Embroidery of the Glasgow School of Art

Embroidery by Helen Lamb in the Glascow School of Art style of embroidery, 1909. Embroidery by Helen Lamb in the Glascow School of Art style of embroidery, 1909.

In the late nineteenth century, a new style of embroidery developed at the Glasgow School of Art, which influenced Western embroidery for many decades to come. The new style was developed following changes at the School that took place after 1885 when Francis H. Newbery was appointed as director. He allowed students to develop their own individual talents, rather than forcing them to follow a strict, Classical form of learning.

Newbery was closely connected to the Arts and Crafts Movement, and was especially influenced by the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). The work at the School became known as the 'Glasgow School' or 'Glasgow Style'. Among the subjects taught was embroidery. According to Barbara Morris, the Glasgow Style of embroidery is “difficult to describe … in precise terms. It has certain affinities to “Art Nouveau” but the voluptuously curving lines, strange plant forms and attenuated, stylised figures, are balanced by carefully placed verticals and horizontals ….. Not only forms, but the colour schemes, were entirely original – pearly greys, silver, pink, lilac - set off by marked contrasts of black and white…..” (pp. 147-148).

Charles Mackintosh studied together with Herbert McNair, and the two sisters Margaret Macdonald (1865-1933) and Frances Macdonald (1874-1921; Margaret later married Mackintosh). The group became known as "the Four.” Designs by the Four included embroidery patterns (notably those made by the two sisters). Another important influence on the Glasgow School with respect to embroidery, was the appointment of Jessie Newbery as head of the Department of Embroidery in 1894. Her students included many teachers from primary and secondary schools, as well as designers such as Ann Macbeth (who succeeded Jessie Newbery as head of the department in 1908) and Margaret Swanson. Their aim was to show that the design and stitchery should arise naturally out of the technique chosen and that designs should and could be worked quickly. Appliqué became a favourite technique, as did embroidering with crewel (woollen) threads (rather than with fine silks).

In order to encourage the exploration and understanding of embroidery, the Glasgow School of Art set up an embroidery collection (similar to the Needlework Development Scheme, which was also based in Glasgow), with objects that were available for loan to schools and similar institutes throughout Britain. In addition, lectures and practical courses for teachers were given by the Department in many towns in both Scotland and England.

In 1910, the British art journal, The Studio, summed up the embroidery style of the Glasgow School of Art as follows: “It is not founded on tradition and has no resemblance to any style that preceded it. The new embroidery is common in this respect to the oldest arts, it takes the everyday things of life, and by a simple individualistic process seeks to make them beautiful as well as useful.” (vol. 50, 1910).

The method of teaching and designing embroidery established by the Glasgow School of Art continued to be felt into the twenty-first century. Many examples of the work by the school are now in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow.


  • MACFARLANE, Fiona C. and Elizabeth F. ARTHUR (1980). Glasgow School of Art embroidery, 1894-1920, Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries.
  • MORRIS, Barbara (1962). Victorian Embroidery, London: Herbert Jenkins, pp. 147-158.

Digital source (retrieved 16th April 2016).

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 4th June 2016).


Last modified on Thursday, 25 May 2017 18:43
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