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Florence Caulfield and 'The Illustrated Needlework Book'

Portrait photograph of Florence Caulfield by Lafayette, frontispiece to 'The Illustrated Needlwork Book', London, England, 1914. Museum no. NAL 43.B.154

Portrait photograph of Florence Caulfield by Lafayette, frontispiece to 'The Illustrated Needlwork Book', London, England, 1914. Museum no. NAL 43.B.154

Florence Caulfield was an embroiderer and a specialist in South African flora. The National Art Library holds a proof copy of her book The Illustrated Needlework Book, conventional and natural designs of South African wild flowers. It was due for publication in 1914 by the St Catherine Press but it seems the outbreak of World War I that year may have put a stop to the project for there is no evidence that the book was ever published.

As soon as Mrs Caulfield arrived in London in 1909 on a visit from South Africa she arranged to have her photograph taken by the fashionable Lafayette Studio wearing a dress she had embroidered with a design of grapes. Then she set about organising an exhibition of 52 of her 'needle paintings' at the Royal Horticultural Flower Show. Her work was bought by Queen Alexandra and the Princess of Wales, later Queen Mary, and this success led to one further exhibition before she returned to South Africa in 1910 and started to write her book.

Hers was an ambitious scheme; the book included line drawings of her patterns as well as full colour photographs of some completed works. Many of these she stitched herself, preferring to hold the work in her hand rather than use an embroidery frame. Some of her designs were naturalistic and other pieces were highly stylised in an Art Nouveau manner.
Front cover from 'The Illustrated Needlework Book', by Florence Caulfield, London, England, 1914. Museum no. NAL 43.B.154

Front cover from 'The Illustrated Needlework Book', by Florence Caulfield, London, England, 1914. Museum no. NAL 43.B.154

She had strong views on what was appropriate. She liked solid embroidery and most of her work was done in satin stitch although blanket stitch was used occasionally. Her palette was limited and she generally recommended a single colour for any one leaf or petal. When shading was used the point of the flower was pale shading to dark and the darkest thread was reserved for the stems. The style depended heavily of the careful slanting of the filling stitches although with small flowers she felt the outline needed greater attention.

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Event - Behind the Cupboard Door at the Royal School of Needlework - Tour 1

Wed 15 July 2015 14:00–16:30

This special visit, led by the chief executive who is also the curator and archivist, will open the doors to this fascinating archive and conclude with a tour of the 2015 exhibition of whitework from the Royal School of Needlework collection.

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