Wessex Embroidery

Margaret Foster lived in Bath, England. Many famous people have lived and worked in Bath. Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806. "Bath has always been an extravagant arty city producing some great works from poets, architects, designers, artists, musicians and actors. And it continues to stage yearly events like the Fringe Festival and the world famous Bath International Music Festival." http://www.cityofbath.co.uk/ The early kingdom was called Wessex with its beginning in the 6th century. Margaret called her creation "stitchery" rather than "embroidery" and it became known as "Wessex Stitchery" because this was the region she resided in.

There is a very limited amount of information available about Margaret. She was born in 1843 and continued stitching well into her 90’s! In 1934, when she was at least 90, there was a major exhibit of her work at the Medici Gallery. The exhibition consisted of 300 pieces of work with no two pieces alike! Her work was featured at several exhibitions especially in the 1930’s. At that time there were several articles written about her in magazines and newspapers. It is from these articles and gallery catalogs that we learn about her stitching and philosophy. This information has been compiled into a wonderful book "Wessex Stitchery (155-328-0001)".

A couple of things caught my attention as I read about her: She loved color and wasn’t afraid to use it in her designs. She was not fond of the stamped work being done at that time and so she went her own way! Also, the backs of her work were not neat and she carried thread across the back between motifs. (Ah, she is a woman after my own heart!) Okay, I am not approving this method of stitching; but let’s face it, some of us (ME!) will never have the patience to make the backs of our pieces look as nice as the fronts.



Because this is a considered to be a counted thread technique, you will need an even weave fabric. One nice aspect of this technique is that you can use an 18 or 20-count fabric, especially when you are learning. As you get into more complex designs, you will want to use a 32-count fabric.


You can probably start stitching straight from your stash. Stranded and pearl cottons work great, but you can also try other threads so you have a variety of finishes.


You will want to use a tapestry needle. The size will depend on the thread you are using.

Frames and Hoops

It is important to keep a consistent tension on your fabric to avoid pulling and puckering. Use a frame or hoop that you are comfortable with and will fit the size of your project.


This is a tool you might not have in your workbasket. It comes in very handy as there are times you will need to enlarge a space so that the required threads will go through. Here are two examples Rosewood Stiletto/Laying Tool (6737) and Stiletto/Laying Tool with Wooden Handle (380-693-7918).

Notebook and Pencil

Margaret Foster said that designs can come about without any planning, evolving from the stitches. So, be prepared to document your own patterns and designs as they evolve. Here is a Graph Book with just graph paper (390-975-0011) and The Needleworker’s Journal has both blank pages and graph paper (6663).

So, my dilemma is how do I show you Wessex Stitchery when there are so many variations? Basically, the designs start from a handful of stitches you probably already know. Let’s review those stitches.

Fly-Stitch »

Chain Stitch »

Margaret used the chain stitch in many creative ways including short and long tails.

Herringbone »

The link above is an example of how the herringbone is worked with several rows or columns.

This stitch is a quick way to cover a lot of area. Here are two variations of the Herringbone stitch.

Algerian eyelet »

(Margaret called it the overcast square)

You can shape the eyelet into a square or more round shape depending on were you place your diagonal stitches.

Straight Stitch »

Antwerp Knotted Buttonhole Stitch »

We just talked about this stitch in the Hardanger Edgings newsletter.

Buttonhole »

Margaret used the buttonhole stitch around the edges of her piece, and as a weaving stitch on top of other stitches (example below).

Spider web »

Creating the Design elements

The concept behind Wessex Stitchery is to take those few basic stitches, overlap them, intermingle them, layer them, and combine them to create fabulous designs. Many of the designs are geometric in shape and remind me a lot of the view at the end of a kaleidoscope. Margaret also used her garden and nature for inspiration so there are repeating flower motifs that are combined in such a way to create a bed of flowers. Some of her designs look like delicate Blackwork, while others have so many stitches in one area that they are packed "solid".

Here are a couple of examples of ways in which you can combine stitches to create new elements.

Overlapping Chain Stitches

Group the chain stitches in such a way that you can weave the tails together or do some needleweaving between the tails of several long chain stitches.

This is a stitch that really points out how Margaret combined stitches in unique ways. This stitch is composed of straight stitches with couched corners, one round of wrapping among the spokes, and then buttonhole stitch using the wrapped.

The best way to get more familiar with this technique is to purchase the Wessex Stitchery book (155-328-0001). I have tried to combine several of the stitches into a bookmark sampler of sorts. The colors are bright, the design elements pretty simple. I did create one of the "packed" motifs in the center. The design morphed a bit after I started it and I moved the eyelets out six threads towards the edge and added the green Blackwork-like stems to create "flowers". That’s when I found out I was not perfectly centered on my bookmark!

Download the FREE PATTERN »

There will be a class taught on Wessex Stitchery at our 2012 A Stitch in Time Retreat.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

2 thoughts on “Wessex Embroidery

  1. I would like to request that someone who owns the book “Wessex Stitchery: A Rich Blending of Colour Stitch and Script Inspired by the Creativity of a Victorian Gentlewoman” please upload it online page by page to Project Gutenberg. It is now basically impossible to buy this book. Prices start at over $100 and go to over $300. I think Project Gutenberg would be appropriate but maybe someone knows a better place to download it so it may be read by all. Thank you very much.

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