Over the past couple of days, quite a few of you have contacted me to ask about the black and white mitts that appeared in the header image at the top of this page. Well, this is my new design — the Ecclefechan Mitts! I was so happy with the photograph that I just couldn’t stop myself from popping it up there. I have to say that I’m extremely happy with the pattern, too.
This design has been several months in the making. I decided back in September that I wanted to work on a black and white mitt design, and since then there has been quite a bit of charting and swatching and knitting. The inspiration behind these mitts is, of course, the graphic, striking, and to my mind rather elegant two-colour gloves that were traditionally knitted in Dentdale and the Scottish Borders.
Like traditional Sanquhar gloves, my mitts are knitted at a relatively tight gauge to create a close, hard-wearing fabric. Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage – smooth, fine, worsted spun, and with a traditional feel – is the ideal yarn for this project, and knits up beautifully at a dense gauge. Like their forbears too, the Ecclefechan Mitts also feature a diced pattern that is knit up in high-contrast black and white.
There’s also some neat shaping to allow the mitts to fit closely around the hand and thumb.
Working a mitt rather than a five-fingered-glove not only makes this design a bit more contemporary and wearable, but means that the pattern is really simple to knit. In fact, the Ecclefechan Mitts could be knit by any colourwork beginner: frequent shade changes and no long stretches between stitches mean that it is easy to maintain a consistent tension.
I must point out that the fitted elegance of these mitts is thanks to Mel, who with her usual thorough test-knitting and feedback, prompted me to make several changes to my charts . . .
And why Ecclefechan? Well, Ecclefechan is the name of a small town in the Scottish Borders, well-known as the birthplace of one of my favourite nineteenth-century authors, Thomas Carlyle. It is also the birthplace of the Ecclefechan Tart, a delicious confection, which is one of my favourite things to bake (and eat).
When I was putting together the pattern for the Ecclefechan Mitts, I decided to pop in my Ecclefechan tart recipe, so that you can enjoy them too. There really are few treats nicer than an Ecclefechan tart and a cup of tea.
The Ecclefechan Mitts are now available both as a PDF download and a knitting kit. If you purchase the kit, you receive yarn, printed pattern, project bag, recipe, and, (because Eimear insisted), a sachet of tea to enjoy with your tarts.
We designers had been commissioned to produce designs inspired by items in the collection . . . we worked on them over the Winter . . . and today, our patterns were released!
The piece I chose as the basis of my design was an incredible coverlet embroidered by the collection’s founder, Rachel Kay Shuttleworth. Miss Rachel designed the coverlet in honour of the memory of her seventeenth-century ancestor, Richard “the Roundhead” Shuttleworth, and embroidered it during the the last years of her life at Gawthorpe.
(If you are interested to read more about the history of the coverlet, and my inspiration, I have written about it here)
So this is what I came up with: meet the Richard the Roundhead Tam!
Rachel’s coverlet combined her own Arts and Crafts aesthetic with her ancestor’s Tudor heritage, and I have tried to speak to this in my design with structured motifs that echo those of her embroidery. The colour scheme is the same teal-on-white that Rachel chose, with a pop of Lancastrian rose-red for the brim lining and button. The brim combines a turned hem with picots and corrugated ribbing, and those of you who have made my Scatness Tunic will recognise the technique used to create the button:
They are very easy to make, and I will post a tutorial here over the next few days so that everyone can have a go.
From start to finish, this has been such a lovely design to produce. It was wonderful to visit Gawthorpe, to have access to its world-class collection of historic textiles, and to meet and work with the fabulously dedicated women who curate and care for it. The research involved in a project like this is meat and drink to me: it was fantastic to spend some time researching the history and context of Rachel Shuttleworth’s coverlet, and I particularly enjoyed finding out about Richard Shuttleworth’s role in the Civil War. Finally, as a Lancastrian myself, the design really does mean something to me, and I confess to feeling a modicum of local pride when I finally finished the knitting, and popped the red rose of Lancashire on the top of that tam.
The pattern for the Richard The Roundhead Tam is now available to download here!
I am sure you will hear more from the other designers about their patterns in the coming days, but I thought I would give them a quick mention too.
Debbie has designed a beautiful needle case inspired by one of Gawthorpe’s ticking samplers (a genre of sampler I find particularly appealing. Those stripes!).
Jane has designed a lovely hat and mitt set, inspired by historic swatches in the stitch and sample books held in Gawthorpe’s textile archives.
Gawthorpe’s collections are particularly rich in lace, and Claire Montgomerie drew on this for her exceptionally pretty capelet, whose crocheted motifs echo those of several lace fragments.
And Emma produced this wonderful cushion cover, inspired by what is surely one of the most moving items in Gawthorpe’s collection: a military quilt, stitched from uniform scraps by a convalescing solider.
All proceeds from the sales of these designs will go to Gawthorpe, to help care for this important historic collection for future generations to enjoy and be inspired by. You’ll find the whole collection available to peruse over here on Ravelry.
One of the many things that makes me very happy as a designer is seeing different interpretations of a sweater I’ve created. I often learn a lot from the modifications knitters make to my patterns, and sometimes a simple change of shade can make a design look like a completely different garment. The Puffin sweater is one of my favourite patterns in Colours of Shetland, and it was designed with a very specific palette in mind: the puffin-y palette, which you can see above in Rebecca’s lovely sweater. But many knitters, through subtle or dramatic alterations in the design’s original shades, have created some wonderfully different Puffins. Here, with their permission, are a few examples I’d like to show you.
Here’s Barbara in her Puffin, together with Bramble (who, like Barbara, enjoys visiting Shetland). At a first glance, Barbara’s sweater looks pretty much like my original, but she has actually swapped the garment’s main colour – Jamieson & Smith Jumper Weight shade 77 – for shade 81, which is a much quieter, softer black. I confess that shade 77 can be a real bear to knit with, as well as to photograph, and I love the slightly muted effect that shade 81 has lent to Barbara’s Puffin.
When designing the Puffin sweater, I spent an awful lot of time swatching to create the correct colour sequence for my chevrons, and was interested to hear that Rhiannon and Valerie did the same when making theirs . . .
Rhiannon began by swatching a dark-to-light gradient across the yoke, but when that didn’t work out, came up with a chevron sequence of several graded and contrasting monochrome shades, using Jumper Weight shade 27 for the main colour. Valerie is very fond of the undyed, sheepy shades of Jamieson and Smith Shetland Supreme. She settled on Shetland Black (shade 2005) for her main colour, with 7 different shades worked through the yoke. The way these these natural shades effortlessly speak to each other means that the effect is both simple and striking. I think Valerie’s and Rhiannon’s natural Shetland sweaters are absolutely stunning.
Erin has actually knit the puffin Sweater twice: first for her sister, and then for herself. Erin used a combination of Brown Sheep Nature Spun fingering and Knit Picks Palette to make her sweater (both of which have a large colour range) and like Valerie and Rhiannon she swatched several times before settling on this particular sequence for her chevrons. “I tested a few combinations,” says Erin, “mostly involving some orange and gold colors I had in the Nature Spun fingering . . . but everything looked a little too 70s shag carpet.”
After rejecting the 1970s palette, Erin settled on this lovely combination of tan and teal in the yoke, both of which really pop out against the subtle stone shade she used to knit the body.
Deb’s “parrotty puffin” is one of my favourite iterations of this sweater – it is just so striking!
“The yarn was given to me by my sister,” says Deb. “She’d had it since the late 1980s, still in its original bag with the pattern she was planning to make – a typically 80s, oversized and brightly-coloured jumper. I’m not a big fan of fluffy yarns but accepted it because I really liked the highly saturated colours. It then sat in my stash for some time while I tried to work out what to do with it. When the Puffin Sweater was released, I knew straight away that it was the one! While I was working on it, it occurred to me that the colour scheme was very reminiscent of Rainbow Lorikeets – the friendly little parrots that visit the balcony of my flat every day. So, I’m very glad to have kept the birdie theme going.”
As well as the bright lorikeet palette, I really like the way that Deb’s more closely-placed colour changes through the yoke lend the garter-stitch chevrons an incredibly graphic, luminous effect.
Both Kate and Maureen chose a paler palette for their Puffins:
Kate found the chevron yoke to be reminiscent of waves, and chose the graduated blues of the yoke “to evoke the Shetland and Suffolk coastlines,” and to contrast with her favourite winter white (Kate has blogged about her sweater here). Maureen, meanwhile, loves to fill her wardrobe with colour, and was keen to knit herself a sweater to match the wonderful kilt she’d recently treated herself to from Scottesque. She devised a pretty pastel palette, which is perfectly complemented by the corrugated rib at the hem and cuffs. Both Maureen and Kate used slightly thinner Shetland yarns when knitting, and their sweaters have a lovely light and feminine feel.
Zaz’s hand-spun puffin sweater is truly a labour of love, and is the garment that prompted me to write this post.
Zaz won a prize in the 2012 Tour de Fleece, and requested this beautiful custom-dyed BFL and silk fibre from Mandacrafts.
The fibre waited for the right project to come along, and when Zaz saw the puffin sweater she felt she had to make it, since the puffin (or Macareux moine) is the symbol of Bretagne where, says Zaz “everything I love is.”
Zaz – a beginner spinner – mixed and spun the custom-dyed fibres with natural shades of BFL to give several distinct shades. She wanted to create a light fingering 1-ply yarn with a slightly variegated effect, which to her recalled the granite landscape of the Sept-Isles in Bretagne. “All the yarns are ‘spotted’ because the pink granite is, and the light among the forests in Bretagne is too.” says Zaz, “I did not blend the colours at all, I just put them close together and spun.” Zaz spun with friends in her Ravelry group: “I was encouraged by showing off my progress,” she says, “I did not feel the different steps as being long but just all luminous and exciting.”
This is the yarn that she created. . .
. . . which she then knit up into this beautiful sweater
“Although this is a process project,” says Zaz, “I love it with a passion…I believe the best creations come when there is a basis for things (like a passion for a landscape, its history or a funny story).”
I entirely agree with Zaz, and love the way that she has spun and knitted her own story and distinctive sense of place into her sweater.
But I have to conclude this puffin post with a photograph of Mary’s “puffling”, which she knitted for her grandaughter, Robyn, who loves all things red and Robin coloured.
Mary knitted the puffling from assorted stash yarn, working a basic yoked cardigan, and adapting the puffin chevron yoke to be worked back and forth in a smaller size. Mary’s photograph of her lovely wee girl, in her puffling cardigan, in this gorgeous landscape, just makes my heart sing.
Thankyou, Puffin knitters, for all this inspiration!
Writing of the worn and mended Fair Isle sweater that Shetland knitter, Doris Hunter created for her fiancé, Ralph Patterson, who spent four years in a Japanese POW camp during the Second World War, editor Sarah Laurenson states: “Ralph’s sweater is much more than a physical object. It is a site of personal and political meanings containing traces of world events and the lives of individuals.” Sarah’s astute remarks on this incredible piece of knitwear speak much more broadly to the content of the wonderful book she has recently produced with the Shetland Museum and Archives. In Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present we discover the intriguing stories of creative, enterprising, and brave Shetlanders like Doris and Ralph within the many cultural and economic contexts that make Shetland textiles so unique. Drawing on the knowledge of curatorial staff of the Shetland Museum, academics and researchers from several Scottish Universities, as well as a wealth of local expertise, this book is an important testimony to the significance and impact of Shetland textiles worldwide.
The crucial factor shaping the production of Shetland textiles from the Mesolithic to today is of course, the wool grown by its native sheep. A fabulous piece by Elizabeth Johnston introduces us to some of Shetland’s earliest examples of woollen textiles, while other sections of the book explore the the effects of the landscape on the development of the breed, alongside the realities of keeping a flock, and working with wool in Shetland.
We learn that there are 57 names in Norn “specific to colours and patterns in sheep,” and gain insights into what makes Shetland “oo”, as a fibre, so very distinctive. Other things make “Shetland” distinctive too. Unlike, say, “Harris” tweed, (which refers to cloth woven on the island of Harris, but whose provenance is yarn spun from the fleeces of many different breeds and crosses, who may be raised in many different locales), “Shetland” is unique in its breadth of reference: to a particular group of islands; to the name of a particular breed of sheep; to the fibre those sheep produce; to the yarn spun from that fibre; and to the cloth, knitwear, and other manufactured products that are created from that yarn. Unlike “Harris” (an island ‘brand’ now famously trademarked and protected by national regulatory bodies), the broader resonances of “Shetland” ironically meant that it failed to gain the same protection. According to Sarah Dearlove in her important chapter on Shetland tweed, “the word “Shetland” and its use in the woollen industry in general has been the islands’ achillles heel.”
And yet, although the cachet of terms such as “Shetland” and “Fair Isle” means that they are frequently exploited, in some senses that very exploitation has also ensured their continued prominence and visibility within the textile industry. As Sarah Laurenson puts it: “histories of Fair Isle knitwear have to a large extent been shaped by marketing stories which do not necessarily fit with with the ideas and identities of people in Fair Isle and throughout Shetland. However, these stories have driven the commercial success of the style. Without them, there would be no Fair Isle knitwear.”
Shetland textiles are truly spectacular, and the book includes discussion of many important pieces, now housed in the collections of the Shetland Museum and Archives. There’s a great discussion of the incredible lace garments created by enterprising Lerwick hairdresser, Ethel Brown, and anyone who has seen Jeannie Jarmson’s prize-winning rayon tank top (depicted above on the book’s front cover) will not be surprised to learn that she hurt her hands in its making. Yet though these showstoppers are breathtaking examples of what makes Shetland textiles so special, it is also refreshing to read chapters focusing on the everyday. This is the forté of Carol Christiansen (curator of textiles at the Shetland Museum and Archives) and her sections in the book are genuinely illuminating. You’ll learn about the careful reconstruction of the woollen garments worn by the “Gunnister Man” by Carol and her team, revealling “crucial evidence for how early modern clothing was made, worn, and mended.” And while we are all familiar with the beauty of Shetland lace and colourwork, few are perhaps aware of the unique graphic appeal of the “taatit rugs”, which Shetlanders created as bedcovers and wedding gifts from the Eighteenth-Century onwards.
Building on the book’s wealth of original research is Ros Chapman’s piece about Shetland Lace. Her chapter effortlessly mingles intriguing documentary evidence with tantalising anecdote: “there was even an exhibition of Shetland knitting held in a Philadelphia department store containing a reconstructed croft around which knitters, ponies and sheep exhibited their uniqueness.” Ros’s lively chapter is merely the tip of the iceberg of a wonderfully thorough research project into the history, significance, and practice of Shetland Lace knitting. She is clearly going to produce an important book which I’m already looking forward to reading.
Shetland’s knitters are, of course, at the heart of this book, and form the focus of Brian Smith’s and Lynn Abram’s contributions.
As Brian Smith puts it:
“It is important to remember, and easy to forget, that the people who knitted those tens of thousands of stockings and mittens, as well as performing other chores in and out of the home were Shetland women. It was an “honest man’s daughter” who came to Bressay Sound in 1613 with her knitting and got assaulted in the process; it was women who knitted the “Zetland hose and night caps” that Dutchmen were still buying there two centuries later; Shetland’s land rent was being paid from the women’s hosiery in 1797; they created the stockings and gloves presented to the Queen and Duchess of Kent in 1837; the “hose, half hose, gloves, mittens, under waistcoats, drawers, petticoats, night caps, shawls &c &c” in Standen’s Shetland and Scotch warehouse in 1847; and the Shetland goods on show in the Great Exhibition in 1851. And little cash they got for their pains.”
Brian and Lynn’s chapters unfold carefully researched, well-written, and nuanced narratives about the economic realities of Shetland women’s lives, and the part that knitting has played in shaping them. All of us who enjoy our knitting as a stimulating or relaxing leisure pastime should read these chapters to gain insight into what it really meant to be a knitter in Shetland.
Brian’s chapters unpack the truck system (by which Shetland knitters were paid in goods rather than cash), which lingered on in Shetland well into the twentieth century. His account of the effect of collective action by the Shetland Hand Knitters Association, which was developed under the same post-war influences as the British Welfare State, is particularly interesting (and heartening).
Lynn’s piece reveals the wide variety of ways in which Shetland knitters used their own enterprise to support their families in response to extremely challenging social and economic conditions. “We were more or less financially secure” recalled crofter Agnes Leask after purchasing a knitting machine in the early 1960s, “as long as I could churn out about a dozen jumpers a week.” Lynn’s chapter (as much of her work) is extremely important in the way that it suggests the public and social resonances of a craft which is too often regarded in narrowly private contexts. “Hand knitting,” writes Lynn “was far from a domestic activity undertaken by women in the privacy of their own homes. In fact Shetland knitting created social networks and . . . relationships which aided women’s survival in the face of economic crises, personal loss, and the vagaries of living in these islands.”
As well as providing a rich overview of Shetland textiles and the history of their production, the book also introduces us to some of Shetland’s most talented contemporary makers and artists – Hazel Tindall, Emma Blain, Ella Gordon, and Donna Smith – all of whom are experts in their fields. These interviews suggest how Shetland textiles not only have an inspiring present, but a very bright future, a fact celebrated by Jimmy Moncrieff in his foreword to the volume.
I suppose I should mention by way of a disclaimer that the people mentioned in this post, who created and contributed to this wonderful book, are my good friends, colleagues and acquaintances. You would perhaps be very surprised if I didn’t like this book. But then I would be very surprised if you didn’t like it either.
If you buy one book about textiles this year, make it this one.
Sarah Laurenson, ed., Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present (Lerwick: Shetland Heritage Publications, 2013)
All images in this post are the copyrighted property of the Shetland Museum and Archives and are reproduced with their permission.
I have of late been developing an obsession with Swedish textiles, and, it now appears, with all things Swedish. This began at the end of last Summer, when I discovered that several Swedish Etsy sellers had some interesting vintage embroidery on offer . . .
. . . I had to limit my exposure to these wares, as the imperative to fill my house with table runners and cloths and cushions and curtains was just too bloody tempting.
Then I started picking up books about Swedish embroidery, and other crafts . . .
The Eivor Fisher book (which was published in Paisley) is particularly beautiful and inspiring. (Thankyou, Natalie, for alerting me to its existence).
. . .before I knew where I was, I was following the Gävlebocken on Instagram . . .
. . . and sourcing dvd box-sets of Swedish historical dramas
Well, there is nothing for it. I have to go to Sweden. I am perfectly serious, and I would really appreciate any suggestions from readers in that part of the world for must-see textile collections or museums.
Tack så mycket.
This is my first project of 2014. I don’t mind admitting that it was an entirely selfish knit, just for me. A few months ago, I noticed that Jean was knitting Carol Sunday’s Milano. Ye gods, what a gorgeous thing it was! Those stripes killed me! I had to copy Jean and knit those stripes! So I treated myself to the kit, with the intention of enjoying it over the holidays. The most relaxing kind of knitting I can think of is striped stockinette, worked in the round. And my all-time favourite garment construction – the shape I can whip up while barely thinking about it – is a seamless yoke. So that’s what I decided to do. (Carol’s original dropped-shoulder design for the kit is completely gorgeous, but because I am short and narrow of shoulder, its a shape that doesn’t really work on me.)
I really cannot say enough good things about Carol’s yarn, or her wonderful colours. The kit combines three different base yarns, all of which are majority-merino and which all knit to the same gauge. The shades have a delicious muted quality, and have an incredible tonal consonancy: by which I mean that that they all seem to speak to one another, without particular shades becoming overly dominant in the palette. But they are all totally distinct, rather than graded shades – so while they all work together, there’s still lots of contrast between them. The way Carol has put them together in sequence (from cool shades light-dark to warm shades dark-light) is genius, and really made me think about different ways of organising hues. I love the end result.
I decided to knit my jumper tunic length – and its turned out to be an eminently wearable garment that is very nearly a dress! Because I know some of you will be interested in my design decisions: I knit the body with an inch of positive ease and added gentle waist and bust shaping. The sleeves are knit following exactly the same stripe sequence as the body (6 +2 rounds), but are worked at a slightly tighter gauge, which has reduced the length. These matching stripes allowed me to join the yoke with the correct shade, and the same round, for each of the three pieces, but to account for extra length through the body. After joining the yoke, I went down a needle size so that the fabric was tighter and closer fitting, and then later reduced the depth of the stripes to 5+2, largely because I became obsessed with ending the neck with the lagoon shade, which is probably my favourite in Carol’s lovely palette.
Honestly, I can think of nothing I’d rather knit than a circular yoke. There’s just something so satisfying about joining in the sleeves, whizzing around, and shaping the top. Ah me. But I know from speaking to my knitting friends that stockinette stripes would emphatically not be their choice for a relaxing, selfish project. These preferences rather interest me: if you were knitting something relaxing just for you what would it be? Socks? A shawl? Would you have to to wear it, or would the making of it be enough?
I have to say that I am particularly happy to be wearing this tunic. I completely loved knitting it, and as I rarely get to wear the things I make these days, this project really has been doubly satisfying. I imagine I’m going to be knocking about in my Milano quite a lot in weeks to come.
I can heartily recommend Carol’s kit, which, as well as completely being beautiful and delicious, is also amazing value. I have enough yarn remaining to knit another tunic of similar dimensions. And a hat too. I may well make the latter.
And though I didn’t knit from it, from having a good ol’ read (which I often do with written patterns) I’d also recommend Carol’s design, which, like all her patterns is clear, thorough, and very well-written. In short, I heart Sunday Knits!
My Milano is ravelled here.
Hello everyone, and happy new year!
The title of this post is probably not one to start your heart a’ racing . . . and happily its not often I get evangelical about, um, “storage solutions”, but I am so very pleased with my new super-organised circular needles I thought I’d show you what I’ve done.
These wee bags are generally known as fishing wallets or rig wallets. I was introduced to them by Mel (who is the complete opposite of me – ie – exceedingly neat and organised) and they are ideal for arranging and storing your circular needles.
As you can see, the wallets contain separate ziplock transparent compartments into which needles of different sizes can be placed.
The small black wallet has 8 compartments and is great for storing the tiny 20cm needles that I use for knitting sleeves and socks.
The medium-sized green wallet has 10 compartments secured on a ring binder, making them easy to move, rearrange, or add to when you suddenly find yourself with an excess of 2.75 mm needles.
. . .and the larger wallet contains 20 fairly generous compartments, which means I have some spare for future additions. As you can see, I’ve written the needle size and length on the compartment with a sharpie — ye gods — the joy of actually being able to find a needle! May I never gripe of the whereabouts of all the 3.25mm needles again!
The larger wallet also has a compartment at the back into which the smaller can be placed. Bags within bags!
This neat container has completely resolved the unholy mess of wires and envelopes which formerly occupied a corner of my studio. Now if I could actually just put stuff away all would be well.
You can easily find these rig wallets under their brand names on Ebay or various online fishing stores. The small one costs under £3, the medium around £7 and with a bit of searching you can find the larger, more durable, dual-compartmented bag for under £20.
Have a lovely Sunday. I’m off to take down the decorations.
2013 has been a very interesting year. For us, its main event was undoubtedly leaving Edinburgh, and moving out West!
It would perhaps seem to be a massive change, moving from a busy city to a sleepy steading just off the West Highland Way. But I immediately felt at home, and the fact that this change did not seem radical at all, suggests to me how well our new surroundings suit us. I am certainly wading through much more mud and cow shit on my daily walks, and I fear my appearance has grown a wee bit more raggedy and bumpkin-like, but otherwise things go on as usual. With more space. Which is nice.
2013 was a year of new contacts and collaborations.
. . .with the BBC
. . .with Rowan
. . .with Juniper Moon Farm
. . . and, perhaps most excitingly for me, with Gawthorpe Textiles.
I have been exploring texture much more in my design work this year, and have really enjoyed using simple garment shapes to explore the potential of cables and lace.
But, as Autumn turned, I was bitten by the colourwork bug again, and now find myself once more on something of a colour kick.
And perhaps most importantly on a personal post-stroke level, during the latter part of this year, I can say that I have finally begun to feel reasonably “well” on a pretty-much consistent basis. There have been far fewer bouts of debilitating fatigue, and no weird neurological incidents. I spent 6 weeks engaged in the demanding physical task of redecorating our new home with no ill effects, and I can now plan on working a full day, walking Bruce, and performing any necessary household chores: a level of “normal” activity which was completely unimaginable in the years immediately following my stroke. Part of this sensation of wellness is perhaps that I have finally adapted to my post-stroke self, and have a much better awareness of my limits (for example, I still need 10 hours sleep to function normally), but it is also important to point out that, almost four years after the event, I am still seeing significant improvements in my gait and strength on my weak side, as demonstrated in this recent swants leap.
Thankyou all so much for stopping by, for reading and commenting, and for supporting my work in 2013.
Here’s to a grand new year for us all! Slainte and Happy Knitting!
In between developing kits and other designs, I’ve been working on my Gawthorpe project (which you may remember is a commission to produce a pattern inspired by the wonderful textile collections of Rachel Kay Shuttleworth). The piece on which I’ve decided to base my design is a large coverlet, featuring deep teal-coloured woollen embroidery on a plain linen background. I knew that this beautiful piece had been stitched by Rachel Kay Shuttleworth herself, but I had only seen it behind glass on my first visit, as it was part of the collection on display. So I decided, a couple of weeks ago, to pop back to Gawthorpe to take a closer look, and do a little research.
I had assumed, when I first saw the coverlet, that the motifs were ferns, or fern-inspired, but this turned out not to be the case. In her notes about it, Rachel Kay Shuttleworth describes the motifs as “big feathers” and gives two sources of inspiration for the pattern she’d used. The first is another piece in her collection, which had been embroidered by Rachel’s contemporary, Hilda Ashworth . . .
. . . which had in turn been inspired by an original Tudor piece, purportedly embroidered by Amy Robsart (the wife of Robert Dudley, whose death in mysterious circumstances made her something of a sentimental cause célèbre at the turn of the twentieth century). Robsart’s original crewel-work, featuring the “big feathers” was part of the collection of Rachel’s friend, and champion of the Arts and Crafts movement, Lewis F. Day, and Rachel had borrowed it when drawing up her own design.
Rachel’s coverlet features a total of 100 feathers, each of which features a different embroidery stitch.
Rachel described the coverlet as “a sampler of line stitches.”
The embroidery is made with a lovely teal-coloured wool, which due to its provenance from different sources and dye-lots, has faded over time into several different deep blues and greens. I find this uneven fading both attractive and intriguing, because of the way it writes the time and process of Rachel’s stitching into her finished piece.
The colour Rachel chose for her stitches is a similar shade as the ink she familiarly used to write with. The annotations to many pieces in her collection are written in her hand, in a shade of ink, which has also faded over time in an uneven way, to a series of greens and blues that echo the varied hues of her stitching on the coverlet.
And just like her handwriting, Rachel’s signature is evident in the coverlet she embroidered, which is a showcase of the varied possibilities of crewel embroidery, and the skill of a truly talented needlewoman. It is a piece in which Rachel’s deep knowledge, and love of, stitch is immediately apparent. But it is a piece with a family story as well.
Around the border of the coverlet, Rachel stitched a Latin inscription in Lancastrian red. Translated, the inscription reads:
“He who would have ordained that his children should acknowledge the supreme Lord has survived by family descent a great many generations. His granddaughter of the tenth generation fashioned this work of devotion with her needle.”
Rachel had designed the coverlet to commemorate her ancestor Richard Shuttleworth, also known as Richard the Roundhead, or “Old Smoot”. A prominent parliamentarian, Richard had led the Lancashire forces against the King during the civil war, served as a magistrate during the commonwealth period, and, having reconciled himself to monarchy under Charles II, was the parliamentary member for Preston for a total of eleven terms.
Using motifs inspired by Tudor embroidery, the coverlet speaks to Rachel’s heritage in a prominent Lancashire family (a heritage of which she was clearly very proud), and perhaps quietly celebrates the commonwealth politics of her famous ancestor.
Rachel completed her work by stitching her own initials around a crest of her own devising depicting weaving shuttles, thereby connecting her heritage and family name to her own profound love of textiles.
Rachel stitched away on her huge “Richard the Roundhead” bedspread for several decades. Though she embroidered the finished date of the piece as 1966, she was actually still working on it at the time of her death in 1967. Her niece, Rosemary Kay Shuttleworth, completed her aunt’s work, and it is now a key piece in the Gawthorpe collection.
The coverlet has such a wonderfully rich context, which I’m glad I took the time to find out about, and which I hope I’ll be able to speak to a little in my own design. There will be feather-y motifs, shades of wool inspired by Rachel’s stitches and handwriting, and a nod to Rachel’s (and my own) Lancastrian heritage.
All images in this post are the copyrighted property of Gawthorpe Textile Collection, and are reproduced here with their permission.