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Historic Embroidery Study Day

Thu 7th July 2011
10.30 – 4

Meg Andrews home
Islington, London


As a new member of the Textile Society, I arrived in foul weather for my first ever study day, to the calm of Meg’s Andrews kitchen and the congenial company of seasoned and newer society members merrily stitching away under the patient guidance of embroidery tutor Nicola Jarvis.
We looked at three different embroidery styles spanning the 16-18 centuries and tried out essential stitches from each, starting with Tent stitch or Basket weave Point de St Cyre which creates a flat all-over fill. As a novice embroiderer, I would never have dared attempt anything at such fine gauge, so was very grateful to Nicola for teaching me that sometimes a single skein and small scale is much more controllable and neat - a revelation to a beginner who is admittedly more at the ‘Slash and burn’ end of things as one member put it!
We moved on to crewel work, my favourite because of the liveliness and fantastical scale of some of the pieces. We worked in long-stapled French wool on twill. Nicola pointed out the cross fertilisation of pattern ideas, Jacobean motifs being influenced by textiles coming from India, and their rendering in an initially monochrome European style returning to the subcontinent and influencing the textiles there, while tastes in England became more colourful from 1670 onwards in response.
Our practice was punctuated by an inspiring tour of Meg’s rich and varied collection, embracing woven panels of William Morris triple cloth and exquisite Chinese sleeve bands in very fine silk, displayed throughout the house at convenient heights for close scrutiny. 16C appliqué panels made from scraps of extremely rich cloth with turbaned figures, crocodiles and imagined scenes of the Orient, stand out in the memory, as well as the wonderful chromatic shading on the leaves of a pair of long crewel work panels.
The highlight of the day was a fascinating raised work panel (dating from ?) which we studied in more detail. The figure of a finely dressed lady surrounded by flowers, butterflies and other insects with raised wings captured everyone’s interest. Was it real coral in her hair, what were the initials on the book the lady was carrying, what nationality was she? The more we looked at this piece the more puzzling it became, as the meticulous technique used to create the 3-dimensional elements revealed itself. Nicola told us how textile historian Dr. Mary Brooks has used X-rays to discover the hidden skeletons of actual birds supporting creatures in raised work panels of a similar age.
We decided this single panel would be well worth a study day in its own right to look at the techniques in greater depth.