Thanks to university libraries and dedicated individuals in the United States and around the world, it is possible to find hundreds of free, out-of-copyright needlework and embroidery books and patterns online. If you are interested in embroidery history or vintage patterns, here are some resources to get you started. Warning: You may get lost for hours on some of these sites!
The Antique Pattern Library is dedicated to scanning and making available public domain publications for a wide variety of crafts. Find a wide variety of vintage pamphlets and patterns books for cross-stitch, embroidery, hardanger, and much more. Most of the publications are available to download in PDF format.
This archive of public domain craft publications is maintained by the computer science department at the University of Arizona. Although the site is dedicated primarily to weaving, you can also find dozens of books and articles on embroidery and other needlearts, all available to download for free in PDF format. The site hasn’t been updated since last October, so I fear this project may be abandoned, so get these patterns and books while you can.
The passionate individuals behind this blog not only share high resolution scans of out-of-copyright embroidery and cross-stitch patterns, but they also convert those patterns for use in popular charting software programs such as PCStitch and Pattern Maker. Then you can use motifs from these vintage patterns to inspire and create your own original designs.
The Internet Archive has over 11 million scanned books from libraries in the United States and Canada that you can read and download. And, yes, that includes hundreds of public domain titles about embroidery, needlework, and other needlearts topics. Browse close to 300 results for embroidery or more than 250 books for needlework.
The Online Books Page is a project of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries with a curated catalog of over 2 million links to books available free online. The site might not be pretty to look at, but it is very well organized by subject, title, and author. Browse the list of books for needlework, embroidery, or counted thread embroidery, which includes cross-stitch.