Spring 2024: Google ended its email subscription service in 2021. I believe I've found a replacement, but haven't had time to test it. I have been stitching a little bit here and there and have some posts ready for when the email subscription is active again. Fingers crossed, I'll have time to rouse this blog out of its dormancy sometime this year.

30 June 2021

Keeping a Kitten in Stitches

Animals seem to be a popular embroidery subject. They are everywhere online. I know that the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) teaches 'pet portraits' to their certificate and diploma (C&D) students, but it's not been available as a day class until recently. I had the good fortune to participate in the first offering of this online version of the class to non-C&D students.

These are some of the bits and pieces that I had acquired by the end of the class:

Royal School of Needlework Pet Portrait Class: Threads, fabrics, drawings, samples used in embroidered animal potrait class from Royal School of Needlework

The class had a lot going for it even beyond the fact of it merely being available. It was six weeks long and held on Saturdays. Because the instructor, Jen Goodwin, was willing to teach at night in the UK I had a wonderfully civilised 10AM (California time) start time. The sessions were only three hours long which I found to be a good length for a Zoom class. (I tried a single six hour RSN class several months ago and it was tiring, not to mention the class started at 7AM for me which was just too early.) I did the entire class on a phone, but a tablet or something larger would be nicer!

The following is going to be fairly geeky. I'm writing this with the intent to share and also as notes for myself.

We spent the first four weeks with lectures and sample stitching. Jen gave us guidance on good and bad source materials for our animals and she helped us select our photos.

Royal School of Needlework Pet Portrait Class: Siamese kitten used as subject for embroidered animal project
I chose a head shot of one of my cats: Meili at nine months old from last November. She's in pretty good focus and her eyes look really nice which was something that was important to me.

Once our source photos had been selected we started working on developing a stitching outline or pattern. Jen gave us good directions on how to create the outline.

We then used those patterns to do more prep work including a stitch direction diagram, a black and white shaded drawing, a colour pencil drawing and an order-of-work breakdown. These were all excellent exercises intended to help us to really get to know our photo and how it would eventually be embroidered.

I haven't had time to finish all of the prep work, but will before I start working on the final piece.

We started the process of choosing appropriate ground fabrics and thread colours. I find choosing thread colours to be very challenging, so this was probably the part that interested me the most. We used colour photos of our animal subjects and held threads up to the photos to see what matched.

Or, we used the actual animals themselves sometimes:

Royal School of Needlework Pet Portrait Class: Choosing thread colours using Siamese cat as source for future embroidery project

The next steps were to stitch several samples of different types of fur one might encounter when stitching an animal. The class was geared towards helping us learn how to stitch any animal through the various exercises.

Employing a subset of the threads that we intended to use on our portraits, we stitched the samples on muslin/calico. We weren't necessarily stitching samples of our animals, we just used colours that we had already selected for future use. The exercises were fun and very informative. (There were only six required samples. I added more boxes to play with later.) The most interesting thing about stitching the fur is that, unlike traditional shaded work where you come up in an already stitched area, you go down into an already stitched area. You want to see the end of the fur. That was kind of weird to get used to, but well worth it!

Royal School of Needlework Pet Portrait Class:  Different types of fur embroidered for pet potrait class

I had a bit of a conundrum over which ground fabric to use on my project. I narrowed it down to two natural-coloured Italian Graziano linens. They are sold in the States as 'manuscript vellum' (left) and 'sandcastle' (right). (Cutting out Mei Mei's head from the cluttered background of the original photo made things much easier!)

Royal School of Needlework Pet Potrait Class: two choices of embroidery ground fabric for final project

I ended up choosing manuscript vellum because I like the contrast better.

At this point we could transfer our patterns to the ground fabric and start stitching, but I decided I would work on practice pieces first. We started with the eyes on our actual animals and, in my case, the neck which would be the first area I would start stitching on besides the eyes.

I had a lot of trepidation over stitching the eyes. Our penultimate class was wholly dedicated to the eyes. By the way, after the first class, I didn't do any stitching during classes, I just observed and took notes. That worked better for me as I could completely focus on what was being taught. We could send Jen photos during the week of our progress if we wanted to.

Back to the eyes....they were difficult, but not as hard as I thought they would be.  I followed Jen's excellent instruction and ended up with these:

Royal School of Needlework Pet Portrait: First attempt at embroidering cat's eyes (in blue)

They need a little more tweaking, but they're not bad for a first try. I put several copies of the eyes on one of my practice pieces (via ink jet). I want to try some other colour combinations as well.

That's about where we ended the class. I think there will be many challenges ahead, but we were given excellent instruction. I feel I have a solid grounding in how to proceed, but I'm still going to have fun figuring out the colours. However, this is good for me to do and I'm glad I took the class so that it forced me to try something I knew would be difficult.

The class had a nice amount of rigour, but we also laughed a lot! I highly recommend it if you are interested in learning to embroider animals.


  • Royal School of Needlework
    The class proved very popular and they plan on offering it again. As of this writing there is a class in the Fall.
  • Some of the students in the class are sharing their work on Instagram. You can follow via #rsnspringpetportrait2021
  • Jen Goodwin Embroidery


  1. That explains the fur samples I saw on IG!
    I agree about Zoom - trying to work alongside the tutor sometimes makes it just too hard to take anything in. Concentrating on taking notes and observing what is done is much easier if you aren't also trying to do it!

    1. Yes, I find that I do better when I listen and observe, but it is situational. If the thing being taught is something that I think will be challenging I will do it in class so I can ask for help from the instructor. If I'm pretty sure I can handle the technical aspects of something on my own, I much prefer to listen and take notes

  2. Thank you so much for this! I am very interested in taking the class. I'm not sure if it will work out for me to take it this fall, but hopefully they will offer it next year.

    1. I believe it will be offered next year. Keep an eye on the class listing on the RSN site.

  3. I would love to do this class. How can I find out when it is offered again?

    1. The next one starts in September and there are still openings. It's listed on the Royal School of Needlework's site. Our class only had 12 students, so there aren't a lot of openings.