Z, Still Stitching

Object name


Date made

Circa 2007

Place made


Four-paged booklet illustrating a variety of embroidery motifs and motifs starting with the letter 'Z'. 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 a variety of embroidery techniques and featuring motifs beginning with the letter 'Z'. The majority of the booklet features the 12 signs of the Zodiac. The first page, on the left, shows a Zantedeschia Aethiopica, also known as a calla lily or arum lily, and the letter 'Z'. The letter and lily are worked on a light green silk with silk, cotton, and wool threads in white, yellow, green, and purple. The stem of the lily is raised stem band stitch and the flower is embellished with a variety of stitches including trellis, honeycomb darning, back-stitched chain, stem, and Florentine. The leaf is edged with buttonhole stitch with a chain stitch central vein. The veins of the leaf, which is made out of green linen, are worked in drawn thread techniques. These include diagonal hem stitch, chain stitch (drawn thread), and ladder hem stitch. The Z is edged with a double strand of gold twist that has been couched down. The letter itself is worked over padding in raised stem band stitches.

The opposite page has a blue suede ground appliquéd over four roundels. The top left roundel shows the Zodiac sign Aquarius pouring water from two pitchers, worked on sparkling green synthetic fabric with green and blue silk and cotton surface embroidery in stem, chain, back, buttonhole, and back-stitched chain stitches. The top right roundel has three fish indicating the sign of Pisces, worked in teal cotton thread in blackwork stitches on a cream linen even weave fabric. Stitches include back, double running, and satin (for the fish eyes). The ground has been adorned with honeycomb darning. The bottom left roundel is a ram motif representing the sign Aries, worked in canvas stitches on even weave linen. The ram has uses gold and cream-toned silk threads in Byzantine stitch, cashmere stitch, pavilion stitch, mosaic stitch, small cross stitch, and surface buttonhole stitch for the horns. The background sky is in an open darning stitch worked in straight and zigzag lines in pale blue cotton, while the grass is green darning stitch in a brick pattern above a horizontal version of Byzantine stitch. The bottom right roundel is a bull representing Taurus. The grass is worked in green chain stitch in silk and the sky background is stem stitch in cotton. The bulk of the bull's body is worked in chain stitch, his hooves in satin stitch, and his horns in French knots and a metallic raised chain.

The left-hand inner page page has a ground of taupe suede. The top left roundel has twins representing Gemini. The background is a fine, pale green taffeta with a sand-coloured mesh secured with shadow worked double back stitch. The two figures are appliquéd flesh coloured synthetic fabric with details picked out in back stitch. The hair is worked in gold stem stitch in cotton. The top right roundel is a lobster-like creature, representing Cancer, on a pale pink silk ground with fine blue cotton thread couching to create watery stripes. The lobster, worked in pink cotton thread, is bordered with cable chain stitch and stem stitch for the antennae. The limbs are buttonhole stitch and the body is scattered with French knots. The eyes are large eyelets. The bottom left roundel has a gold lion representing Leo on a dark green brocaded silk background. The body of the lion is copper-coloured leather with a couched metallic thread edging. The mane and tail are worked in brown and metallic copper chain stitch and there is a bead for his eye. The bottom right roundel represents Virgo. The yellow linen background has a small straight stitch motif worked to represent crops growing in the field and there is a bushel of corn with stems of couched gold thread and ears of chain stitch. The figure has a blue appliquéd dress with details picked out in blue back stitch and gold chain stitch around the waist. Her hair is yellow chain stitch and her face is a padded slip with details picked out in pink thread. She holds a sickle with a raised satin stitch handle and a stem stitch blade.

The final page also has a background of taupe suede and four roundels. The top left roundel has balance scales representing Libra, worked in or nue. The scales and three stars are worked with couched passing and the chains are couched gold twist. The background is gold passing which has been couched with deep blue stranded cotton. The top right roundel represents Scorpio with a golden scorpion on a tan needlelace background. His legs and claws are woven picots and his head, tail tip and five sections of his tail are buttonhole wheels. The scoprion is worked in silk and metal threads. Three sections of his tail are burden stitch. His body and the straight section of his tail are a combination of stem stitch and couched thread in yellow and gold. The bottom left roundel is Sagittarius worked on a turquoise synthetic covered in a fine layer of white net. Sagittarius is worked in fine white cotton bordered by buttonhole, raised stem band, stem, chain, and back stitches in white cotton thread. The final roundel, with a sea goat that represents Capricorn, is worked in needlelace and canvaswork techniques on a turquoise synthetic ground. The goat's body is made of white cotton threads in raised stem band, brick, woven picot, and chain stitches. The background features white cotton threads woven into a cotton grid.

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: 62cm
height: 24cm





Credit line

Gift of Susan Perkes, 2019.

Catalogue number

Other numbers

RSN 2296

Web references

© Royal School of Needlework