A Short History of Embroiderers’ Guilds

3rd June 2022

Although stitching can be a solitary activity, the truth is that stitchers love to come together to enjoy their craft and share their passion with other, like-minded people. This has meant that sewing circles, quilting bees and craft groups have been popular throughout history. However, amongst all of these kinds of groups, one institution stands out, and that is the Embroiderers’ Guild.

A guild is a historical organisation dating back to medieval times.

Initially, guilds were associations of artisans and merchants who came together to coordinate, regulate and oversee the practice of their particular craft or trade in a specific area. Early guilds were formed for groups such as drapers, woodworkers, stonemasons, and painters but there were even guilds for doctors and furriers.

Membership of one of these early organisations brought many benefits. Often, a craftsman was unable to practice their craft in a town or city without being a part of the associated guild. Guilds would also be instrumental in determining such things as standard measures, pricing, and trade practices. As a result, at their height they wielded enormous power. 

Now, in modern times, their role has changed significantly, with those that still exist focusing primarily on the passing on of skills and bringing people together under a common banner.

The first Embroiderers’ Guild formed in the UK in 1906. It arose from a meeting between 16 ex-students of what was then the Royal School of Art Needlework in London. After World War I, the group became focused on teaching embroidery to shell-shocked and disabled servicemen, however they continued to celebrate and preserve the history of embroidery and teach it as widely as they could.

The Guild grew until it had 175 branches around the UK. However, embroiderers around the world saw the value in the guild structure and some sought to create something similar in their own regions.

In New York City in 1958, three women decided to create a branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild of London. Twelve years later, they withdrew from the London Guild to form their own organisation that became the Embroiderers’ Guild of America. Now headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, the EGA has branches, known as chapters, all over the country and thousands of members who love to come together to learn, share and enjoy their craft.

In Australia, rather than a single guild for the entire country with various branches, each state has its own independent guild.

The first formed in New South Wales in 1957 as a branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild of London. However, as in the USA, they soon became their own organisation, with similar guilds forming around the country throughout the following decades.

Today, guilds remain popular and continue their important work of sharing, teaching and preserving the love of needlework. But perhaps just as important is the community that they offer. Being a member of a guild doesn’t just give you access to all of the benefits offered, although they are usually abundant – from competitions and exhibitions, through to libraries, museums and gift shops. Membership also gives you friendship and the opportunity to meet with people who share the same passion. 

Any guild is only as strong as its membership, and all embroiderers’ guilds around the world welcome members of all ages and experience. But they are always looking for more members by finding ways to add value and encourage new people to join. 

The challenges everyone has faced over the past two years have also affected guilds, but with online opportunities, new groups and classes and innovative ways to get involved, they are rising to the challenge.

The Embroiderers’ Guild of South Australia (source)

Here at Inspirations HQ, we are fortunate to have the fabulous Embroiderers’ Guild of South Australia as our local guild. As well as a branch in the city of Adelaide, it also has branches around the state ensuring that distance is no barrier to enjoying all the benefits a guild has to offer. 

Like all of their companion guilds around the world, they are currently looking to welcome new members, so if you live in South Australia and have ever considered getting involved, now is the perfect time.

With a diverse range of activities on offer including stitching groups, classes, events and more, The Embroiderers’ Guild of South Australia is the perfect place to begin or further your needlework journey. For more information visit their website HERE.

If you would like more information about your local Embroiderers’ Guild, you can find details for the UK HERE, the USA HERE and if you are in Australia, do a search for the Embroiderers’ Guild in your state on Google to find contact details. 

Are you a member of a guild? What have your experiences been? As always, we’d love to hear about it so do write in and tell us. 

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