Voices From The Inside

After a reflective break from posting on all things textile and dress related, I could not think of a better way to return back into action than with requests to post on my blog!

What a honour…

Doddington Hall

This summer sees celebrations for the Magna Carta. Yet, voices will be heard at Doddington Hall during the staging of a fascinating exhibition of quilts and needlework entitled ‘Voices From The Inside’. Before it opens on Sunday 14th June 2015 lets explore how the project stitched itself together!

The exhibition will explore what it means to be ‘inside’ and the power of stitchwork to communicate, rehabilitate and heal. Curated in partnership with Fine Cell Work (the charity that trains men and women in prison to do high-quality, paid needlepoint). There will be several pieces made by prisoners, alongside other works made by nuns, carers, invalids, soldiers and artists.

Approximately twenty quilts displayed throughout the hall. They will fascinate and intrigue the general public, revealing sewing and stitching to high standards that takes skill, patience, time and practice. Explore and observe the extraordinary handiwork for yourself and imagine the lives of those who made them.

The exhibition will reveal a wide array of intricately-stitched and beautifully-finished handmade quilts, each with its own unique history and story – revealing the almost forgotten memories of communities. Tracy Chevalier‘s highly moving ‘Sleep Quilt’, made in Wandsworth Prison, brings to light what sleep means to the maker of each section whilst the inspirational ‘Help For Heros Quilt’ strikes a poignant note. Artist Grayson Perry has loaned his ‘Right to Life’ quilt.

Fine Cell Work have been working within our prisons for many years and give prisoners an opportunity to learn a skill and affect a change within themselves, a change that in turn helps to benefit the wider community. The organisation makes items that are in turn sold to support future projects; you will see that some of the quilts displayed are for sale during the exhibition!

To compliment the exhibition a series of inspirational workshops will invite participants to make: a quick patchwork quilt in a day, make a patchwork bag from Liberty prints, learn about improvised piecing and learn how to make cathedral window patchwork.

‘Voices From The Inside’ will run until 31st August 2015 and be available to the general public on open days (Wednesdays, Sundays & Bank Holiday Mondays – 12noon – 4pm). Entry to the exhibition is included with House and Gardens admission. Adult £9.50 – Family £26.00 – Child £4.75. Groups are very welcome by private appointment outside of standard opening times – please contact our House Manager to discuss 01522 694 308 or email info@doddingtonhall.com. 

Note quilt photographs featured  in the post are courtesy of Fine Cell Work.

This post was written in collaboration with Susanna Plummer at Doddington Hall. If you are interested in writing a post in collaboration with the author of Textile and Dress Historian please email textileanddresshistorian@gmail.com.


Dressing Or Dressing Up!

Accessories appeared for the first time when primitive man found his most satisfying expression in the use of body painting and tattooing, added to this his desire for ornamentation – rings dangling from ears, chains around his neck, and perhaps a feather or two in his hair.

The earliest articles of adornment reveal ornaments used on different parts of the body, and interestingly the location for these objects were places where objects seemed to fit naturally.

The parts of the body destined to display ornaments are those areas that are contracted or of a narrower portion above large bony or muscular structure – the forehead and temples, the neck and shoulders, the waist and hips, above and below the knee, the ankles, the upper arms, the wrist, and to a lesser degree, the fingers.

Feathers need little preparation for man’s use and the system of mounting them is very simple. Some years later, body covering or clothing came to be worn. Accessory articles appeared for the head, neck, shoulder, waist, legs and arms. Today we know these accessories as modern hats, bonnets, shawls, belts, girdles, shoes, bracelets and so forth.

The idea of accessories has developed and changed over the years, today when thinking about accessories ‘dressing up’ comes to mind. Accessories can ‘dress up’ an outfit by creating a focal point to an otherwise ordinary outfit. Accessories play a key role as they adorn the body and enhance our appearance.

Over the years accessories have changed to complement the every changing style in fashion.

The history of the mask is one of surprising interest. Nearly every race has found some use for the mask. Perhaps the painted face of a primitive warrior inspired the first mask.

Accessories are items which stand alone and with the right ensemble complete an outfit.  A minority of accessories have no function but to look aesthetically pleasing. A classic example would be: a bracelet or brooch. A bracelet sits on the wrist and its only purpose is to glisten in the light and attract attention. The sample principle would apply to a brooch. It is attached to a jumper or jacket with a pin, however; it does not hold the jacket in place as it is only a form of decoration.

Hat-pins do have a function: they hold a hat in the correct position and stop it from falling off. On the contrary, a hat ornament has no function at all. Although a hat ornament remains tied to a form of necessity, etiquette and formality, which is distinguished from the use of a hatpin. The use of a hat ornament allowed a lady of ‘the leisure class’ or wealth the ability to distinguish herself from other social classes.

Is an accessory an object or could it be an extension of our personality?

Be My Valentine

It is said that St. Valentine’s Day probably originates from a pagan fertility festival in pre-Roman times or it could be a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus? Where ever its origins may rest, the day appears to be associated with romance and love.

During the 15th century the occasion evolves by lovers expressing their affection for one another in the form of sending flowers, greeting cards “Valentines” and even confectionary – chocolate or sweets. Yet, it is interesting to see that since the 19th century the notion of a handwritten valentine’s card is sadly superseded by mass-production.

Valentine’s Day has become a commercial opportunity with the use of hearts, doves and the figure of the winged cupid to symbolise love.

We even see a tradition of chivalrous gentlemen sending a pair of gloves to their loved one as a proposal. He waits hopelessly hoping that his loved one will wear then to church on a Sunday in acceptance of his proposal.

Might you receive a pair of gloves this Valentine’s Day?

Stitched Cloth or Exemplum

The word sampler is from the Latin ‘exemplum’ – an example

There was a time when needleworkers did not have the use of pre-printed patterns. This meant that when ever they noticed a design or motif that they liked it would need to be captured (stitched) as an example, for future reference.

A cloth would be stitched to form a small example. Soon the cloth was referred to as a ‘sampler’, as it would have randomly placed designs or patterns. Perhaps one day the design or pattern would be embroidered onto a pocket, cuff or hem line. You could almost say that the cloth was a working diary of a needleworker, collected over their lifetime.

Peruvian Nazca Sampler 2nd Century BC
Peruvian Nazca Sampler 2nd Century BC

The earliest examples of cloth used to record stitched patterns or a design is thought to have been worked by the ancient Peruvian Nazca culture.

A sampler developed into a embroidery produced, by young females, displaying a demonstration or test of their skills in needlework. It would often show some form of figures, motifs or have decorative borders. On occasions the needleworker would embroider their name and the date.

Jane Bostocke 1598
Jane Bostocke 1598

The history of this type of sampler dates back to the 16th century. The earliest dated example, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London was made by Jane Bostocke in 1598.

Borders were introduced in the 17th century and by the mid-1600s alphabets came into common use. We also see religious or moral quotations, suggesting that the finished sampler was methodically organised.

By the 18th century samplers seemed a complete contrast to their predecessors. These samplers were stitched to demonstrate knowledge than to preserve skills.

Samplers are scattered all around the world and can be seen in various locations or settings. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York has a sampler made by the Peruvian Nazca culture from cotton and camelid hair. Records suggest the sampler was produced in the 2nd century BC.

The Victorian & Albert Museum, London has samplers by Elizabeth Parker and Jane Bostocke. The earliest dated sampler in Hull Museums Collection was produced by Elizabeth Clark in 1742, with an alphabet and flower motifs. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge has samplers dating from the late 16th century to 20th century. There is a stunning piece worked by Mary Derow in 1723.

I am even surprised to find ‘The Sampler Tea Room & Museum’ in Pembrokeshire. Samplers can be seen at a variety of National Trust properties in historic setting such as Tintinhull House, Somerset; Berrington Hall, Herefordshire; Hill Top, Cumbria and Montacute House, Somerset.

Please contact each individual museum or National Trust property before making a visit to check if the samplers are on public display or if you are required to make an appointment in advance with a curator.

Jacobean Sampler
Jacobean Sampler

Today, samplers are widely used but for a leisurely activity. You can purchase a kit with the pattern, cloth and threads required to produce your own work of embroidered art.

Without the care and expertise of museums and national trust properties these fragile pieces of embroidered cloth would be lost forever and the makers forgotten.

Sacred Stitches

Valance Detail, French, 1560-1969. Photography: Sarah Jane Kenyon © Sarah Jane Kenyon 2013.

The title of this recent exhibition at Waddesdon Manor (ended 27th October 2013) provoked connections between stitched objects and devotion to religion. The Christian Church held textiles as sumptuous articles, which were also used. Textiles would be embellished in the forms of vestments for wear and fabrics for furnishings, such as altar frontals.

Left: Panel depicting a Saint, probably Mary Magdalene, French, c 1400. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.
Image robe, French? 1775-1800. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.
Right: Embroidered panel showing the Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, now mounted as a cushion, Swiss, 1575-1600. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

Sacred Stitches brought forth the value of textiles with a posing juxtaposition: extremely sacred or a fragment of the past? Perhaps revealing the engagement of a textiles journey – what it might be made for and how its ownerships and uses would remove it from its origins, pride of place in a church or cathedral.

ValanceFrench, 1560-1969. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

I was lucky enough to have a personal guided tour of the exhibition before it ended with Rachel Boak, Senior Curator at Waddesdon Manor, responsible for the textile and costume collections.

Rachel with her torch at hand guided me around the exhibition to shed light on the essence of the exhibition, craftsmanship.

Rachel summarised the exhibition:

Ecclesiastical textiles once made to adorn churches and cathedrals and later adapted as secular furnishings were displayed in the exhibition Sacred Stitches: Ecclesiastical Textiles in the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor. Entirely drawn from the stored collections at Waddesdon, the textiles included stunning 15th -century embroidered panels depicting saints, once part of an altar frontal and later mounted as banners, and 19th -century furniture mounted with fragments from 16th -century vestments.

Quickly I realised how much time Rachel had spent researching the subject matter of the exhibition, which can be seen presented in the catalogue, Sacred Stitches: Ecclesiastical Textiles in the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor available in the Waddesdon shop or online.

Left: Sofa mounted with panels from dalmatics, Italian or Spanish (sofa frame English), 1600-1625 (embroidery), c 1880 (frame). Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

Right: Sofa covered with embroidery depicting Moses in the bulrushes, Italian (sofa frame English), 1650-1700 (embroidery), c 1880 (frame). Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

It is fascinating to see generations of the Rothschild family as keen collectors of textiles from Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922) to Baroness Edmond de Rothschild (1853-1935). What is more intriguing is that the Rothschild family are Jewish, yet it was the technical and aesthetic accomplishment of the textiles that appealed to them, not necessarily the intentions of its use. It is as though the family realised the value of collecting and holding onto craftsmanship from the past, something sacred.

This post was written in collaboration with Rachel Boak, Senior Curator at Waddesdon Manor.  If you are interested in writing a post in collaboration with the author of Textile and Dress Historian please email textileanddresshistorian@gmail.com.

Below a detailed list of images featured in this post:

Panel depicting a Saint, probably Mary Magdalene, French, c 1400; linen, embroidered with coloured silks in split stitch and with silver-gilt and silver thread in various forms of couched work; 740 x 307mm; accession number 3032.4. Originally part of an altar frontal depicting saints in a colonnade, this panel is one of five acquired by Alice de Rothschild in the late 19th century and mounted in red velvet as banners.

Image robe, French? 1775-1800; silk taffeta, embroidered with silver thread, strip, purl and spangles in stem and satin stitches and couched work, trimmed with silk bobbin lace; 170 x 185 x 450mm (length of outer edge); accession number 6154. Image robes are small, doll-like clothes made to be worn by statues, called images, of the Virgin Mary and other saints when processed through the streets and in churches. The back of this image robe is open and it fastens with a drawstring at the neck, for ease of mounting on a small figure. The patterns embroidered in silver are large for the scale of the robe, suggesting that it has been cut from something else, probably a woman’s dress. The robe was acquired by Baroness Edmond de Rothschild.

Embroidered panel showing the Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, now mounted as a cushion, Swiss,1575-1600; linen, wool and metal thread embroidered in couched work, long-and-short and stem stitches, with some raised work; 460 x 565mm; accession number 5355. This may have been the central section of an upper valance for a bed, but at some point it has been cut out and then separately mounted as a cushion in the 19th century. It was acquired by Alice de Rothschild.

Valance, French, 1560-1569 (with later additions); silk satin, backed with heavy linen canvas and embroidered with coloured floss silks and silver-gilt thread in long-and-short, satin, spaced satin, stem and split stitches and couched work; ground covered with floss silk gobelin stitches (imitating tapestry weave); silk braid and fringe; lined with modern cotton; 1900 x 485mm; accession number 7179. This detail shows one of the figures making up the grotesque-style decoration. Embroidered with verses from the Bible, the valance was originally one of three upper valances for a bed. It was used as a decorative hanging in Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s Smoking Room at Waddesdon.

Sofa mounted with panels from dalmatics, Italian or Spanish (sofa frame English), 1600-1625 (embroidery), c 1880 (frame); wood, silk velvet, appliquéd silk, backed with linen and paper, outlined with cord in silk and metal thread; 760 x 1175 x 720mm; Accession number 578. Red velvet of varying colours and ages has been cut and pieced from different vestments to fit the dimensions of this sofa, possibly made by the English firm, Howard & Sons. The crossed keys of St Peter on the back and arms indicate the former ecclesiastical use of the textiles as apparels on a dalmatic, a T-shaped vestment with decorative panels on the front, back and sleeves. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

Sofa covered with embroidery depicting Moses in the bulrushes, Italian (sofa frame English), 1650-1700 (embroidery), c 1880 (frame); wood, linen, embroidered with coloured silks in long-and-short, shaded satin and stem stitches, and laid work; 755 x 1106 x 720mm; accession number 577. The embroideries mounted on the sofa are not from vestments, but, on the back of the seat, the scene shows the finding of the baby Moses in the bulrushes of the River Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter. Both sofas were used by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the Bachelors’ Wing at Waddesdon. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

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A Truth Embedded In Thread

Textiles: Embroidering The Truth  was the 31st Textile Society Conference held at the Rex Makin Lecture Theatre, County Sessions Hall in the former city of culture – Liverpool. From the 18th century onwards the city developed its role as ‘the gateway to the empire’ an important port for the transport of cargoes across the Atlantic.

Perhaps it seemed only fitting that the speakers for the conference came together from across the country from Bristol, London, Manchester and Liverpool to bring an eclectic discourse on textiles.

Textiles can be revealing and bring forth the truth of its subject matter.

To explore the truth of embroidery, the first day of the conference began with visits to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and Liverpool Archives to view ecclesiastical textiles.

Dr Gale Owen-Crocker, Professor of Anglo-Saxon Culture at the University of Manchester, exposed the costume details of the ‘Fools in the Bayeux Tapestry‘ stitched so carefully during the 11th century.

The second day of the conference exposed the truth of the maker. Pauline Rushton, Curator Liverpool Museums, presented a journey of how a 19th century altar frontal would unravel its connections to the studios of Charles Eamer Kempe.

The hand of an embroiderer can reveal many truths about the origins and compositions of a piece. Tabitha Moses and Janet Haigh presented a notion that perhaps over time the subconscious of the maker is reflected in the threads that formed the embroidery that is presented.

The conference closed with a visit to the Williamson Art Gallery, the keepers of the company archive of Arthur H. Lee & Sons, established in the mid-1880s in Bolton.

The truth can only be revealed if the embroidery survives and has been preserved to tell its story, which is sewn into the canvas we see. The maker has since past and leaves only a fragment of understanding behind.

The Textile Society is a charity which promotes the history, culture and study of textiles established in 1982.

Woven Words

Felt Corset, Sitting 2005
Felt Corset, Sitting 2005

By studying ‘Textiles’ at Goldsmiths College, University of London I walked the corridors that were once filled by the presence of Mary Quant, Bridget Riley and Antony Gormley. I feel humble that I can say I have studied where some of the greatest designers and artists first found their inspiration.

So here is a question for you, what does textiles mean?

During my time at Goldsmiths we were often critiqued about our practice and encouraged to explore the meanings and use of textiles. Studying textiles at Goldsmiths meant pushing the boundaries of what textiles was. Could textiles be the process to explore or rationalise an idea? Would the final outcome present a body of work far removed from textiles – an installation of thoughts presented in film or photography.

I often remember a particular tutor, pushing the boundaries of the word ‘textiles’ and breaking it down into ‘text’ and ‘iles’. Text – meaning the obvious a ‘word’ or group of words that might be printed or interpreted in a form that is read in order to explain something. Leaving ‘iles’ 4 letters floating alone, what do they mean? Mr Google tells me it could be a surname or acronym. So perhaps the conclusion my tutor was trying to get across was that textiles were a way of weaving ideas, to tell a story, to be read.

Away from the conceptual world,  ‘textiles’ in the simplest form are fabric or cloth, perhaps woven? The Latin word for ‘textiles’ is Textilis – a woven fabric, piece of cloth.

Textiles are made from fibres – natural or man-made. Natural fibres fall under 2 categories – animal and vegetable. Animal: silk or wool and vegetable: cotton, linen or jute. The methods of making a cloth or fabric have developed and evolved over time from hand weaving to industrialised looms. Man-made fibres such as nylon or polyester were produced commercially in the 20th century.

The world is made up of various forms of cloth or fabric which are then used to cover and drape. It may be woven, felted, knitted, printed, embroidered or embellished with beads or metal spangles. Perhaps a cloth or fabric reveal a woven or embellished history of its own heritage?

Textiles can be found in your home, museums or historic houses. Today, whether we see it or not textiles surround us in every possible way from our curtains, duvet, carpet, dressing gown, sofa, dress, tights, trousers, or shoes.

Textiles can vary in size and scale. They can be flat, 3-dimensinal or sculptural. Perhaps textiles are ubiquitous objects? Textiles may have a function or be a simple display of craftsmanship or aesthetics.

National Trust properties display thousands of examples of textiles from state beds, hangings, curtains, furnishings, samplers and are often eclectic or collected over several generations.

Waddesden Manor offers a stunning journey of embellished textiles, woven in every corner. The Rothschild family were keen collectors and when you see the house for yourself you will see why. The Manor is grand, yet for a moment you feel like you are peeping through the looking glass reflecting on the Rothschild’s family life. The objects appear in an aquatic half light, longing for daylight and to be used again.

Folded Beauty
Folded Beauty

Folded Beauty: Masterpieces In Linen by Joan Sallas on display at Waddesdon Manor until 27th October 2013, weaves the journey of textiles to the modern day.

This exhibition is a contemporary take on an old tradition of folding napkins, a tradition which originated in Europe 500 years ago. What we see on display is a work of art with the splendid backdrop provided by the Rothschild collection. Through out the Manor there are stunning objects made from linen napkins, sitting proudly out of place to make you stop and stare. At the end of your journey around the Manor you are even invited to make your own napkin.

If you hurry you have time to visit Waddesden Manor before the napkins are folded away!