W, Whitework

Object name


Date made

Circa 2007

Place made


Four-paged booklet illustrating whitework techniques and motifs starting with the letter 'W'. Part of a 34-part embroidered alphabet made by Dr Isabel Elliott and completed in 2007.

Content description

This is a four-sided book worked in whitework techniques and featuring motifs beginning with the letter 'W'. The first panel, on the left, chevron needlelace ground over a navy fabric, which has water lilies worked on it with petals each in a different style of pulled and drawn thread needlelace. Techniques used include single faggot stitch, woven bars, large eyelets, satin stitch, buttonhole corners, overcast borders, chain stitch, and back stitch. All stitches are worked in white cotton thread. The inner right cover is worked on a white cotton lawn ground over a green polyester textile. At the centre of the panel is a cursive letter 'W' ending in leaves worked mostly in satin stitch with complex pulled thread gridded filling motifs. The panel is bordered on all sides by a pulled thread frame with woven wheel corners and woven bars in the corners, with knotted borders and wrapped bars on the sides.

The left-hand panel on the other side is worked almost entirely in long and short and satin stitches in white wool and silk threads of varying textures and shines, forming a contoured swirling pattern that is meant to resemble water. Cutting through these is an appliquéd swathe of grey linen worked using cutwork techniques over a green cotton. The cutwork represents a spiderweb and is worked using buttonhole stitches, wrapped bars, and twisted threads drawn towards the centre. At the centre is a woven wheel.

The final panel has a green silk ground, with five appliquéd embroidery samples with flowers. The embroidery is entirely worked in white cotton. One is oval, with a pale green ground under a loose white net and edged in overcast stitch in cotton thread. On the oval is a windflower (also called an anemone) embroidered all in white with appliquéd white petals framed in overcast stitch and a stamen of French knots clustered around a buttonhole wheel. The stem is embroidered in several close lines of stem stitch and the leaves in filling stitches, which are running stitches woven through the net or lines of stem stitch woven through the net. Another appliqué patch is square with a scalloped edge stabilised with buttonhole stitch, in white with white embroidery of woody nightshade using cutwork edged in overcast stitch and padded satin stitch. The other three appliqué patches are square. One is in a fine white gauze with a whipped edge pulled tight to resemble small picots, and flowers, possibly wood sorrel, made from back stitches and running stitches which have been laced behind the mesh to create shadow work. Another square, in cotton lawn, has a slip stitched edge with a pulled thread border and five clovers in white satin stitch. The last appliqué patch is on a likely machine-made finely lattice structured ground with a corded edge, with winter aconite worked in clustered French knots, lines of stem stitch, and chain stitch with needle woven and needlelace sections.

This booklet is one of 34 parts of an embroidered alphabet made by Dr Isabel Elliott and completed in 2007. Elliott embroidered a large box which houses 32 four-sided booklets. Each booklet focuses one on letter of the alphabet and embroidery technique whose first letter matches that letter of the alphabet (A for appliqué, B for blackwork, etc.). Some letters have multiple booklets due to having multiple techniques. This large and impressive group of objects was made by Dr Isabel Margaret Elliott (1931-2016). She received her PhD from Cambridge in 1958 and became a paleobotanist at the Natural History Museum in London. It is clear that her love of science and the natural world influenced her embroidery. When she married her husband, Isabel was made to leave her job (as the Natural History Museum was then part of the civil service and married women were not allowed to be part of the civil service). She began to attend classes at the RSN after meeting a woman embroidering for a class run by that organisation. After the RSN she joined the Embroiderers' Guild. She became a Life Member of the Guild and gained her City & Guilds, which enabled her to teach. She was Mistress of Embroidery at Gloucester Cathedral and was a travelling tutor throughout the UK. Elliott produced an immense amount of embroidery, much of which is available to view at


width: 61cm
height: 23cm





Credit line

Gift of Susan Perkes, 2019.

Catalogue number


Other numbers

RSN 2296

Web references

© Royal School of Needlework