RSN Degree Course Syllabus

What you will learn

The Royal School of Needlework runs the only full time BA (Hons) Degree programme specialising in hand embroidery in Europe, so to study with us is a very unique opportunity. The RSN Degree has been developed to provide an academic learning experience which connects creative practice, textile and design theory with a technical skills base of hand embroidery.

The course will inspire you to develop your career in hand embroidery and to design and make contemporary textile work using your knowledge of hand embroidery practice.

Hand embroidery is a specialist discipline and offers many diverse career routes for you as a graduate. These include:- freelance embroiderer working for the fashion and interiors market, designer-maker, craft writer, postgraduate researcher and workshop facilitator in galleries and schools.

During your studies, you will be taught specific RSN hand embroidery techniques by RSN trained Tutors. We use the term ‘learning through making’ which puts into context how we teach you on the Degree. The ‘making process’ refers to your creative practice: whether you are stitching, drawing or developing your design work for your collection. Your practical units are all underpinned by this methodology. The Contextual Studies units use a Material Culture methodology which connects your theoretical learning to your design work.

You will be expected to develop your hand embroidery skills from the traditional techniques through to experimental approaches to stitch, for a range of products and outcomes. We will teach you through a series of projects, workshops and tutorials which are structured within each practical Unit. There is also the opportunity for you to enter associated competitions and to participate in external events and exhibitions to broaden your experience within the textile world.

The RSN Degree is validated by the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) and forms part of their portfolio of courses in the School of Craft and Design.



The first year of your RSN Degree study introduces you to a range of art and design practices and includes specialist technical skills in hand embroidery, taught by RSN-trained Tutors and practitioners.

  • Canvaswork
  • Blackwork
  • Crewelwork
  • Introductory Goldwork
  • Silk Shading

The academic staff, who are practitioners, will work with you to develop your art and design vocabulary using visual research and design skills which you will be expected to apply to your experimental hand embroidery. As the year progresses there will be specific projects to explore how embroidery is applied to fashion, interiors and textile art.

Your practice is combined with contextual studies; this Unit is taught by academic staff experienced in museum curation and research within the area of fashion and textiles. The Unit is taught through gallery and archive visits, lectures, seminars and presentations. You will develop your research and presentation skills through seminars, presentations and essay writing.

Learning new hand embroidery stitches is combined with your art and design practice and we teach this through workshops, projects and individual tutorials as part of each Unit. Each project enables you to build skills in visual research and experimentation to develop your own visual language to develop your designs and collections. You are expected to experiment with your stitch practice using unconventional materials and applications.



We will introduce you to a range of appropriate research and study skills for your academic writing as part of the unit Textiles in Context One. You will visit museums and galleries to introduce you to contemporary practices of curation. You will also carry out an object-based research project to develop your skills in visual and critical analysis. The textile handling collection, which is based in the RSN Degree library, allows you to explore and investigate textiles from the inside out to inform your practice based research and underpin your theory research for essays and seminar presentations. You will also have access to research resources through UCA and myUCA.


Assessment and Feedback

Assessment and feedback occurs in a number of different formats during your study.

Feedback is a fundamental part of the academic dialogue between yourself and your tutor. Feedback can be instructional (where we pass on technical guidance in the form of directions or tasks) or we may offer a constructive critique of your visual, design and practical work at a tutorial. Feedback may take the form of a tutorial (one-to-one or in a group), via a peer review or group crit (where you present your work to staff and peers and we give feedback on your work and presentation to you verbally).

We will also provide you with written feedback at tutorials (which will give you formative guidance to develop your work through action plans and tasks) or to give summative feedback at the end of a unit when we formally assess your work produced for the Unit. All of your Units of study will have Formative and Summative Assessment points on the academic calendar; enabling you to demonstrate to staff that you have achieved the Learning Outcomes of the Unit to the standard required. We will assess your work for the Unit against the Criteria specific to that Unit.

Sharing your learning outcomes and experiences amongst your peer group and to staff is a fundamental part of being a degree student here at the Royal School of Needlework.

Developing your design ideas

Learning RSN Canvaswork

Tutor led discussions using the
RSN handling collection

Creating your product range


The second year of your degree programme is an opportunity to direct your embroidery practice towards your chosen area of specialism: fashion, interiors, textile art. It may be that you decide that you want to keep your options open and continue to work across all or some of these discipline areas, then that is fine too. There will be the opportunity to redefine your practice again at Year Three.

In your second year we will continue to teach you RSN technical hand embroidery stitches but you will progress onto the more advanced techniques of Whitework, Advanced Goldwork and Raised work. There is also the opportunity for you to work on Live Projects and work in conjunction with designers, galleries and the textile industry as part of the Live Project Unit.

The second year also enables you to further your academic research and essay writing skills and critical analysis. The unit, Textiles in Context Two will introduce you to key issues and themes relating to the production and consumption of textiles and fashion in the past and in contemporary society. The research and essays for this unit will provide a foundation for your Dissertation / Critical Reflection unit in third year. This is taught through gallery visits, formal lectures, seminars and tutorials.

We will work with you to develop project proposals to support both your practical and theoretical units. This will enable you to become conversant with the critical language and discourse associated with the practice and theory of your subject.

Year Two closes with visits to New Designers at the Business Design Centre, and the UCA Degree Shows at the Farnham Campus. We expect you to undertake critical reviews of these exhibitions in preparation for your third year.

Prior to you leaving at the end of second year, you will have a tutorial to help define your dissertation subject area so you can begin to research over the summer vacation.

Studio design work

Learning RSN Advanced Goldwork

Learning RSN Advanced Goldwork

Working on Live projects

Working on Live projects

Developing your final collection

Developing your final collection


This is an exciting and challenging year and an opportunity to take your work to new and innovative levels of production. It is a synthesis and culmination of your learning on the course. You have the opportunity to develop a personal collection of exhibitable works, which you will develop from an approved project proposal. The first term is the key time to research, plan, prepare, prototype and test your ideas, with critical support, prior to embarking on the double Unit: Major Project in terms two and three.

Your Dissertation / Critical Reflection Unit spans terms one and two and is divided into two sections: firstly – Dissertation and secondly – Critical Reflection.

Your Dissertation topic will be approved by the academic staff and you will be tutored and guided through your research and writing phases from first draft through to final submission, by your supervisor. The choice of subject should ideally follow your practice to create academic links between the two components of the syllabus. The Critical Reflection component relates directly to your own practice, which is contextualised with external reference points. This Unit also aligns with the works that you are producing for the Major Project.

The third year culminates with the UCA Degree Shows at the UCA Farnham Campus. We will have exhibition meetings prior to the degree show and information will be disseminated through your Course Reps. This is a showcase for your work with a Private View whereby family, friends and potential employers are able to view your work in context.

The RSN Degree proudly hosts an annual Awards Day, where students from all three years, family, friends and members of the RSN Council and sponsors are invited to this celebratory event. We invite a guest speaker and there are a number of Awards presented, all donated by City Livery Companies, Societies and Trusts.

New Designers at the Business Design Centre, Islington hosts the annual graduate showcase, an important part of the academic calendar. Having visited it in your first and second years you will be aware of the standard necessary to exhibit. New Designers attracts thousands of visitors each year. The RSN allows students who have successfully passed all Units to put a proposal forward for consideration for the event. Key works which fulfil the criteria and established standards of the event may be selected for this prestigious showcase to launch your career.

The following quote exemplifies the learning experiences gained from studying a specialist course.


“Specialist courses offer immersion in a single material specialism as the basis for critical enquiry… However, we also believe that it is vital that the craft HE sector retains a critical mass of specialist teaching capacity delivering the levels of knowledge and skill that lead to success as a maker.

It is imperative that students learn enough about techniques and materials, and develop a high enough level of skill, to support their development as materials-led practitioners capable of combining intellectual and practical innovation. Above all, students need a high quality learning experience which can spark the creative engagement with materials and processes needed to drive and sustain a career in making”.

Rosy Greenlees, Executive Director, Crafts Council


Studying Craft: trends in education and training
Summary Report -published 2014
ISBN – 10 1-903713-40-4


The RSN BA (Hons) in Hand Embroidery for Fashion, Interiors, Textile Art offers a quality learning experience with a solid grounding in skills, creative practice and academic discourse in your subject.

Experimentation through sampling

Experimentation through sampling

Study for your Dissertation/Critical Reflection

Study for your
Dissertation/Critical Reflection

Research through practice

Research through practice

Creating your final collection

Creating your final collection

For further information please view the full programme specification

* Please note the syllabus content is for the academic year indicated and is provided as a guide. The content of the course may be subject to change.