Finished RSN Canvaswork piece assessment

RSN Certificate – A look back and reflections

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RSN Certificate – An Overview

Just by way of a quick overview of what the RSN Certificate in Technical Hand Embroideryis, it is a Certificate course offered by the Royal School of Needlework in the UK. You need to complete four modules within a time period of five years.

The course is run from their prestigious ‘head office’ at Hampton Court Palace. But if you can’t get there, there are a number of ‘satellite‘ studios set up – a couple in other areas of England, one in Scotland, one in the US, and one in Japan.

Options on completing the Certificate

You have a couple of options for completing the Certificate.

You can complete it as a ‘term time’ student, and attend class during school terms on a day that suits you. Generally speaking I found fortnightly worked well for me. It allowed enough time to complete the homework, but also fit ‘life’ in as well.

The other option is as an ‘intensive’ student. And now, you have more options! You can attend during their dedicated ‘intensive’ period over the UK summer. Or, you can attend for a period of two to three weeks, and go along with the term time students, and change tutors each day.

There’s pros and cons to all of the above options. I’ll give you my opinion on what worked well for me, and what didn’t. And I’ll let you know what I would do differently if I had my time again.

If you have other questions about the RSN Certificate, you may find this article here useful. And if I don’t answer your question in either article, let me know, and I’ll be more than happy to get back to you and give you my opinion!

Module 1 – Jacobean Crewelwork

I really enjoyed my first piece as part of the Certificate. My little squirrel in the Jacobean style! I remember being so scared walking in on that first day, not really knowing what to expect, not knowing how to do anything. But everyone was really lovely and encouraging, and I was put to ease very easily! I also think this is potentially my favourite technique – open to discussion no doubt!

Looking at the piece now, there are things I would do differently. The comment about ‘balancing‘ the design has stuck in my mind. And now I’ve looked at more pieces, I can see how a simple flip could have balanced it out a little better. However that could have potentially unbalanced it in another way!

Looking back to where you start

The other interesting thing about looking back at your starting point, is seeing how your stitching has improved throughout time. Whilst I haven’t done a lot of other crewelwork subsequently, I can see that just in the way I handle the needle and thread now has improved how the thread rests on the fabric.

Moving forward

I’m looking forward to doing another Jacobean piece in the coming months. Although I won’t be using Appeltons wool on the whole! I’ll try and use a combination of my new ‘favourite’ wools of Renaissance DyingHeathway Milano and Gumnut Yarns. However if I have the right colour in Appeltons, I will use that – I do need to use it at some point. The other change I’ll make is to probably not use quite as many stitches. As an introduction to the technique, trying all those different stitches is a great way to learn. I’m also surprised at how well they do work together! But moving forward I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary.


Completed piece of Jacobean Crewelwork for the RSN Certificate


Module 2 – Canvaswork

This was a technique that I struggled to ‘get into’. It’s also probably my least favourite technique of the four. I’m going to be very interested to see how I feel about the technique after I complete another piece. You never know, I may perhaps completely change my mind!

A Change in approach?

A couple of points and changes to my approach here may have helped me ‘find my way’ a little more quickly.

Firstly, I went straight from the Jacobean to the canvas work. My first thought is that perhaps I should have had a few weeks off to ‘clear’ my mind of one technique, before starting the next. I have no idea if this would have worked or not. I did work up a sampler, where I worked all the stitches in the RSN Canvaswork book. This helped to give me an idea of the stitches (which I promptly forgot the name of!), how the fabric felt, and how much thread was required to cover the canvas. However it didn’t help in my understanding of the blending of the stitches. So perhaps a small kit may have been another good thing to have worked.

Secondly, after seeing the intensive student’s work, I am wondering if spending a few days in a row (not necessarily the whole course), would be of benefit in understanding the technique. I’m still in awe of everyone who can complete a piece so quickly, and with so much pressure. But I do think there are advantages over the term time students in really getting in and understanding the technique.

My most valuable resource for this technique

When actually working the technique, the book I found most useful was actually the Dictionary of Canvas Stitches. It is an old book, and only available as a second hand copy now. But the thing I found particularly useful was that the photographs of the stitches are in black and white, which really helps to understand the texture of the stitch.

Moving forward

I’m still looking for a ‘design’ to do for my next canvas work piece. I am really drawn to landscape images, but part of me wants to have this next piece not be a landscape! There are just so many stitches and ways of creating texture within canvas work, I’m not sure I will properly explore this if I do another landscape. Perhaps it just needs to be the rightlandscape image!

Developing overall stitching technique

And on a side note – this technique really helped with my ability to stitch with both hands. As you can see where you are coming up and going down a little easier, it really helped develop that ability. There are still some stitches that I can’t (perhaps won’t) stitch with both hands, but on the whole I am much better at it now.

Finished RSN Canvaswork piece assessment


Module 3 – Silk Shading

This is the technique I think I probably came the furthest with, but is also the technique I probably have the furthest to go with! I was disappointed with the result of this piece, but I think it does mean that I have a lot I can work on to improve myself based on those comments. On a side note on this – I would recommend talking to the office team if for whatever reason you ‘aren’t happy’. I should have approached them throughout doing this module, and didn’t.

Best worked as an intensive?

My big point with this technique that I’ve raised a few times, is that I really think it is best if you work it as an intensive. Whilst the canvas work could have potentially benefitted from this, I think there is the added element that this technique just works better if it is stitched in a shorter period of time. I found that if I left it and came back to it, I couldn’t see the colours as well, or know when to change them as quickly as if I’d been working on it consistently.

Use a consistent light source when stitching

Part of my problems when stitching this was that sometimes I’d stitch in daylight, and other times, under a daylight lamp. And despite the name ‘daylight’, it is rarely the same colour light as the actual daylight, which also changes depending on the time of day, season, weather on the day etc.

The problem this created (especially on the leaves) was that the way I saw the colour changed each time! So I’d think at one point that the green was the right green, and be quite happy. Then I’d come back the next day, and see it in a different light, and decide it was all wrong!

So whilst there is not a lot you can do with the light mother nature gives you at any one point in time, I did decide to create a sense of continuity in light source. So I always stitched it with both the ceiling light, and the daylight lamp on. This seemed to minimise the changes in the way the light played on the photo and threads.

Moving Forward

Whilst I wasn’t happy with the result, I do have a lot I can learn from the assessment. And once I find a flower (I’m really taken with the magnolia’s at the moment, but can’t get a good photo!), I’m really keen to stitch this technique again. I actually think I should probably stitch a few different flowers before embarking further, just so I can refine and improve my technique sufficiently.

Silk shaded rose completed as part of the RSN Certificate


Module 4 – Basic Goldwork

Another technique I’m not completely sure if I really like or not. This was also my ‘taster’ of doing an intensive, though compared to the actual intensives it was a very laid back piece! Whilst my piece had a lot of couching based on the design, it does seem to be a technique where you do just really need to like couching! The ‘pure gold’ aspect of the module also just isn’t my style, which probably didn’t help!

An introduction to an intensive?

Doing this piece as an intensive-like piece, opened my eyes to what that is actually like to stitch ‘in this way’. Whilst I didn’t attend class daily, there was a fairly consistent and frequent level of attendance. And quite a few 2ams seen!

The other benefit I found for me and stitching it as an ‘intensive like’ piece, was it also meant that a project I would potentially have dragged my feet on (not being motivated to do more couching!), just got done. And yes, if I had more time, I would have re-stitched elements. But, at the end of the day, nothing terrible happened, I learned things, and I now know what I would do differently.

I think doing it quickly also changes your (my) mindset on what you want to actually get out of it. The point is to learn a technique. Now I know the basic techniques, I can go away and improve myself. When I spent months and months on a piece, my mindset was that it needed to be perfect. When in reality, for all these pieces, as the ‘first attempt’, it isn’t going to be perfect. So it’s arguably better to spend less time (though roughly the same amount of hours at the frame), learn the techniques, and then be able to go away and refine your skills once you know those techniques.

Moving Forward

I’ve actually got a couple of different design ideas in my mind for my ‘redone’ basic gold work piece. I need to work out which one will work better, as I may actually use one as the advanced gold design!

rsn basic goldwork piece a gold koala


32 thoughts on “RSN Certificate – A look back and reflections”

  1. Your work is beautiful. I especially love the landscape. The colours and textures actually turn it into quite an emotive piece. I also appreciate your absolute honesty about the course and about your future pathway with what you love to do.

    1. Thanks Prue. Despite my battle with the technique of canvaswork, it is certainly a technique that you can probably achieve a lot more from than others because of the texture you can create. A few people have said it’s their favourite, which is quite interesting given it’s probably the one I struggled with the most!

  2. Thank you Catherine for the recap of your stitching journey through the RSN Certificate course. It was wonderful to see all of your pieces again as I had followed your journey while you were creating them and remember your trials and tribulations. I am not sure which is my favourite – I lean towards the canvas work as I do love the composition of the scene – however they each have their own appeal. Congratulations on your entire portfolio of work, your achievement of the Certificate, and on your bravery in sharing it all with us.

    1. Thanks so much for your support Sally. It was interesting going back through them and seeing where I have come from. You have created your own wonderful portfolio in a much shorter time than I did! I hope I was able to provide some insight for you on the RSN. And I didn’t scare you off which is good! Good luck with your final piece. What an achievement that is!

    1. Thanks for your support Cathy. It’s interesting how the canvaswork is a favourite! I do admit, when it was framed I was really pleased with it. Very different to anything else I would have ever stitched before!

  3. What an achievement Catherine! I love all your projects, but funnily enough the piece that I most like is your silk shading – and it was even lovelier ‘in the flesh’. I also loved the combination of stitches used on your canvas work. I look forward to seeing how you tackle the diploma.

    1. Thanks a Deborah and it was great to be able to share a few classes with you! The silk shading is still my favourite, and I’m surprised at how popular the canvaswork is! I hope to meet up with you again at some point in the coming years!

  4. I’m definitely with you on Appletons, and I’ve completely fallen in love with Gumnut Yarns. You make some good points generally about the different techniques and how different approaches may suit them better.
    Another advantage of a daylight lamp is that it washes out strong shadows from sunlight..

    All of your pieces are much better than simply creditable, and I’m sure the discipline of the classes helped immensely – as you say, you’re learning techniques with these pieces, and sometimes the requirement to include a specific stitch or technique may force you to make a choice you wouldn’t otherwise have made. Now you can build on what you’ve learnt, but explore those design choices in different ways.

    1. Thanks for all your support Rachel.
      I’m working with Appeltons at the moment, and oh my, they make one mutter under one’s breath! I’m not sure I have a favourite from the other three, they are all lovely to stitch with!
      The discipline was a big factor on helping me improve I feel. I think with ‘craft’ things I can be a bit flighty, so having a deadline, no matter how flexible, helped tremendously to keep me in order.
      I’m looking forward to spending the time exploring the techniques more!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you found it useful for when you start your Certificate soon. Everyone is different, and different styles and methods will work better for some than others. Half the battle is working that out! Good luck, and I look forward to seeing your projects.

  5. This was very helpful in understanding the pros and cons of doing the RSN certificate in different ways and whether or not to actually go through it! Although the gold work was not one of your favorite things to learn, the finished piece is truly stunning. The canvas piece for me is really beautiful because it looks so personal and expressive.

    1. I’m glad you found it useful, they are my opinions of what worked for me, but it might help in considering the various options available. I’m glad you like the gold work. I think if it wasn’t quite so ‘blingy’ it would be more to my taste!

    1. Thanks for your support and suggestions throughout Dima! I hope to pursue the Diploma, however the logistics need to be worked through. I had hoped it would be early next year when I could commence, though I think that is probably not likely now. But you never know. Regardless of when I get back, it will be a different way of doing it. I just have a few more ducks to line up now!

  6. Thank you for your round-up and congratulations on finishing the certificate. There are some really interesting points in your post that I can totally relate to. Having done the intensive changed how I feel about the certificate too. For me it is now about learning the techniques the best, quickest en easiest way possible, and keep practising and using them to design my own pieces and being able to teach others. I already have so many ideas, and I can’t wait to do something with them!

    1. Thanks Marlous. It’s funny how a different approach to doing a module can change your opinion on what you want to achieve from it. But on thinking further about it, your stitching is going to improve no matter what, just by the volume of stitching you are doing. And the assessors will always raise valid points – that is what they are there for. Everyone will have a beautiful piece at the end of the day, and as long as from a combination of the classes and assessment we learn, it is a success! It is then up to us to improve based on that. I think that is probably quite a healthy approach to have! Good luck with your next pieces.

  7. Thank you! I am interested in pusuing this “someday”. I appreciate reading what you think about your experience. Your canvas piece is fabulous!

  8. Beautiful pieces! Well done! I especially like the texture of your sky in the canvas work piece. I’m looking forward to your next stitching adventures and have added your blog to my blog list.

    1. Hi Lyn, and thanks for stopping by! The sky in my canvas work piece was the favourite part of the whole piece! Thanks for joining me on the next stitching adventures 🙂

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