S, Shadow Work

Object name


Date made

Circa 2007

Place made


Four-paged booklet illustrating shadow work stitches and motifs starting with the letter 'S'. Part of a 34-part embroidered alphabet made by Isabel Elliott and completed in 2007.

Content description

This is a four-sided book worked mostly in shadow work and featuring motifs beginning with the letter 'S'. The first page, on the left, features five snowflakes worked in cream cotton thread on a pale blue fabric covered in a sheer 'crystal' voile fabric. The top left-hand snowflake is worked with shadow work using a second layer of voile outlined in cream trailing. The top centre snowflake has a centre star motif in shadow work with underlying herringbone stitch, and a six point outer shape outlined in two patterns of pulled work insertion. The top right snowflake is a six petalled flower shape with double back stitch. The bottom left snowflake has double back stitch shadow work in a six armed motif worked around a solid padded cream fabric centre. The bottom right snowflake has two interlocking six pointed star shapes, one a continuous band of shadow work double back stitch and the more branched centre star worked in scattered surface French knots with underlying linking threads showing as shadow work. Double back stitch points extend beyond the outer star shape. The opposite page has one large Gothic script letter 'S' worked in shadow work with double back stitches worked in white silk thread on a teal green ground covered in mesh.

The third page is a patchwork of nine separate pieces of silk and synthetic fabric slip stitched together, in shades of aqua, terracotta, mustard, cream, and ivory. Six of the patches have a single shell motif. Left to right, these feature a dark cream whelk-like shell with padded areas of solid fabric with surface herringbone and back stitch worked in lighter shades of cream, and other areas of shadow work with underlying double back stitch. Three spiral shells at the centre top feature shadow work with textured patterns under net and back stitched outlines above it. The large right-hand shell motif features bands of double back stitch forming the outline, with two different patterns of pulled thread filling various parts of the shell. The patch at the centre bottom left of the page has a single shadow work shell outlined in pulled work three-sided stitch insertion in dark orange, with smaller yellow three-sided stitch at the top of the shell defining two areas of cutwork. The centre bottom right patch has five smaller shell motifs in shadow work with red, yellow and green sheer fabric over double back stitch, edged as a group with small white surface French knots, their underlying linking threads showing as shadow work.

The final page has a mottled teal cotton ground with three appliquéd circular and ovoid motifs. At the top are two swans facing each other, worked in surface closed herringbone stitches and double back stitches on an oval of blue fabric covered in black organza. A black swan on the left faces a white one on the right. They have corresponding reflections worked in shadow work. Below are two circular applied slips with swirl motifs. The bottom left swirl is on a grey and black mesh backing with rainbow coloured double back stitch. The right-hand swirl is worked in the same colours and stitches in shadow work on a cream base.

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