The Shroud of Saint Clare, call for alms

Calling all Clare, Claire, Clara or Chiaras

As part of our planned exhibition November 2019 – February 2020, in Edinburgh University Main Library Gallery, George Square, Edinburgh a new textile is being created specifically for the exhibition.  The shroud of Saint Clare will tell the story of the patroness of embroidery and needle-work, her narrative presented through stitch.  We are reaching out specifically to those of you named Clare, Claire, Clara or Chiara to contribute pieces of cloth which will be incorporated and embroidered into to become part of Clare’s story.

Should you wish to contribute please email directly to

Dear Claire, Clare, Cara, Chiara, 

I am writing to you on behalf of your namesake Clare, the Clare from Assisi in Florence who lived her life in the 12thcentury patriarchal society of Italy.  Deeply religious, and unwilling to accept the fate of marriage, Clare really wanted to become a monk like her hero Saint Francis of Assisi.  However, the fact that she was a woman barred her from entry to a religious life SO with a small group of female relatives and friends, she founded The poor Clares’.  This all female group led a spiritual life, living entirely on alms, in an almost silent order. She did not believe in money and belongings, nor in economics, and incidentally Clare was vegetarian.  She is the patron Saint of embroiderers and needle-workers and bizarrely, of television. An inspirational woman with an incredible story to tell.  

So, to highlight this story, it’s my intention to create an illustrated embroidered shroud celebrating Clare’s life and her patronage of needle-workers, embroiderers and of course televisions.  My reason for writing to you is to emulate Clare’s way of life by asking for alms.  I am requesting contributions of textiles which will be patched together to make the shroud itself.  The only stipulations are as follows: –

  • That the item donated has been worn or used by a Clare, Claire, Clara or Chiara
  • That the item donated is white or pale in colour.  It can be any fibre or construction from plain cotton to lace, towelling or even knitwear. It can be a tiny scrap or a full garment

Construction will begin in February 2019, and I will be accepting the textile alms up until May 2019.  The Clare shroud will be exhibited as part of a large embroidery exhibition in the University of Edinburgh main library gallery from November 2019 – February 2020 with all Clare contributors cited.

Please do pass this request on to any other Clare, Claire, Clara or Chiara’s.

Thanks, in anticipation.

Lindy (and of course Saint Clare)

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Project Embroidered Stories 2017

LOGO eca _cmyk[1].jpg

This project is now on its next journey with thanks to heritage lottery funding.  

Edinburgh University researcher Lindy Richardson and research assistant Nikkita Morgan will be working on developing the project with community outreach activities which will include creative stitching as well as conservation.


Our collection has undergone a few changes since the last blog post a few years ago.   This historic teaching aid, was intended to incite interest in needlework and improve design standards; a legacy which is still relevant today.  The embroideries now require specialist conservation methods to enable safe handling as an accessible collection for the 21st century and beyond.


This project will embrace a range of groups within our Community which will include: –

The Embroiderers Guild participants,

The welcoming, an organisation who work specifically with refugees and migrants

Scottish Prison Service, women, men.

ACES, school groups

Together will be: –

ŸSafely re-mounting the precious samples for future use

ŸAll participants stitching individual stories

ŸShowing the results in an exhibition at the end of the year in Edinburgh College of Art

If you would like to join in any of the activities please contact us.

The project has begun so please wish us luck with the next phase of this exciting project.  You will find us on instagram @embroiderednds, and we will be using the hashtag #embroideredstories.

We also have another wordpress blog


participants at a community outreach NDS stitch workshop


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Current custodians of the NDS collections. The Scottish leg

I do not claim to be a conservator , a historian or indeed an expert in historical embroidery. I am Head of the textile department at Edinburgh College of Art.  My background is in Art and Design, particularly embroidery  and in education.  I am an enthusiast, and am dedicated to the preservation and continuation of the essence of The NDS. As such I have been appointed honorary curator of ECA’s part of the Coats legacy to embroidery education.

“The scheme was started in 1934 with the general object of improving the standard of embroidery in Scotland as regards technique and design by helping teachers and students alike in the four Scottish Central Art Institutions at Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.”

Needlework Development Scheme. An account of its Origin and Aims 1948 , Published NDS Q307


The quest with this project was to determine why some of the samples ended up in boxes stashed away in an Art College wine store.


final announcement

final announcement


In 1961 a decision was made to wind up the scheme.  This announcement letter was sent out to all parties involved in the scheme at that point.  It is the content of this letter (see below), and particularly the first sentence, which explains why The Art Colleges were chosen as recipients.







excerpt from the announcement letter

excerpt from the announcement letter


The Advisory Committee for The Scheme determined to disperse the accumulated samples to bodies who would continue to use the pieces as an educational resource, with where possible, widespread access and the potential for the samples to be loaned out to interested groups.

A few emails and several phone calls determined the contacts for each of the institutions. With a generous grant from ‘The Edinburgh Fund’ The university of Edinburgh’s Alumni, we arranged to visit each of the institutions to meet their curator and see their part of the NDS collection.  In this way contact is established and we are getting a better picture of the wider collection.  Some of the institutions have already listed their times online.


Susanna Waters displaying her favourite NDS piece

Susannah Waters at GSA

jane kidd

Jane Kidd showing her favourite piece which she says is ‘safe behind glass’




Jane Kidd in Aberdeen Grays School of Art, Robert Gordon University,






matthew Jarron

Matthew Jarron showing his favourite piece in the Dundee NDS archive

Matthew Jarron Duncan of Jordanstone Dundee.

National Museums of Scotland,

Dan Coughlan, Paisley Museum ,

Annette Collinge, Embroiderers Guild,                

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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NDS books, booklets and bulletins


“NDS bright and the aim of Needlework Development Scheme in all Sewing and Embroidery publications. Carefully selected material, full techniques and graphic presentation give Sewing and Embroidery an exciting new interest!”


NDS poster Q460


In the corners of Granny’s bookshelves, stuffed away in lofts and in second hand bookshops lie the overlooked treasures of this project. Our research has so clearly demonstrated the mixed values assigned to ‘old things’. We have been gifted many books and leaflets by women who want to pass on what they considered to be highly valued and useful material.  The intention is to build a library which will become part of the Embroidery collection.  The Embroiderers Guild kindly donated some of the bulletins and we have now gathered a full  collection.  Any duplicates will form a handling collection for study first hand.




NDS bulletin 17b

NDS bulletin 17b

Published regularly at the beginning of each school term in the 1950’s,  these pamphlets were themed, and alternated between plain sewing ( dressmaking) and embroidery. 270 x 436 mm folded to almost A4, these leaflets were initially black and white. In late bulletins a single colour was added. The intention was always that they were there for inspiration rather than being fully directional.








Lady in mexican inspired embroidered outfit

Lady in mexican inspired embroidered outfit



Technical stitch diagrams are included alongside wonderful photos of females from tiny tots to women, wearing or using these sewn and embroidered items.


A brown envelope folder with little string toggle was distributed for the user to keep all of these bulletins safely together, priced 3d.







And so to…publications

And so to sew, and so to embroider are the most widely recognized of all of the NDS books and bulletins. The content is largely gleaned from the bulletins material.


published 196

published 196


published 1959

published 1959






And so to begin  (Q.037) features school girls in their own play haberdashers shop.


Article Q.037 booklet for primary schools

Article Q.037 booklet for primary schools


and so to begin pageThe original photographs and artwork are stored in Paisley Museum archives.   Have these young models, Elizabeth, Olwen and Morag, grown to be craftswomen now in their 60’s and 70’s?  Children from a local school used as models?  They certainly have very perfectly combed hair and beautifully polished shoes.

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Wellington street offices

NDS logo

Number 89 Wellington Street were the Needlework Development Offices and where the collections were housed.  Located in the very same building as J and P Coats, they had  a different entrance altogether.  As well as the  collections themselves, the office housed a library and what is described in some literature as a study room.  From here specimens of embroidery were sent out on loan to colleges, schools, youth and women’s groups. 

the entrance to The NDS offices

the entrance to The NDS offices

In between research visits in Glasgow we went in search of number 89.  The building itself is very grand, red sandstone with ornate stonework .  Jokingly Lucie said ‘If I could choose a building in this street appropriate to The NDS it would be this one”…and it was!

number 89…home of NDS

number 89…home of NDS

 I used to laugh at tourists taking pictures of themselves in obscure settings.

Lucie is a little awe struck

Lucie is a little awe struck

posing in Wellington street

posing in Wellington street

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The Secret Patron

The NDS began in 1934, with the 4 Scottish Art Colleges, that is Grays in Aberdeen, Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee, Edinburgh College of Art and Glasgow School of Art. The Paisley thread manufacturers J&P Coats initiated the idea of the scheme, however they insisted that their funding of this venture must remain anonymous.

NDS 1948 publication cover

From my initial research through the ECA archives I uncover letters between J&P Coats and the principal of ECA.

For Coats, encouraging interest in Needlework would  in turn obviously lead to greater sales of threads, and  in February 1934 J& P Coats agree to invest £7,000 over 7 years. The scheme is intended to provide examples

of both British and foreign embroidery for loan and study by students. By May ’34 each college was asked to appoint a member of staff to collect specific groups of needlework. So Kath Whyte the embroidery teacher at GSA, and Miss Louisa Chart, in charge of embroidery and dress design at ECA are given funds to identify and collect appropriate specimens to add to the growing collection.


detail of sampler

detail of sampler

A ‘collecting’ holiday over the long summer vacation. In the 1930s Kath and Louisa are travelling by train in The UK and Europe in search of embroidery. 80 years later I am somehow following in the footsteps of my predecessors, travelling around the UK trying to gather back together evidence of the spoils of their trips. Whilst Kath and Louisa made their arrangement through letter and phone, I am doing most of the work tapping away on a laptop and looking at a backlit computer screen for signs and messages through e.mail, web pages and now my new tool…twitter. Find me @lindyrich.


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A bit of background


The project focuses on unearthing, and in some form re-uniting a huge collection of embroidery treasures, from a scheme set up in Scotland as a learning resource for embroidery education in the early 20th century.


The Collection

Edinburgh College of Art owns a beautiful collection of antique textile samples spanning several centuries and gleaned from both The UK and abroad.   Once part of the ambitious Needlework Development Scheme (NDS), it laid inert in boxes, hidden in the ECA board room wine cellar, and was rediscovered in 2011, exactly fifty years after the Scheme ended in 1961.

archival photos at eca 2

fine muslin embroideryFounded and anonymously funded by Scottish thread manufactures J&P Coats in 1934, with the specific intention of educating through study and practice, the scheme flourished and was hugely influential in embroidery education eventually through the UK. Eventually disbanded in 1961,the bulk of the collection of over 3,500 embroideries was  distributed between the four Scottish Art colleges, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Embroiders Guild, Paisley museum and The Royal Scottish Museum.



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