Thursday 31 March 2016

The 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 Lancashire. 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 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 for the collection are copyright of the Rachel Kay-Suttleworth Collection  Gawthorpe Hall.

Wednesday 30 March 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 29 March 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.

Monday 28 March 2016

A Forgotten Technique - Part 1

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 inspriational, gracious and elegant lady. Her book is a valuable addition to a needleworkers 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.

Sunday 27 March 2016

Preserving our heritage


This embroidered raised-work picture, showing a couple bearing royal regalia is thought to be Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria of France and  is in the collection of the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria).

The NGV have two very interesting online recources that look at this piece in detail.
The first is a video in which Alison Cole takes a closer look at the stitches and techniques used.

The second a well written article on how the microscopic examination and  x-raying of the stumpwork has revealed some fascinating information.

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 acheievement.

There are several varitites 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 marks 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.

Friday 25 March 2016

Preserving our heritage

In the United Kingdon The National Trust works very hard to preserve and protect historic places and spaces - for ever, for everyone.


The Trust’s textile collections are of international importance, numbering nearly 100,000 individual items, the majority of these precious, and often unique objects, remain on display in the houses for which they were made or acquired.

You can view details of the individual tapestries HERE.

The trust's textile collection boast a wide range of styles, materials and techniques. From grand furnishings such as state beds with rich hangings and trimmings to fine tapestries and costumes, they all help us connect directly with the people of our past.


The Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk is the National Trust’s only in house conservation treatment facility. The National Specialist Textile Conservation Adviser is based at the Studio, working with a team of professionally trained and accredited conservators.


The studio is not generally open to the public but offer a limited amount of groups tours per year for a maximum of 25 people. The tour lasts for approximately 1½ hours. This is a rare chance to see objects close up and to talk to the conservators involved about their work.

They also offer the opportunity to visit the studio as part of Heritage Open Days. Individual places have to be pre-booked.

Conservation staff are happy to give talks to local groups about aspects of their work. This can range from the Trusts textiles in general, life as a conservator or about specific conservation projects. A fee for this is normally charge to cover time and expenses.

If there is enough interest in visiting the studio in 2017 we can look into arranging a tour.


There is a very interesting series of three videos  explaining the conservation work they carry out.