Touching Stitches

Touching Stitches

| 10.00 - 17.00

University of Edinburgh, Main Library Gallery, George Square,


Exhibition Dates: 29 November 2019 – 29 February 2020 / Monday-Saturday 10am to 5pm 


This exhibition highlights The University of Edinburgh’s Needlework Development Scheme (NDS) collection and celebrates widening participation.  Historic samples and associated publications and correspondence are presented alongside interpretation of the themes and cultural context of the scheme.  In order to broaden access to the collection, new technologies have been employed to create handling replicas of our fragile textile collection using 3D scanning and printing, along with digital print and hand stitch.  The stitched samples created specifically for this exhibition were made by volunteers within the wider community, including women in the Scottish Prison Service.   The exhibition encourages visitors to explore the handling pieces through touch.  Learn about the construction of the historic pieces and feel the stitches at your fingertips. 


Exhibition context: 

  • Features embroidery from the Needlework Development Scheme (NDS) at ECA 

  • The NDS was set up by Paisley-based yarn manufacturers J&P Coats in 1934.  

  • Its mission was to improve design in embroidery.  

  • It ran 1934-39 and 1945-61. 

  • How did it work? As an international company, Coats had an amassed a collection of embroideries from across the world. They reached out to the four art colleges in Scotland with the offer that the collection become a ‘lending library’ from which the colleges could borrow specific pieces as teaching aids. The colleges would write in, letting the NDS know what they would like to borrow, and the NDS sent the samples in a suitcase on the train. After WWII, the scheme expanded to include primary and secondary schools throughout the UK. They also started The Bulletin. A publication which came out 3 times a year (to coincide with the school terms) which was filled with projects for the school ‘home-room’. i.e. Home Economics. This was targeted at school-girls. Boys were not taught embroidery. 

  • The scheme was disbanded in 1961 and the collection was dispersed between the art colleges, NMS, the V&A, and other organisations which agreed to keep using it for educational purposes. 

  • The collection was ‘rediscovered’ in an ECA cupboard in 2011. Since then, it has been actively used for teaching in the Textiles department by Lindy Richardson (Head of Dept). 

  • It has also been very actively used in outreach activities with refugee groups, womens’ prisons (Cornton Vale & Edinburgh), embroiderers guilds etc. 

  • The most recent research has concentrated on working with the Royal National Institute for the Blind. The focus being to create handling samples for blind and visually impaired people to ‘read’ using touch. This has centred on 3D printing and enlarged digital printouts of the originals which have been stitched. The exhibition will include examples of both for, which they can handle. 

  • As a whole, the exhibition gives the context of the scheme, and a bit of its history, how we care for it, and concentrates a lot on the recent research to create handling samples for blind and visually impaired users.  

  • 40 objects and 20+ handling samples 

  • Curated by Lindy Richardson and Francesca Baseby 


Events taking place during the exhibition

Embroidery Workshop 

Thursday 27th February 2.30pm – 4.30pm 

Join us to create your own embroidery design inspired by the exhibition. No experience necessary, tutors will be on hand to help. Refreshments provided. 


Talk and Object Handling Session by Lindy Richardson  

Wednesday 5th February, 1.30pm - 3pm 

Hear about the history of the Needlework Development Scheme and its uses today. Participate in an object handling session. 


Join us for 30 minute tours of the exhibition at 2.30pm on:   

12th February  & 26th February  

All events are free. To book please email 

Staff will be present in the exhibition from 2pm to 4pm on the February 12th & February 26th 


Please come at these times if you think you require assistance to look around the exhibition or email us on


Below is an audio-described tour of the exhibition by Elspeth Davey.