of Edinburgh, main library George Square (on a very sunny day!)

The University of Edinburgh library houses the Centre for research Collections (CRC) on the 6th floor of this vast building.

The CRC is the only place in the UK where researchers can access material from across collection types, from medieval manuscripts to contemporary art. This unique combination of collections make the CRC an invaluable resource for teaching within the University, and attracts researchers from around the world.

The workshop was specifically targeted at introducing some historic background of the Needlework Development Scheme and our textiles archives to the volunteer group through handling objects directly associated with the scheme itself.  These included books, pamphlets and most interestingly the original NDS file of correspondence held in the archives of Edinburgh College of Art which covered the 1940s to 1960s.  The intention was to help put the samples of our textiles archive in context as part of a story in the history of textile education, the history of art and design education, and to begin to understand a little more about the people involved in the scheme through the written accounts and correspondence.

Archivist Rachel Hosker, self confessed addict of rummaging through “old stuff” introduced the group to the activities of CRC, welcoming everyone to get stuck in to exploring the materials selected for the session.  These included: –

¨Edinburgh College of Art Press cuttings books from 1920s-1960s

¨NDS correspondence file

¨NDS publications and books from the collection containing examples of NDS pieces

V &A publication linking embroidery education and the V&A’s circulation collections

Enid Mason books containing examples Enid had embroidered specifically for the NDS collections

As well as establishing links between the items and the embroidered samples within our own collection here in Edinburgh, volunteers were encouraged to search for any mention of The NDS and associated activities in the press cuttings books.

Exhibitions appear to have been a fairly regular occurrence with invitations of dignitaries to open exhibitions and private views set between 3pm and 6.

The Evening News reporting the opening of an exhibition of NDS pieces by The Countess of Elgin

The introduction of colour slides as a teaching aid was a great technological advancement and appeared to cause great excitement.

Stitch study sessions: sample analysis workshops


Analysis of mid 20th century printed and embroidered curtain.

Understanding the stitch content of our samples will help us to use the pieces more effectively as a teaching tool.  A group of volunteers from The Embroiderers Guild, The Thistle Quilters and amateur experts not affiliated with specific groups, gathered for an afternoon session at Edinburgh College of Art to begin this huge task.  The goal is to identify all of the stitches in each the samples and develop a stitch matrix for the full collection.  This will eventually be embedded in our future website along with stitching videos.  Armed with magnifying glasses and our favourite embroidery stitches books we began in earnest.

Stitch books recommendations include:

  • Butler A, The Arco Encyclopedia od Embroidery stitches, Arco (1979)
  • Coats, J&P Ltd, 100 embroidery stitches , Coats publications ltd. (1981)
  • Snook, B. Embroidery stitches, Batsford (1981)
  • Thomas, M. Mary Thomas’s dictionaly of embroidery stitches,, Hodder and Staughton Ltd, (1974)

The stitch challenge that pushed everyone to the brink was diagnosed as a knotted buttonhole.  Check this out on our instagram feed….@embroiderednds.  Still slightly unconvinced, one of the team went off home and through further investigation decided its not simply a knotted buttonhole but a buttonhole with picot.  There is a subtle difference!

Winsome Douglass cushion cover (detail) mid 20th century, with stitched marked as identified

The jacobean piece which is part of a bed hanging is being analysed in sections due to the large number of stitches involved.

Jacobean piece, originally part of large bed hanging, in crewel embroidery traditionally worked in wool.

Stem stitch commonly used throughout

We are off to visit the centre for research collections at the University Edinburgh  library next week to look at the correspondence and publications relating to The Needlework development scheme (NDS) who gifted these samples to Edinburgh College of Art back in 1961, amongst other institutions and organisations who agreed to use them for loan and teaching purposes.  This will be followed by a visit to The National Museum of Scotland (NMS) collections centre down in Granton, where we will be looking at some of the examples of NDS pieces gifted to the NMS.

Volunteers still welcome.  email us at

Embroidery heritage: conservation and inspiration


Embroidery is at the heart of this blog, which  will follow the journey of a heritage lottery funded project with Edinburgh University researcher Lindy Richardson and research assistant Nikkita Morgan.

check out our other blog at for more information on the foundations to this project

Whitework embroidery on very fine organza, 19th century, approx 18cm in diameter

The University of Edinburgh’s Needlework Development Collection (NDS) is a unique group of 17-20th century textiles gifted to ECA in 1961.   This historic teaching aid, was intended to incite interest in needlework and improve design standards; a legacy is still relevant today.  The embroideries now require specialist conservation methods to enable safe handling as an accessible collection for the 21st century and beyond.

Goldwork, Beryl Dean, mid 20th century, approx 10x20cm

This project will embrace a range of groups within our Community which will include: –

The Embroiderers Guild and Thistle Quilters plus amateur experts in embroidery

The welcoming, an organisation who work specifically with refugees and migrants

Scottish Prison Service,  both women and men’s groups.

ACES, (Access to Creative Education in Scotland) is a project which provides encouragement and advice for students who may be under-represented in universities and who are considering applying to art and design based courses.


Together will be:

ŸSafely re-mount the precious embroidery samples for future use

ŸAll participants will stitch their individual stories using a range of embroidery techniques.

An exhibition of the re-mounted historic pieces, the stitched stories of the participants and associated NDS archival letters and publications will be displayed at the end of the year in Edinburgh College of Art.  Live demonstration of embroidery will also accompany the exhibition.

We are very excited to be working with such a broad demographic and sharing both the wonderful collection of embroidery in our University collection,  and our passion for this creative technique.

You can also follow us on instagram @embroiderednds 

Contact us at