B, Blackwork

Object name


Date made

Circa 2007

Place made


Four-paged booklet illustrating blackwork and motifs starting with the letter 'B'. 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 blackwork and featuring motifs beginning with the letter 'B'. The first page, on the left, shows a barn owl worked in blackwork in shades of grey cotton thread on a grey linen ground. Patterns include tulip, lozenge, interlocking Y. Five bees are on the top right side of page worked in double running stitches on a translucent mesh in black cotton. The bottom right-hand motif is a blackwork badger worked in black and white cotton thread. Patterns include open zigzag, buttonhole stitch for the nose, and satin stitch for the eyes. The badger and bees sit on a white cotton ground.

The opposite page shows a 'B' worked in double running or back stitches in a blue cotton thread on white cotton. The B and the border include patterns of fans, Celtic knots, acorns, eight-petalled flowers, curlicues, pomegranates, and snails. It is clear that these patterns have been inspired by early modern embroidered imagery. On the left-hand side is a border with motifs of birds and butterflies worked in the same blue cotton thread. On the right hand side is a bee worked in brown cotton thread of various thicknesses, wool thread, and gold thread. The patterns on the bee include honeycomb and zigzag. The gold cotton thread is worked in cross stitches. In the bottom right-hand corner is a 'B' and a minuscule snail.

The centre two pages show samples of blackwork patterns, all worked in dark blue cotton thread on a light blue linen ground. The standalone motifs, which are geometric and floral, resemble blackwork samplers of centuries passed. They are all worked in double running or back stitches.

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