Thursday, March 31, 2016

Downton Abbey of the North

Gawthorpe Hall is an Elizabethan gem and the ‘Downton Abbey of the North’.
The original house was built for the Shuttleworth family between 1600 and 1605 on the banks of the river Calder near Burnley in Lancastershire. It was redesigned in the 1850’s by Sir Charles Barry architect of the Houses of Parliament and the “real’ Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle.
The Grade I listed Hall not only has a connection with Charlotte Brontë but houses the North West’s largest collection of portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery as well as The Gawthorpe Textiles, the most important collection outside London amassed by the Honourable Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth (1886 – 1967).
Gawthorpe Hall was given to the National Trust in the 1970s and became a college for teaching textile techniques for several years before it was opened as an historic house.
The Hall was closed during 2015 for essential conservation but is reopening this Spring – a must visit for so many different reasons but especially for Rachel’s textile collection.
The Hon. Rachel was highly skilled in the art of embroidery and lacemaking, and shared her immense knowledge with others through examples collected in her lifetime.
The vast collection includes many examples of her own work.
Begun in 1905, work on this bedspread and its accompanying accessories took Rachel thirteen years. She completed the project with a palm-tree flourish on Armistice day 1918.
We will be looking at Rachel’s life and work in detail in a future post.
The collection today is one of the most interesting specialist textile collections in the UK and is known to textile specialists worldwide.
The 30,000+ artefacts range from the highly functional to the finest decorative or ceremonial pieces.
Spanning five centuries, covering a broad range of techniques and originating from across the globe, this collection speaks as much about cultural, social and personal histories as it does about textile craft.
For those who cannot visit  part of the collection can be viewed  ONLINE
Gawthorpe Hall is the final stop on ‘The Brontë Way’,
Lady Janet Kay-Shuttleworth was an acquaintance of Charlotte Brontë who visited Gawthorpe Hall on several occasions. She also stayed with the Kay-Shuttleworths at The Briery, their summer home in Windermere, where she met Mrs Gaskell who became her great friend and wrote the first biography of Charlotte after her death. During Charlotte’s second visit to Gawthorpe in January 1855 it is said that she insisted walking out in the grounds and caught a chill from which she never managed to recover, she died two months later on 31st March.
The Drawing Room at Gawthorpe Hall. Charlotte Brontë later recalled sitting on the green sofa (just visible in this picture) and enjoying conversation by the fireside. .
A letter written on March 19th 1850 by Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey about her visit to Gawthorpe Hall.
‘Dear Ellen,—I have got home again, and now that the visit is over, I am, as usual, glad I have been; not that I could have endured to prolong it: a few days at once, in an utterly strange place, amongst utterly strange faces, is quite enough for me.
‘When the train stopped at Burnley, I found Sir James waiting for me. A drive of about three miles brought us to the gates of Gawthorpe, and after passing up a somewhat desolate avenue, there towered the hall—grey, antique, castellated, and stately—before me. It is 250 years old, and, within as without, is a model of old English architecture. The arms and the strange crest of the Shuttleworths are carved on the oak pannelling of each room. They are not a parvenue family, but date from the days of Richard III. This part of Lancashire seems rather remarkable for its houses of ancient race. The Townleys, who live near, go back to the Conquest.
‘The people, however, were of still more interest to me than the house. Lady Shuttleworth is a little woman, thirty-two years old, with a pretty, smooth, lively face. Of pretension to aristocratic airs she may be entirely acquitted; of frankness, good-humour, and activity she has enough; truth obliges me to add, that, as it seems to me, grace, dignity, fine feeling were not in the inventory of her qualities. These last are precisely what her husband possesses. In manner he can be gracious and dignified; his tastes and feelings are capable of elevation; frank he is not, but, on the contrary, politic; he calls himself a man of the world and knows the world’s ways; courtly and affable in some points of view, he is strict and rigorous in others. In him high mental cultivation is combined with an extended range of observation, and thoroughly practical views and habits. His nerves are naturally acutely sensitive, and the present very critical state of his health has exaggerated sensitiveness into irritability. His wife is of a temperament precisely suited to nurse him and wait on him; if her sensations were more delicate and acute she would not do half so well. They get on perfectly together. The children—there are four of them—are all fine children in their way.
They have a young German lady as governess—a quiet, well-instructed, interesting girl, whom I took to at once, and, in my heart, liked better than anything else in the house. She also instinctively took to me. She is very well treated for a governess, but wore the usual pale, despondent look of her class. She told me she was home-sick, and she looked so.
‘I have received the parcel containing the cushion and all the etcetera, for which I thank you very much. I suppose I must begin with the group of flowers; I don’t know how I shall manage it, but I shall try. I have a good number of letters to answer—from Mr. Smith, from Mr. Williams, from Thornton Hunt, Lætitia Wheelwright, Harriet Dyson—and so I must bid you good-bye for the present.
Write to me soon. The brief absence from home, though in some respects trying and painful in itself, has, I think, given me a little better tone of spirit. All through this month of February I have had a crushing time of it. I could not escape from or rise above certain most mournful recollections—the last few days, the sufferings, the remembered words, most sorrowful to me, of those who, Faith assures me, are now happy. At evening and bed-time such thoughts would haunt me, bringing a weary heartache. Good-bye, dear Nell.—Yours faithfully, ‘C. B.’

Photographs of items from the collection are copyright of the Rachel Kay-Suttleworth Collection at Gawthorpe Hall.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Did Henry VIII embroider?

Now that is an interesting question and something that we had not given any thought to before watching this VIDEO which looks at the Royal School of Needlework.
We know that many English queens, queen consorts and princesses were enthusiastic embroiderers and that Kings and Queens wore elaborately embroidered and embellished garments. But have you ever heard of a King that embroidered?
In June 1539 the French Ambassadors Marillac to Montmerency wrote:-
“The King, who in some former years has been solitary and pensive, now gives himself up to amusement. He evidently delights now in painting and embroidery
We know that Henry commissioned many great tapestries and his palaces were lavishly furnished but it is hard to imagine the King sat stitching away with a hoop and needle in those large hands.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Forgotten Technique Part II

Today we are looking at another forgotten technique that was all the rage in the aristocratic and upper class circles of the 18th century.
Ladies in polite society were expected to be proficient in a wide range of needleworking skills. The graceful rhythm of techniques such as knotting or netting was thought to show off the elegance of a lady’s hands.
Portrait of a Lady c.1750-1 Arthur Devis 1711-1787 Purchased 1918
Knotting produced a decorative thread, with rows of little knots, that was sewn onto fabric.
The linen or silk thread was first wound onto a shuttle, which was then used to create a series of knots on the thread which formed a narrow trimming like a string of beads. The size of the knot depended upon the thickness of thread used.
As befitted objects made for use in high society, shuttles were often exquisitely made in costly materials such as ivory, crystal, lacquer, amber, porcelain, tortoiseshell, silver and gold,
Shuttles could be given as presents. The society hostess Mrs Mary Delany was presented with a gold shuttle by George III in 1783.
From the Letters from Mrs. Delany (a letter to Mrs. Frances Hamilton, October 10, 1783):
The King, with his usual graciousness, came up to me, and brought me forward, and I found the Queen very busy in showing a very elegant machine to the Duchess of Portland, which was a frame for weaving of fringe, a new and most delicate structure, and would take up as much paper as has already been written upon to describe it minutely, yet it is of such simplicity as to be very useful. You will easily imagine the grateful feeling I had when the Queen presented it to me, to make up some knotted fringe which she saw me about. The King, at the same time, said he must contribute something to my work, and presented me with a gold knotting shuttle, of most exquisite workmanship and taste; and I am at this time, while I am dictating the letter, knotting white silk, to fringe the bag which is to contain it.
The knotted thread was collected in a small drawstring bag worn on the wrist. Decorated knotting bags, containing shuttle and thread, were regularly carried around, even to theatres and assemblies.

It was a drawing room pastime that required very little concentration and could be performed whilst conversing, reading or listening to music.
It was an ideal genteel hobby that could while away the long hours whilst travelling over bumpy roads in dimly lit carriages.
The countless yards of knotted thread were couched onto various articles from costumes to household textiles. Some of the petals on the flower (bottom left) have been formed with knotted cord that has been applied to the surface wih couching.
William III’s wife, Queen Mary, was an ardent knotter, whose preoccupation was noted by Sir Charles Sedley
‘For here’s a Queen now thanks to God!
Who when she rides in coach abroad
Is always knotting threads.’

The young Marie Antoinette was painted whilst knotting.

As the 18th century drew to an end the fashion for knotting waned and became a forgotten technique.
If you would like to find out more about knotting there are a series of videos on you tube by Cynthia Griffith.

A Forgotten Technique Part I

Fine needlework will always be admired but there is something about embroidery from the 18th century that stirs the soul for so many different reasons.
It was a time when machines had not been invented and it required skill, patience and time. Embroidery was a professional occupation dominated by men and Guilds. It served as employment and a leisure activity for women.
When you research the techniques used in this period very little has changed. Most of the stitches are still used today and require the same equipment and methods.
There is a whitework technique from this period that is easily overlooked amongst the ornate embellishments, striking designs and bold colours that the 18th century is known for.
Recently whilst carrying out research we stumbled across an item in the collection of the V & A that caught our eye.
A baby’s cap with  an inscription worked in needle lace – ‘Thos Fry agedd 1 year 1776 Wroham Kent’.
This type of needle lace or whitework is known as hollie stitch or hollie point. It is a knotted buttonhole technique in which the pattern appeared in the form of openings between the stitches.
It was a durable form of needlework that could withstand frequent laundering so it was popular for baby clothes. Women used hollie stitch for decorative panels, which they inserted into their baby’s linen.
Motifs used were significant to the newborn baby – the Lamb of God, the Holy Dove, crowns, hearts, initials and dates.
It was very labour intensive and was only used in small areas. It was a stitch that many mothers made with love forming motifs that had meanings to keep their babies safe.
If you would like to find our more about Hollie Point Catherine Barley in her book “Needlelace – Designs and Techniques Classic and Contempory” covers this stitch in detail and provides two patterns.
Nicola was fortunate to meet Catherine last year, a very inspirational, gracious and elegant lady. Her book is a valuable addition to a needleworker’s library.
This sampler was worked by Mary Tredwell in 1739 using several different techniques including Hollie Point. Most examples of ths stitch being used in samplers date from the second quarter of the 18th century.
Mary was a fine needleworker and her sampler is both beautiful and interesting. It is in the collection of the V& A Museum and is catalogued as:-
The three main square panels of cutwork are surrounded by a zig-zag border of stylised acorns and flowers worked with cream silk in satin and overcast stitches. Between them are lines of embroidery, worked in satin stitch to form geometric patterns.
The cutwork panels are filled with three bands of reticella and hollie point lace.
The first band consists of four squares of hollie point: one with heart and crowns motifs, one with acorn and crowns, one with lily, and one of diamond pattern. In the centre, there is one square of reticella needle lace.
The second band consists of three large squares: one of hollie point with a parrot and diamond motifs, one of reticella, and one of hollie point with a lamb and floral motifs. Between the squares there are two embroidered plants.
The third band consists of two hollie point squares with floral motifs, followed by a reticella square and two further hollie point squares with floral motifs. The last one is dated 1739.
Between the three bands are two rows of cutwork roundels. Those in the upper row are filled with needle lace stitches, and those in the lower row are filled with needle lace and hollie point flowers. There is a large central oval with the name of the maker worked in hollie point.
It was bequeathed to the museum by Mary Blanche Dick.
Tomorrow we will look at another technique that is closely associated with the 18th century.

Consider the Lilies

Easter is a time of year that means many things to lots of people. It is the most important day in the Christian Church. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It means rebirth In The Northern Hemisphere with the beginning of Spring. To young children it means a visit from the Easter Bunny bringing Easter eggs a plenty, school holidays and to children in schools in Australia it means Easter Hat Parades.
One of the symbols of Easter and the Christian Church are flowers from the Lily Family. They not only have Religious links they also appear on many antique samplers.
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. – Luke 12 – 27.
They are a symbol of purity and innocence and are associated with The Virgin Mary. The Easter Lily, a particular variety which blooms in Spring from a seemingly lifeless bulb, has become symbolic of Christ’s Restitution. A lily among thorns has been used to represent the Immaculate Conception and a lily can also be used as a symbol for Christ.
One sampler in both of our collections is Dutch Beauty, a sampler that is filled with symbolism. Either side of the Pelican with her chicks appears in vases the Fritillaria lily.
Sandra stitched this over 1 which is an amazing achievement.
There are several varieties of the Fritillaria lily and have some interesting names such as Snakeshead, the Sullen Lady and sometimes The Leper’s Bell.
The Crown Imperial or Fritillaria Imperialis is a particularly beautiful strain and is connected to Jesus Christ.
Legend has it that the lily like flowers of The Crown Imperial were once white and pointed upward and that they grew in the garden of Gethsemane among many other beautiful flowers. As Our Lord walked sadly past them, the flowers bowed their heads in sympathy – all bar the Crown Imperial, proud and haughty because of its own crown of leaves. Christ noticed this one conceited plant and turned back and rebuked it, and at once it hung its head in shame and blushed crimson. Tears appeared in its eyes. These “tears” are drops of nectar that hang within the flower bells still. They cannot be dislodged even if the flower head is shaken vigorously.
This year Good Friday marked a curious occasion for observers of liturgical calendars. Good Friday is the day recalling Jesus crucifixion, – occurring on March 25 – is also the Feast of the Annunciation, recalling the day upon which the angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary. By extension, this day was considered to be the day on which Jesus was conceived; a deduction arrived at through the early celebration among Christians of Jesus’ birth on December 25. So significant was the Feast of the Annunciation that until 1752, it was regarded in England as the commencement of the New Year.
This confluence Good Friday and Annunciation, whilst rare, is not unheard of. The last time this occurred was in 2005; but it won’t happen again until 2157.
We hope that you have a wonderful Easter with your family.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Stitched World

An interesting map sampler was sold at auction in the UK yesterday for £1,400 GBP plus premium. Stitched by Elizabeth Waghorn in 1800 with coloured wool on a cotton ground, this map of England and Wales measured 58cm wide, 69cm high, 8cm deep. The frame is very beautiful.
In the late 17th century a small illustrated book entitled Geography Anatomiz’d was published by Patrick Gordon.  With British colonization and exploration the interest in geography grew and became fashionable. Numerous updated editions followed. Schools started to teach geography and by the second half of the 18th century  map samplers were being stitched in schools.
Their popularity is partly explained by the dual function they served, demonstrating both the pupil’s needlework skills and her geographical knowledge. Map samplers were equivalent of the modern day diploma and the standard by which her accomplishments were judged. Parents would frame and display their daughters’ work, proud of their aptitude with a needle.
Teachers copied maps onto cloth for their students to embroider but there were publishing companies who produced maps printed on silk or linen backgrounds.
A pupil might choose to depict a local area, the field layout of a nearby estate, her country, its continent, the two hemispheres of the globe or even the solar system. Such complex maps as the two hemispheres were almost always undertaken on printed grounds. Stitchers would personalise their samplers by designing and adding their own borders.
Most of the map samplers that we see come up for sale in the UK are of the British Isles but we occasionally see maps of Europe, American and double globe map.
If you are considering purchasing an antique map at auction that is embroidered on a silk background you should evaluate its condition carefully as they are very fragile and many have splits. If you are unable to inspect the sampler in person  ask the auctioneer for a condition report and detailed photographs.
Map samplers open up a whole new world of interest to the collector.
Yesterday was a very interesting day for needlework being sold at auction and for a round up please VISIT yesterday’s post. This was one of the samplers going under the hammer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


We want to show our support for our friends across the sea in Belgium today and to celebrate our love for their country and culture.
We have some wonderful memories of visiting Bruges. I can remember the taste of their delicious waffles and chocolates.
Belgians are known for the most beautiful laces and embroideries and you could spend hours in the shops that specialize in lace.

The origin of lace is difficult to determine as it has  been clouded by the passing of time but it is recorded that in the 15th century Charles the Fifth decreed that lace making was to be taught in the schools and convents of the Belgian provinces. This tradition continued through the centuries.

During the 15th century the making of lace was firmly based within the domain of fashion. At a time beautiful fabrics were beyond the purse of all but the royals and nobility. However, lace, unlike embroidery, could be unstitched from one material to be sewn on another in a manner that could transform dresses to follow different styles of fashion.
Many styles and techniques of lacemaking evolved but in modern times there are two main techniques practiced in the Flemish provinces of Belgium. The first, a needle lace, is produced in the region of Aalst. It is called Renaissance or Brussels lace because it is mostly sold in Brussels.
The second type, the Bobbin Lace, is a speciality of Bruges. This is a very expensive type of lace to make and is therefore no longer manufactured for commercial purposes.
There are about 1000 lace workers, all of them ladies aged between fifty and ninety years of age.


Duchesse lace – made on a “carreau” or cushion – taken from the Flemish word “kussen” on which the paper pattern is pinned.  The lace maker generally works with 22 bobbins, two of which are called The Conductors. For a Binche “Point de Fée” up to 200 bobbins are needed !!
Rosepoint lace –  made with a needle and considered to be the most delicate and precious of all laces. It is very labour intensive and a fine handkerchief medallion takes three day’s work. The design usually represents a rose or  flower. The lace maker works the flower’s outline first in thicker thread then fills the flower with fine thread and various stitches. Large pieces are made by joining medallions together.  Queen Elizabeth II’s bridal veil took  12,000 hours of work and is made up with 12,000,000 stitches.
Princess lace – made partly by machine today for wedding veils, christening dresses and  mantillas. The flowers, stalks, and leaves are applied on the net by hand with a needle.
Renaissance Lace is also called Brussels Lace or Ribbon Lace and is very popular  for household linen.  The lace maker will sew the ribbon onto the paper following the design. Then she will fill up the empty spaces with a needle using a variety of stitches. The paper is not pierced so  only the paper and the ribbon are attached to one another. When all the empty spaces are filled in, the tacking thread is cut on the back of the paper , the item of lace is removed and the paper pattern can be used again. The result is a finished item of lace, a corner, border, or a centrepiece, which may be then applied on Flemish linen to finish tablecloths, place mats, handkerchiefs, and a variety of other pieces.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Secret Message

Sandra and Nicola have inquisitive minds and anything to do with needlework or history always catches their eye. Notebooks quickly get filled up with titbits of information and newspaper and magazine articles get clipped.
Going through a notebook this weekend from 2012 and of course looking for something else (!) Nicola came across a clipping from the Telegraph featuring a sampler. Most British newspapers and TV news stations carried stories about this sampler at the time.
Now what may you ask is special about this sampler?
It was stitched by Major Alexis Casdagli whilst a prisoner of war in WWII.  Whilst that makes it different from the average sampler there is far more to it than that.
Look a little more closely – can you find and decipher the secret message it contains ?
Using thread taken from an old pullover Major Casdagli spent the endless hours in captivity cross stitching his sampler and in doing so put his life at risk.
The Nazis failed to spot the coded and secret message and actually displayed the work in the castle where he was being held and a further three POW camps.
Have you found coded message yet?
Around the outside of the decorative symbols which surround the message is  an innocent looking set of dots and dashes – it is  Morse code. The hidden message spells out Casdagli’s defiant message to captors: “God Save The King” and “F*** Hitler”.
The sampler, was displayed at the Victoria and Albert museum  for sometime and Major Casdagli’s daughter wrote a book about her father.
His son was quoted in the newspaper article saying “My father always said that the red cross packages he received kept him alive, but the sewing kept him sane.”
The Major continued stitching after the war.
If you are interested in this story the original article in the Telegraph can be read HERE.