Studying the RSN Certificate – Your Questions answered

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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 your 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.

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 short time there, I have seen a few students start, and 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.

As of next term (September 2017), the RSN are taking a new 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, whatever 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.

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 that 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!

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. In both my Jacobean and Canvaswork pieces, it hasn’t been more than a couple of hours. For my silk shading piece (which I’m yet to tell you about!), it was probably a little more, and would have been more like 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.

For my first year, I attended class ‘about’ every fortnight. Sometimes it was weekly, sometimes it was three weekly. That is what has worked for me up to this point. I am going to change that moving forward when term starts up again and try and go almost weekly. Why? Yes, I am a little bit crazy, but there is another reason! My next piece is this all allusive silk shading piece, and it is recommended that you attend more regularly for this technique than others. This is because your stitching apparently will change over the time you do this piece, and to get the most consistent look to it, you do need to stitch it quite regularly, without too many stitching breaks. I will keep you posted on that!

But, the thing to have in the back of your mind is that this 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.

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.

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 should you decide to continue to that level.

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 I believe have the same tutors for the duration of your project.

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 a other questions and opinions you might have, so please let me know, and I will do my best to answer and help you!

Are you currently doing, or have you completed the Certificate and Diploma and have other pointers or comments you would like to add?

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.


  1. Carol Cooke

    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?

    • Catherine

      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.
      If you visit this page on their website and click through each technique, you will be able to see examples of the techniques and the design examples to give you an idea of design for each technique.
      I hope that helps!

  2. Elizabeth Braun

    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. 🙂

    • Catherine

      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. Margaret Creek

    One day I would love to do this course, you have certainly whetted my appetite!

    • Catherine

      It was certainly too tempting for me and now I’m hooked!

  4. Rachel

    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!

    • Catherine

      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.

  5. Sally

    Wonderful insights thank you.

    • Catherine

      I’m glad you found it used Sally

    • Catherine

      I’m glad you found it useful Sally

  6. Averyclaire

    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.

    • Catherine

      Oh thanks Karen. You are always so encouraging!

  7. wybrow1966

    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.

    • Catherine

      Thanks for your input!

  8. Dima

    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.

    • Catherine

      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!

      • Dima

        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.

      • Catherine

        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!

      • Dima

        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.

      • Catherine

        🙂 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 🙂

  9. Sanskriti Jain

    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.

    • Catherine

      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.


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