Standing the Test of Time
21st June 2019
We love embroidery books. Whether they are brand new publications with exquisite photography and inspiring projects or old favourites that we’ve had on our shelves for years, needlework books are indispensable. But recently we picked up a tiny, tattered copy of The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework by Thérèse de Dillmont. Resembling a small brick, the cover hanging on by a few threads, we realised that all of the wonderful books we enjoy now have this book and its few contemporaries to thank.
Encyclopedia of Needlework by Th. De Dillmont (source)
Ms. de Dillmont was born near Vienna in 1846. The daughter of privileged parents, she learnt embroidery at a specialised school and, upon completing her education, decided to open her very own embroidery school and shop with her sister. The shop stocked fabric and threads as well as patterns, some of which must have been designed by Thérèse, if her later career is anything to go by.
When she left the shop, she moved to France and began to compile what can still be regarded as one of the most definitive needlework references of all time. Although she was working at a time when copyright laws barely existed, and therefore benefitted from being able to freely borrow information from other periodicals and publications, this should in no way detract from the sheer volume of knowledge required to put this book together.
Thérèse caught the eye of Jean Dollfus, founder of a new French thread company now known as DMC.
Soon she was working with DMC who capitalised on her name to produce a series of guides, pamphlets and booklets on various types of embroidery and needlework. In fact, they were so invested in her name that when she married, DMC were terribly upset and expressed their disproval.
Tragically Thérèse died soon after her marriage, however her niece, who apparently carried the same name, continued to work with DMC and was required to sign a contract stating that she wouldn’t marry, and she wouldn’t change her name! Now that’s commitment to the cause.
Therese de Dillmont and one of the drawings from her extensive needlework guide (source)
Today, many embroiderers still refer to the original Encyclopedia. It has been reprinted, translated and reused more than almost any needlework book in history. Much of Thérèse’s work for DMC is also available online through the antique pattern library (www.antiquepatternlibrary.org) and although some of the designs are a little dated, we feel there is a timelessness about her work which continues to inspire and instruct today.
We’re sure Thérèse would be very happy to see her work being referred to generations after her death. In 2019, picking up that densely typewritten volume from which emanates a delicious smell of old book, and which might carry an ink written inscription harking back to the young lady who received this specific volume 50, 80 or even 100 years ago, we can’t help but derive inspiration and pleasure. And we send a little word of thanks to the woman who started it all.