At some point I decided to start a library and collect all the books I could find on Italian Needlework. This was (and still is) an expensive endeavour as usually I end up paying twice the cover price of the book because the shipping costs from Italy are so high. Long ago I told myself it was worth it and so I stopped being freaked out by costs and learned to treasure my books for the individual delights that they are. Sure I sacrifice, I don't spent a lot on going out to restaurants, etc. so I allow myself the cost of building my library. I try to limit myself to those books I would really like to have but once in awhile I splurge and buy ones that are just great eye candy.
The first old book I bought was one year at Christmas. An original 1925 edition of Elisa Ricci's Ricami Italiani Antichi e Moderni, Le Monnier, Firenze [Italian Embroideries, Ancient and Modern]. This book is outrageously priced at antique book stores in Italy but I happened across a copy being sold from England for about half of what it was usually going for. I don't even remember where I purchased it from but it wasn't through Ebay or any of the big book chains. The bookstore told me that it wasn't in great shape but that it had all it's pages. That was good enough for me. I told myself it was an essential book to research on Italian Needlework and that sooner or later I would have to have it – and I might never find it so "reasonably" priced. Ah! ...the ways we can justify things to ourselves! I worried and sweat for a month waiting for it to arrive. When it did I understood the shipping costs as it weighs 3.5 lbs!
Hardcover, embossed and gilt. I didn't own anything like it. It is kind of worn away around the edges and two pages were folded over. Other than that, it is pristine. Moreover I don't think anyone ever really studied it. The pages are clean on the edges and there were even four pages that hadn't quite been cut apart properly so that they were still attached to the preceding one at the top edge.
And the contents! I had never seen one book with so many different Italian embroidery techniques and though the photographs are all black and white, there are a great many of them. Of course the text is in Italian and so I had to set about researching some embroidery terminology translations but in the end it has and still does given me countless hours of enjoyment.
A few years later an Italian woman who was (still is!) researching the life and work of the author was able to have this text reprinted in a smaller paperback format. She enriched the text with a detailed index and it is the copy that I use most for research now. I still take the original edition out quite often as the pictures are larger – being that the book is much larger – so I can get out a magnifying glass and really study the details.
Oh I was so hooked after that on old books!
Since those days, the internet has opened up many opportunities and it is much easier now to spend my money. I also now know a bit more about what I'm looking for. Now I have to weigh the pros and cons of each purchase... is it out of copyright and available on websites like the Antique Pattern Library or the Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics? How much of the content is text and how much is patterns or pictures? Will I be able to easily find another copy another time? Other things to consider are things like: does it come from a smoke-free environment? Has it been kept in a moldy basement? If these things are important to you, ask the bookseller. I once bought a stitch encyclopedia that had to sit outside in a bag with a carbon filter and a bag of coffee beans for a really long time before I could handle leafing through it.
Best of all old embroidery books give us a window to the past. A different way of life, a slower pace. A time when there was more opportunity to embroider, and more things to be embroidered!
Websites I like to haunt for old Italian needlework books are:
Please note that most of these website also sell modern books so watch for publication dates!
You can learn more about Elisa Ricci at TuttoRicamo under the headings "History" and "Prominent Characters", you can also read a review of Ricami Italiani Antichi e Moderni in the "Books" section under "Antique Books" (right hand side of the page), click on "comments".