Luxurious and Fashionable: An Introduction to Embroidered Bookbindings

Karen Limper-Herz

A live-only, 40-minute Zoom webinar followed by 30 minutes of Q&A scheduled for Wednesday, 29 July 2020, 11 a.m.–12:10 p.m. ET, via Zoom.

This event is now over-subscribed, and registration has closed

Embroidered bindings are a curiosity in the history of bookbinding and usually provoke one of two reactions today: they are either loved or strongly disliked.

It was especially during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, herself a skilled needlewoman, that embroidery came into fashion in England. This brought with it the vogue for embroidered bindings. While they largely remained a sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English phenomenon, textile bindings were produced all over Europe in later centuries. A number of embroidered bindings survive today, and they are studied both as bookbindings and as pieces of embroidery, but many more have been lost to insects and to wear and tear over the centuries.

This highly illustrated talk will discuss the place embroidered bindings occupy in the history of bookbinding, and will look at the purposes for which they were made, the materials and techniques employed to create them, the common designs used, and the people who worked the embroidery. While the main focus will be on English sixteenth- and seventeenth-century embroidered bindings, this talk will also look at earlier and later examples from other countries.

Follow the conversation on social media using hashtags #RBSOnline and #RBSEmbroideredBindings.

If you registered for this event, you will receive an email reminder the day before the event. The day of the event, we will send you the Zoom URL and password. Please direct any questions to RBS Programs at (

Further Reading

Bodleian Library. Textile and Embroidered Bindings. Introduction by Giles Barber. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1971.

Coron, Sabine, and Martine Lefèvre. Livres en broderie. Reliures françaises du Moyen Age à nos jours. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1995.

Davenport, Cyril. English Embroidered Bookbindings. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Company, Ltd., 1899. Although this is still used as a standard work on English embroidered bindings, the information provided has to be treated with care.

Foot, Mirjam M. The Henry Davis Gift: A Collection of Bookbindings. Vol. 2. A Catalogue of North-European Bindings. London: British Library, 1983.

Foot, Mirjam M. Pictorial Bookbindings. London: British Library, 1986.

Hackenbroch, Yvonne. English and Other Needlework: Tapestries and Textiles in the Irwin Untermyer Collection. London: Thames and Hudson, 1960.

Hall, Isobel. Embroidered Books: Design, Construction and Embellishment. London: Batsford, 2009.

Kendrick, A. F. English Embroidery. London: Batsford, 1913.

King, Donald, and Santina Levey. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1993.

Nixon, Howard M. and Mirjam M. Foot. The History of Decorated Bookbinding in England. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

Wallis, Penelope. “The Embroidered Binding of the Felbrigge Psalter.” The British Library Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, Spring 1987, pp. 71-78.


Image: Holy Bible [Embroidered binding]. London: Robert Barker, 1635. RBS Object identifier 3114