Lettering and text have been used for centuries in the craft of embroidery. Sometimes it has been used in a relatively minor way, while at other times it has been at the centre of an embroidered piece, even to the point of defining a composition. Written language in a textile format can often date a piece of work and its maker by the sentiment of the message, but also by the style and construction of the individual letters that make up the message.

All of the alphabets shown in this article come from a period ranging from 1858 to 1869 and although, by embroidery standards, this is a very small moment in time, it does help to show that even though limited to a decade in time, the embroidered alphabets cover a significantly large range of individual styles and motifs. All of the examples are derived from popular women's magazines of the period, many of which regularly contained embroidery designs either to be used as the individual embroiderer chose, or for specific items such as handkerchief corners, baby bonnets, general clothing and domestic items which could entail anything from a cigar case to a glove box.

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This article is originally published in 'Design, Decoration, Craft'.