Saturday, 3 October 2015

Vintage Book Review 2 - Encyclopedia of Needlework by Therese de Dillmont

No book deserves the title "The Needlewoman's Bible" more than this one.  It is the size of a pocket bible, measuring 5 and a half inches by 4 and a half...

...and is an inch and a half thick.

It has been translated from the original French into several languages and there must be many thousands of copies still around. 

It even has its own angel bearing the DMC company motto.

It has more than 800 pages, so it has a silk ribbon (and now rather fragile) bookmark.

There are thirteen (or should I say XIII) beautiful colour plates scattered throughout the twenty chapters, which deal with absolutely everything a Victorian or Edwardian stitcher could possibly need to know: plain sewing, mending, lace making, trimmings, embroidery...  Whether you were a housekeeper mending worn out areas of knitted garments, or a skilled embroiderer working on silk or velvet or with gold thread, this book was written for you.

There are over 1100 engraved illustrations, which, although tiny, show a remarkable degree of detail.  I particularly like the disembodied hands with the neat frilled cuffs that float through the pages to show you how to work the thread.  The hand positions shown are sufficiently clear to enable you to learn a skill from scratch or broaden your expertise in a particular craft, for instance...

... tatting...

... netting...

... or knitting. 

Having been an avid knitter in my younger days, I had never encountered or felt the need to do double crossed casting on with a threefold thread.  Somehow it sounds as if there is cheating involved.  However, once you have cast on, the book gives an impressive array of stitches to choose from, including the gloriously named Double English on page 285, which sounds like an entry on a hotel menu ("Ooh yes, I'll have the Double English"... visions of a full English breakfast with two fried eggs).  Those who prefer a lighter, more continental start to their day need only refer back to page 284 for the Brioche pattern. 

The ubiquitous hands also show some interesting little gadgets, including a winder or lace turn (I'm still trying to work out the theory behind that one) and this rather marvellous cord wheel.  I own up.  I want one.  Next time I decide to make my own cord for braid I won't need to stretch yards of stranded embroidery cotton across the room to loop it round a dining chair and twist it with a pencil.

This little book is an absolute gem to be treasured by anyone with more than a passing interest in needlework.  Its only drawback is that none of us will live to the age of 487 and have the time to perfect every wonderful craft it describes.

If you want a closer look at this book

It can be viewed online here or at Project Gutenberg.

Alternatively, the relatively recent reprint of the book entitled The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework is easy to find if you make an internet search.

Finally, I have found a very brief, sad and intriguing biography of Therese de Dillmont.

Linking up with Connie's Blog Freemotion by the River for Linky Tuesday


  1. What a cool book. Thsnks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing this book. Buying it would be the best but if any of your readers can't find one to buy, the next best thing is looking at it online. There are two sites that have it: Project Gutenberg ( and Internet Archive ( I will look at it online and may decide to buy it. It's great to have another reference and source. Thanks again.

    1. Thank you Nancy! I have updated the post with a few links. It was interesting to find out that the book was brought out in a new edition in the 1990s. Not surprising really, because I can't imagine that it could ever be bettered.

    2. What a fascinating book Muv; thanks for sharing it. I followed the link and looked up the lace maker's winder: I have one, but much smaller but serving the same purpose. It actually works in the same way as the bobbin winder on your sewing machine (well, on my sewing machine): you turn the handle to transfer the thread from the reel to your working bobbin.
      You can wind lace bobbins by hand of course, but when you think that a piece of lace 10cm wide might require 60 PAIRS of bobbins you realise that a little assistance from primitive engineering is to be welcomed!

    3. Thank you for the explanation, Marly. For me, lace making is one of life's great mysteries. The very thought of 60 pairs of bobbins just makes me glaze over.

  3. I love those engraved illustrations!

  4. What a neat book and the pictures are really descriptive!

  5. I purchased one of these that has no date but the publishing note states 1,590,000 already in print. It then has a number at the bottom of the page of 755. Am I safe to assume I have number 755 out if that million that was printed? Anyone have any idea email me at thanx

    1. Hello Maria,
      In my book it says "Number of copies issued until now: 1,450,000." and the number at the bottom of the page is 936. I have no idea what the three digit numbers stand for, but there's no harm in asking DMC.

      Love, Muv

  6. Hello :-) I actually have this very book! It is a beautiful publication and I love it! Sadly there is no date so would love to know when it was actually published. We are both collectors of antiquarian and vintage books although our collection is modest. I have a special interest in art/crafts/design and my partner loves maps/History.

    Thank you for featuring this book on your blog :-)

    1. Hello Sandra,

      Yes, it is a fascinating book, and the colours in the illustrations are still so fresh.
      The biography of Therese de Dillmont gives the date of first publication as 1886.

      Glad you enjoyed the review!

  7. My grandmother had one of these but she died before I was born and I love browsing through her stuff that was still in the house many years after her death. I moved out 20 years ago but trying to trace the book now.

    1. I hope you find it, Allie. Even if you don't, I'm sure you will be able to find a replacement quite easily online, so not quite a keepsake, but a nice reminder.



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