Silk shading at the RSN - and colours!

Studying the RSN Certificate – Your Questions answered

Updated April 2018

I often get asked what it’s ‘like to do’ the Certificate at the RSN. Most people (myself included), have a variety of different questions about the course before embarking on it. Let’s be honest – it’s a large commitment, and a lot of money, so you want to be sure it’s for you before you start. I’m more than happy to answer your questions offline, and am happy to give you more information on my personal experiences if you feel it will help you. But I also thought it would be useful if I compiled some answers to some of the more ‘common questions’ here in one central location for easy reference.

And a final disclaimer before we begin – this is based on my experiences with the Certificate. I am a ‘term time’ student, which gives me more flexibility, and possibly, a more relaxed, impression of the course than someone doing it as an intensive. We also all stitch at different speeds, so do take that in mind when considering the ‘amount of homework’ required.

example of mosaic stitch being used to create a sky


Some general information about the Certificate

To start, it’s probably best I cover off some basics about the Certificate!

To obtain your Certificate, you need to successfully complete four different techniques. The techniques you need to complete are Jacobean Crewelwork (the ‘Jacobean’ word here is critical – it isn’t the more modern forms of crewelwork you see today), either canvas work or blackwork (and if you choose to go onto the Diploma, you need to complete the one you didn’t complete in the Certificate), followed by silk shading, and finally goldwork.

You complete your Jacobean piece first, and then your canvas work or blackwork piece. There is then a little more flexibility, and you can choose to do the silk shading or gold work in your own order.

If you choose to continue on with your ‘studies’ you then complete the Diploma. This is made up of four compulsory modules (appliqué, advanced gold work, advanced silk shading, and either blackwork or canvas work – whichever you didn’t complete in the Certificate). You then need to complete two further modules. You have a choice of two from: stump work, canvas shading, whitework, tassel making, box making, creative metal thread and quilting.

There is also a further two modules for the advanced diploma, should you choose to extend your study further. There is unfortunately at present a lack of information from the RSN on this, but from memory you chose two modules from box making, advance white work and quilting.

How much stitching experience do I need to have before I start?

This is one which has just undergone a change of thought at the RSN. Originally, all documentation and suggestions you would get from the RSN itself, would say that you could have never picked up a needle before and successfully complete the Certificate. After starting myself, I found this somewhat dubious, and in my time there, I have seen a few students start, who have been unable to continue past three lessons. This isn’t to say the tutors aren’t doing their job – anything but! The tutors just don’t have the time to spend with these students that they require. If this is you and you have a genuine interest in hand embroidery, I recommend you try and book in for a private lesson with an RSN tutor. This will allow you to learn the basics you require, and will also give you an insight (where you can ask LOTS of questions!) of the RSN way.

As of September 2017, the RSN are taking a different approach. They want to make sure you have some experience. And it doesn’t have to be a lot. If you have done your own stitching for a bit, they say you need to have completed one day class. If you are completely new to embroidery, they recommend two or more day classes before you start your Certificate. I’m not sure how closely this will be monitored, but from my own personal experience, I can recommend doing a day class or two before starting, regardless of your stitching experience. The day classes are a lot more relaxed and informal, but they do give you an insight into how the RSN teaches and the environment. You will also pick up on little things where you may have been doing a stitch ‘wrong’ in the past. To successfully complete the Certificate, you will need to be able to change your ways and adapt your stitching style to the ‘RSN way’. So this is a good introduction to that.

Update from a reader – I have had a reader come by with some valid comments about if doing one or two day classes is enough. She has done two, two day classes, and feels that for her this is ‘not enough’ for her to be comfortable starting the Certificate. Whilst her dream is to do the Certificate, she feels she needs to complete more days before she is comfortable commencing the Certificate. The lesson here? We are all different. Just because what I think and what other readers think, doesn’t mean it is right for you. This is a large undertaking, and you need to be ready and comfortable to start. If you are like this reader and feel you need to complete more day classes – do that! If you feel you are ready after one and two – fine, enrol! But make sure you have reviewed previous students work and are comfortable you can produce an ‘RSN piece’. The tutors will assist you, but lets be honest, no one needs additional stress when it is to do with a hobby!

Obviously, the requirement to do a day class or two if you are an international student coming in to do the intensive course, will be somewhat difficult. I imagine in these cases, the fact you are prepared to do the intensive is a sign you are committed, and believe you will be able to complete the piece!

I’ve never designed my own piece – can I actually do this?

Believe me, if I can, you can too! You get a tremendous amount of support from the tutors on this. You should listen to them, and work as many of their suggestions into your piece as possible. They are very experienced, and also know what the assessors are looking for. So it might be a case of if you weren’t doing this to be assessed, you might do something differently. But especially in the Jacobean piece, you have a lot of stitches to ‘tick off’, and you will need their guidance to help you achieve a pleasing design that is capable of meeting the requirements.

And just because you can’t draw (like me), doesn’t mean you can’t design. They are more than happy for you to garner design elements from other pieces, and combine them into your own piece. The design is still your own – you have just borrowed someone else’s drawing skills!

The RSN have also just started doing design courses. This is a three day class where you learn the fundamentals of drawing and designing for embroidery. I haven’t yet undertaken this course, but should you be particularly concerned about this, you can partake in this course when it is run. This is also a class run with the Certificate students in mind. I’m not sure, but you may need to be enrolled in the Certificate to get notification of when it is run.

How much homework is there?

As I said before, this is going to be somewhat dependent on how fast you stitch, and if you are anything like me, how many times you decide you aren’t happy with it, so need to pull it out and re-stitch it!

The homework between your first and second class is somewhat minimal. With all my pieces, it hasn’t been more than two to three hours.

After that, it does seem to increase a lot, especially if you want to complete it within the eight classes. Between some classes, I would have had around ten hours of homework. Other times it was probably closer to fifteen hours. You don’t have to finish your homework (it isn’t like school where you will get detention) – at times you will get stuck and just not be able to complete it. But if you want to make the most out of your classes, you should try and get as much finished as possible. I also (rather sneakily) find that leaving a little bit of homework to continue on with at the beginning of class isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it gives you a chance to do something productive whilst waiting for the tutors to see you and offer you guidance for your next steps.

Jacobean Crewelwork - long and short shading with a decorative tail stitched in a variety of traditional stitches


How regularly should I attend class?

This is really up to you – and what else you have going on, as you will need to be able to get your homework done.

Having said that, going regularly and consistently is a benefit – it keeps you focused, and gives you something to work towards.

When I was completing my Jacobean and canvas work pieces, I attended class ‘roughly’ every two weeks. With silk shading, and now with gold work, it is weekly. With silk shading, the tutors recommend you attend weekly. I would actually say you need to stitch consistently and regularly.  Attending class weekly I do think is actually a waste, and is why so many people (myself included) take ten or more classes to complete the piece. Once you’ve got the hang of what you are doing and the technique, it really is a case of just getting it done. You don’t need to sit in a classroom for that and you will get frustrated at spending the money for thirty seconds of tutoring in the day. Just make sure you know how to do the different elements of the design (shading, turnover etc) before deciding not to go to class.

With gold work, the decision was made because we are moving back to Australia, and this piece needs to be done quickly. But, from what I can work out, this is a technique which would really benefit from ‘half days’. Once you have been shown the individual technique you just have to get on with it! You need to basically finish each section before moving onto the next. I would push the tutors to tell you more rather than less about the techniques so you have learnt enough in your class to complete a number of different areas.

Regardless of all of this, the Certificate is meant to be a flexible, and enjoyable, experience. Some students find they can only attend monthly, others maybe only every six to eight weeks. So, it really is up to you!

Do I book all eight classes at once?

Again, this is up to you!

For my Jacobean piece, I looked at my calendar, made an assumption that every two weeks or close to it, was doable, and booked all eight classes in.

For my canvas work piece, I decided to just book up the following month’s classes.

Why the change? I found there were times with my Jacobean, that had I given myself longer to complete the homework, I would have achieved, and got more out of, the next class. There is a risk with this of course – and that is that the day you decide you want to book in is all booked up. I haven’t had any problems with this, and have booked as late as a Tuesday for that week’s Friday class! But, I do know there are some days which are very busy, so I wouldn’t assume you can attend at the last minute.

How does payment work?

The best way I can think to describe this is that it is a ‘pay as you go’ system. So if you book in all eight classes at the beginning of the term, you pay for all eight classes. If you book two classes only, you only pay for two classes.

The cost of each class is £135, and the theory is that you will complete each module in eight classes. However, there is a bit of give and take on this for term time students – some students take less time with some techniques, and more with others. Some students say they are almost finished the Diploma and are yet to complete anything in eight classes! Silk shading seems to be the technique which is the hardest to complete in eight classes based on my chats with my fellow students – the average seems to be more like ten classes for this piece, and I myself took this long.

My tip here is to really drive the tutors. Some tutors are much better at knowing where you should be at each lesson, and others seem to think you have a lifetime to complete each piece. So at the start of each class make it clear what you want to achieve in the lesson and then make sure you watch the clock to make sure you get shown what you need to. Don’t rely on the tutors. Some will effortlessly show you what you need throughout the class. Other tutors you will be asking if you can stay behind with them as they haven’t shown you enough. I’m not good at doing this – but with time against me I’m getting more ‘vocal’ about what needs to happen each class. And this does mean some tutors can no longer tutor me as they can’t for whatever reason, fulfil what I need to be fulfilled.

Are there any more costs associated with each technique?

In addition to the tutoring cost, (the £135 per class I mentioned above), you also need to pay for your materials used to complete the piece. Comparatively speaking, this isn’t a lot, and you can use materials from your own supplies. The RSN will supply you with your fabric, and any Appeltons, Anchor or DMC threads you wish to use. I would however say that when it comes to your gold work and silk shading, to if at all possible, take along your own silk fabric. Take a variety of colours of silk dupion you think will work with your design. The RSN does have a supply of silk, but it is very limited and you may find you either need to stitch on a less than compatible colour fabric, or change your design. Neither are good reasons for not doing what you want to do!

Before you commence your Certificate, you will also be given a ‘starter pack’, which includes your slate frame (which you will use for all your projects), tools you will need to transfer your design using the traditional prick and pounce method (your pricking tool and paintbrush), your framing up tools (buttonhole thread and bracing needle), calico which you will use when you mount your Jacobean (I also had enough left over to use for my canvas work). The starter pack also includes your linen twill for your Jacobean piece. I believe they now also give you a curved needle (used to mount your pieces) in this pack. This costs around £100 and is payable on or before your first class. But this is a one off cost, and you will use most of the supplies throughout your Certificate and Diploma. Because of the way I work, I have purchased an additional slate frame. But this is only because I want to start the next project before finishing the earlier one. Perhaps not the best approach, but it does help me to move through the course.

RSN Certificate canvas work


 Will I have a regular tutor?

If you attend during term time and you attend on the same day of the week each time, you will have the same tutor (excepting of course for things like illness which can’t be avoided).

If you attend an intensive course, you will also have the same tutors for the duration of your project. These tutors tend to be different from the ‘term time’ tutors.

If you choose to do your project in an intensive style but in regular term time, you will have a variety of tutors dependent on the days you attend.

Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing is a personal opinion. When you are meeting with the same group of students and tutors each class, you do develop a good relationship with everyone which is a nice way to spend the day. But, there are no doubt occasions when some students respond better to some tutors more than others (just like in school).

What else would you like to know?

I hope I have summarised some of the more common questions you may have about the Certificate course offered at the RSN. I’m sure there are other questions you might have, so please let me know, and I will do my best to answer and help you!

If you aren’t comfortable asking your question in the comments section, that’s fine! I’m also attaching the ‘contact’ form to the bottom of the post for you. If you pop your questions in there I will get back to you by email.

35 thoughts on “Studying the RSN Certificate – Your Questions answered”

  1. Thanks so much for the summary. I am from
    Australia and have specialised in embroidery as art of my visual art degree at ANU. I would very much like to now do the course you have completed. I have always been interested in contemporary textile work. Do Yu think you can explore images that tick this box, use the stitches as you mentioned or would you say it is a more conservative approach to the design?

    1. Carol it a great course, but it is a course in traditional hand embroidery. Once you have learnt the skills you can of course use them in more contemporary designs. You are free to do more contemporary designs, however they do need to be able to display the use of the traditional stitches required for each module, and within the guidelines for each piece.

  2. Very interesting, thanks! Owing to costs, distance and the fact that I have neither the space nor patience for a slate frame, I can’t consider any RSN training, but I like to know about things. 🙂

    1. I thought it would be good to share this type of information- sometimes it’s just nice to know even if you have no intentions of actually participating! I’m getting used to working on the slate frame and love how tight I can get the fabric. Though it is a bit cumbersome and not overly portable!

  3. That was very interesting, and very clear. Myself, I’m probably too set in my ways to adjust to the the RSN now, although day courses for particular techniques are always an option!

    1. There is nothing wrong with being set in your ways – you produce beautiful work! The day classes are quite fun and are a bit different too if you wanted to stitch in a group for a change.

  4. This is an amazing post! Thank you for the in-depth explanation hw your classes work. It gives me even MORE appreciation of all you have accomplished and other that have taken the same courses! I have been in awe of your work as you progressed while I read your blog each time. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with all of us.

  5. I agree with much of what you have said. I do think it is advisable to attend some of the one day courses to give an idea of what to expect. I also wish that I had spent more time thinking about the design and stitching of my Jacobean piece before I started it. Definitely having something to keep you going at the beginning of each session is a good idea as it can sometimes take a good half-hour to an hour before the tutors make it all the way around everyone. I love going on the same day as you do get to know the tutors far better. Enjoying reading your posts.

  6. Excellent article. You’ve answered a few things I’ve been wondering about, especially the cost. I’ve always wondered, because if I ever decide to do this I would have to budget it since I would be coming from Canada. Natalie is going there in July so I will be able to ask her what she thinks as well 🙂 One question about courses: is there no whitework class? I would have preferred that instead of the canvas or blackwork.

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful Dima. Whitework is an option in the Diploma, so you have to do the Certificate before they let you do whitework!

      1. That’s kind of annoying 🙁 I’ve seen some of the whitework the RSN graduates have done for their final project. They’re amazing and I want to learn to do that. They never sell kits of them or teach the designs. I guess the class would be too intensive. I will have to ponder this some more.

      2. A couple of the tutors have some small whitework projects which Natalie might be able to pick up for you from the shop if they were of interest – a little bee, and a butterfly I think. Maybe they consider it to be ‘too hard’ a technique until you have got to that stage! The SFSNAD might do some day classes in it – I haven’t looked, but at least its on the right side of the pond to you!

      3. Oh! That’s an idea. I completely forgot that the SFSNAD has two RSN graduates. I wonder if they will hold certificate classes there. Yeah I’ve seen those kits. There is a reason why my sister came back with a goldwork kit instead of a whitework one.

      4. 🙂 I thought that might be the case, but thought I’d mention it anyway! Maybe you could nudge SFSNAD and encourage them to do a whitework class or two for you 🙂

  7. Hi, I am writing to you from India. I am an embroidery enthusiast and I am planning to take up a certificate or diploma course for that. I must say your article was very informative. But, there are a few questions that I have.
    How do I apply? What are the requirements of being enrolled as an International student? How much will this cost me?
    p.s – I am a Fashion Design Graduate and this I feel will be an upgrade for me as a designer.

    1. I’m glad you found this informative!
      To ‘apply’ you need to contact the RSN’s office. They will ask you some questions about your experience in hand embroidery. Whilst they don’t expect a lot of experience, some experience is recommended.
      As you are also not a resident of the UK, you will need to decide on how to complete the course. As I mentioned, I am a ‘term time’ student, which means I attend classes weekly. However for international students, this isn’t really an option due to the time and cost associated with an extended stay in the UK (not to mention the visa requirements for extended stays). Most international students come for either two, two week periods to complete the eight days tuition, or stay for one period of two or three weeks at most and complete it in one session. Or, you can attend during the RSN’s intensive course period over July/August and complete the module at that pace and structure.
      As mentioned, the course costs GBP135 per class, which over eight classes is over GBP1,000 per module. To obtain your certificate, you will need to complete four modules, so over GBP4000 in tuition alone. You will need to add to this travel, accommodation and materials. is a useful conversion to your local currency.
      As an international student, you need to have a deep and committed desire to learn the traditional skills of hand embroidery. You will find this a much more intense and stressful experience than term time students who have plenty of time to consider designs and complete homework.
      Whilst having a degree in fashion design is a good start, traditional English embroidery will be a very different experience for you. I would recommend completing a couple of traditional English Jacobean designs (such as this one: before outlaying the large sum of money required. There are also several good online tutors such as Jen Goodwin and Tanya Berlin who will give you a good insight into the style and level of skill required.
      And a final note – this is a very ‘English’ design course. If you are looking for something closer aligned to your culture, I’m afraid this might not be for you.

  8. Hi Catherine. Found your blog really useful when researching the C&D course – and I have actually just booked my first class (very excited/terrified!!). Just wondering – I notice that on weekdays there are two tutors, but when you book the class you seem to be assigned to a particular tutor! My question is – are you actually ‘assigned’ to one tutor in class or do both tutors help all students?!
    Many thanks!

    1. Hi Susannah, and congratulations on signing up to the Certificate! I do hope you enjoy it.
      They have recently changed the booking system. In the old system we never knew which tutor was going to be there. However, from what I can work out of this new system, they are putting only one tutor’s name down on the system. Perhaps when the seventh person books they show a second tutor’s name? Either way, you won’t be assigned to any one tutor. One may help you more on any given day, but both are available to you, and you will get help and input from both. Just be warned that occasionally you will get different advice from the two tutors, so if you aren’t sure, ask them again!
      I’m glad you’ve found my blog useful, and if you have any more questions just let me know! Good luck, and enjoy it!

  9. Thanks for replying Catherine! That’s good to know. Hope to see your diploma blog before too long!


    1. Not a problem at all- I want to help as much as possible! The Diploma will unfortunately be a little way off I fear. The commute from Australia means a lot of ducks to line up!

  10. Hi! I know your post was made quite some time ago but I found it very helpful. I’m now looking into the Certificate program at RSN but as an international student would this pose as a problem do you think? Also I want to ask if you believe that receiving a Certificate and Diploma can really help you as an embroidery artist and not just “as a hobby”. I don’t have concrete experience in the art field but I have been embroidering for a few years now and I hope that this course could help me build a career in the field. Do you know of students with Certificate/Diplomas who work at the RSN studio?

    Thanks again for your insight!

    1. Hi Vivian, and I’m pleased you found my ramblings of use!
      With regards to being an international student, this doesn’t really pose problems, except the pressure you will find yourself under. They offer an intensive programme over the summer, where you complete each module in two weeks. Some people are able to complete the whole certificate in one summer, though they would be exhausted by the end of it! Your other option is to do your own intensive programme over a two or three week period (whatever suits you), where you attend the school most days. The disadvantage of this is that the different tutors have different ideas and ways of doing things, so you may end up quite confused and frustrated. However, if you are experienced, you will be able to work out what will work for you, and it may assist you with having a few different options.
      On your second point about if completing their C&D programme will help you build a career, I think it definitely will, as you will learn to an above-basic level the techniques. However, the course doesn’t allow for a lot of individuality or creativity, as they are very rigid in their assessment process. They also don’t cover off the design step well, nor do they teach you about the materials you use, which I believe you need if you are after a truly thorough understanding of the techniques and what works and what doesn’t. The way I have viewed the completion of the certificate programme is that it was very much an ‘introduction to embroidery’ course. You learn the basics of each technique, however, you don’t really understand the technique. There have however been students who have successfully gone onto a career in the field of embroidery. One thing to note, however, is that you can’t claim to be ‘RSN trained’ unless you complete their future tutor’s course.
      Last year I commenced further studies at the San Fransisco School of Needlework and Design. Lucy is RSN trained, so has the technical skills. But it is a course that is focused on getting you to a level that you are happy with. This might be for hobby and general enjoyment purposes, or it might be for career purposes. They also give information and tips on how to be a professional in the field which you would never get from the RSN. SFSNAD is also focused on the design step and a ‘deep dive’ into each technique, so you have a very thorough understanding of what you are dealing with. They also encourage individual creativity and experimentation, which you don’t get from the RSN. However, the RSN also has the ‘name’, whereas SFSNAD is still very young. So there are pros and cons to both.
      I only know of one C&D student who works in the RSN studio. I think that is usually reserved for their apprentices and future tutors. You would have to ask them that question to get confirmation on that.
      I hope that helps and let me know if you would like any more thoughts!

      1. Thanks for your quick response. You have been a great deal of help as there isn’t much first hand information online about the C&D course at RSN. I would like to do the Degree course but it is so much more expensive and I already have a Bachelor’s degree in something else (their website says I cannot apply if I already have a BA). I did see the SFSNAD website as well as other schools but I know that many “schools” aren’t accredited institutions, so I just worry that I spend the time and money at these places and receive a certificate with little value- almost as if I were just getting a “participation award”. Do you know if SFSNAD is an accredited institution? Do you think that SFSNAD helps more alumni with furthering their career into embroidery fields maybe into the fashion houses/design studios or would RSN prove better? Thank you so much again! I really really want to grow as an embroidery artist and I want the best option to get me the experience I need to build a career in this, so I apologize for MY ramblings and many questions!

      2. To be honest, I’ve got no idea about the accreditation! And I think the RSN is only accredited for their future tutor and Bachelor courses. You may need to contact them and find out the details if that is what the deciding factor might be!
        I think in regards to getting into fashion houses/design studios, both would help – one in Europe, one in the States. My feeling is that SFSNAD would be much more open and would give you the information and open door for you a lot more easily than what the RSN would do for a C&D student. I think the RSN currently has one tutor that still does on occasion do work for a Paris fashion house (Amy Burt), so it might be more a case of ‘getting in with the right crowd’ with the RSN, rather than just signing up for the C&D programme. I think the RSN’s Bachelor is probably where a lot of these introductions come from.
        Sorry, I’m not sure I can really guide you much more than this in terms of getting into the fashion houses. Contacting them directly might be the best way to find out.

  11. Wow….wonderful article ….thank you. I’m searching for some possibilities to study hand embroidery especially I am interested in gold work and ecclesiastical embroidery. I am from Hungary so it is impossible for me to study there BA degree.I was looking at the certificate and diploma course. My question is has this , C and D same value as a BA degree ,and I can start to do something with it or just I can have embroidery as a hobby….\ or maybe you know some place where they teach explicitly church embroidery…..I would be grateful for any answer….

    1. Hi Edina, and thanks for your support! I’m afraid I don’t know a lot about the RSN’s degree programme. It is however for people that would like to go into hand embroidery/textiles as a career, whereas the C&D programme doesn’t have any ‘formal’ qualifications (though if you do achieve the C&D programme, you will be widely recognised as a very good embroiderer!). Also, if your main interest is church embroidery, I’m not sure either would really meet your needs. It may be best to contact them directly to find answers to your explicit questions. If you are interested in Church embroidery, Jessica Grimm in Bavaria () would be someone who is worth contacting. She has completed the RSN C&D programme, and is a professional embroiderer, and does a lot of gold work with a historic focus.
      Please let me know if I can be of any other help.

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