Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Queen Stitch(ed)

As the week in which we celebrated International Women's Day draws to an end we thought we would feature another female known for their skill with a needle.

If one mentions "Queen Mary" particularly in the context of embroidery most stitchers would add in their mind "of Scots" but British history has another Queen Mary - the formidable, regal  wife of George V.


Born Mary of Teck (Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes), she was known as May. Her parents were Francis, Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, a member of the British Royal Family. When 24 she was betrothed to Prince Albert Victor the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, but six weeks after the announcement of the engagement the prince died unexpectedly and the year following she was engaged to Albert Victor's next surviving brother who was later crowned George V.


Queen Mary was a gifted needlewoman and passed her love of the needle onto her son Edward the VIII who gave up his throne for Wallis Simpson. Edward, known after his abdication as the Duke of Windsor, enjoyed needlepoint.


As a child Sandra my co-designer  at  Hands Across the Sea Samplers, was enthralled with a book belonging to her Great Grandmother.

It featured Queen Mary's Doll House - the photo above is one of its rooms. HERE is a link to a video for more information on this very special dolls house.

The book also featured Queen Mary's Tapestry Carpet which has fascinated Sandra over the years.


This magnificent carpet, stitched in "gros point" by Queen Mary contains close to one million stitches and each of the twelve panels is signed "Mary R" with the year in which it was completed. The carpet measures 10 ft 2” x 6 ft 9½".


The Queen started the carpet at age 69 after the death of her husband King George V. She worked one panel in 1941, three each in 1942, ’43, and ’44, one in ’45, and the last one in l946. The bird and flower designs are based on tapestries from the Queen Victoria and Albert Museum, but the colors are her own personal choice.  The slight differences in the background colours was due to the difficulty of matching wool in wartime.


Queen Mary spent the war years at Badminton House the country home of the Dukes of Beaufort. Her Grace, the Duchess was her niece.

imageShe liked to work on the Tapestry whilst sitting in the sunshine on the lawn while one of the members of the household read her the newspapers.

For security reasons there was no public mention during the war of where she was living, however, there were rumours of her giving lifts to American soldiers around the Badminton area and of her attending baseball matches at their invitation. She was friendly with the soldiers, unbending in a way that she had never done in her life before.

She was always amused that they were incredulous at her identity. Apparently one US soldier wrote to his parents that he had told the Queen that he recognised her because he was a stamp collector. She asked whether he thought it was a good likeness on the  stamps.


Britain had been gravely weakened financially by the Second World War and Queen Mary felt it was her duty to set an example. She wrote to the Prime Minister offering the carpet she was making to be used for the benefit of the nation.

It was to be sold for dollars and the money to go into the National Exchequer. To enhance the bidding there was an exhibition in London (where over 90,000 people queued to view it)  followed by a 14,000 mile tour of North America. The only condition of sale was that the ultimate home be a public institution.

The carpet packed in a heavy oak chest arrived in New York on board the Queen Mary liner on March 23, 1950. Customs officials waived the normal wharf side inspection.

Eleanor Roosevelt praised the sacrifice and devotion of Queen Mary, in sending her needlework carpet to the United States as a dollar-earner. Mrs. Roosevelt inspected the carpet at a ceremony at the English Speaking Union building.

She said,

"I think it a very wonderful gesture on the part of Queen Mary, who put eight years' work into the carpet. I am sure this meant a considerable wrench to her to give it up to try to earn dollars for her country."


In 1951 Princess Elizabeth presented the carpet to The National Art Gallery in Ottawa on behalf of the IODE (Canada’s Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire) who had made the purchase for $100,000 to help relieve the “dollar crisis” of a government still recovering from the war.

There is a VIDEO available of a very old black and white news reel that features the tapestry carpet where the size  can be appreciated.

It is quite an amazing feat to embroider something on such a scale.


Queen Mary was the Patron of The "Queen Mary Needlework Guild". In the Great War the guild trained wounded servicemen in the art of embroidery as a form of therapy.


The guild organised the sewing and knitting of home comforts to be sent to the front line.


This pillow was embroidered by Queen Mary and subequently given as a raffle item for a charitable event by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

As Queen Consort Mary was at the side of her husband through the First World War, and supported her second son George VI, throughout the Second World War. Perhaps needlework was her source of strength in those difficult times as it is for so many of us.