Cushion cover

Object name


Date made

Late 19th century

Place made


Late 19th-century blackwork cushion cover designed at the Royal School of Art Needlework (now called the Royal School of Needlework) in an Elizabethan or Jacobean style with coiling stems (rinceaux), flowers, fruit, insects, and birds.

Content description

This square cushion cover, worked in brown silk threads on an unbleached linen ground with a matching fringe on all sides, features an Elizabethan or Jacobean-inspired design of scrolling vines, flora, and fauna. The object has a repeating pattern centring on rinceaux, scrolling stems. Rinceaux were a common feature on blackwork and polychrome embroidery at the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century. From the rinceaux grow pomegranates, roses, pea pods, buds, and leaves. Birds, butterflies, and moths sit on the stems. The back of the cushion is entirely plain. The cushion cover is worked in heavy chain, stem, seeding, and blanket stitches.

The design for this piece was taken from a circa 1600-1625 waistcoat now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (accession number T.4-1935). It was loaned by Sir Charles Isham to the 1873 Special Loan Exhibition of Decorative Art Needlework, hosted by the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum) at the behest of the Royal School of Art Needlework (later the Royal School of Needlework). Lady Victoria Welby, the founder of the School of Art Needlework, arranged with several of the exhibition's lenders that their objects could be studied by the women of the school. Isham's waistcoat was one such object. The school began to make replicas of historical needlework and to undertake professional restoration work in 1873, and this is likely a relatively early example of one such interpretation of a historical item. There is an extant wall hanging that is partially worked and now in a private collection which was likely a part of the same order. The quality of the stitching suggests the pieces were designed at the Royal School of Art Needlework and stitched by a domestic embroiderer. This information has been generously shared by Dr Lynn Hulse.

The same design appears on page 27 of a 1930s book called Traditional Embroidery, published by Penelope in collaboration with the Royal School of Needlework. The book includes designs by the Royal School of Needlework inspired by historical embroidery and was published likely sometime between 1932 and 1939. In it is an introduction by Lady Smith-Dorrien, Principal of the Royal School of Needlework beginning in 1932. The inclusion of this design in a book produced approximately six decades after its original production perhaps suggests it was a long-time favourite.


width: 58cm
height: 57cm





Credit line

Gift of Paul Reeves, 2005.

Catalogue number


Other numbers

RSN 1305
© Royal School of Needlework