Gawthorpe, encore

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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.

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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 . . .

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. . . 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.

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Rachel’s coverlet features a total of 100 feathers, each of which features a different embroidery stitch.

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Rachel described the coverlet as “a sampler of line stitches.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(Rachel Kay Shuttleworth, at work on the coverlet)

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.

More soon!

All images in this post are the copyrighted property of Gawthorpe Textile Collection, and are reproduced here with their permission.

a day at Gawthorpe

Some days I wake up and I feel massively, incredibly lucky to have somehow landed here, in this curious new life, as a designer of hand-knits. Last Thursday was one of those days. Because I had been invited — along with Debbie Bliss , Jane Ellison, Claire Montgomerie, and Emma Varnam — to visit Gawthorpe Textiles Collection.

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Gawthorpe Hall. Left to right Emma Varnam, Claire Montgomerie, Jennie Pitceathly and Debbie Bliss.

Originally built for Lancashire’s prominent Shuttleworth family in the early 1600s, with a Victorian redesign by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, Gawthorpe Hall itself is extremely impressive. But the building wasn’t what we had come to see.

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Gawthorpe is home to an important textile collection, ammassed by Rachel Kay Shuttleworth. Born in 1886, and heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, Rachel Kay Shuttleworth used her means and her position to gather textiles from all over the world, and to disseminate information about the traditions and skills that were involved in their production. By the age of 26, she had gathered over 1000 items, and began organising, cataloguing, and sharing her collection with interested visitors. Today the collection that Rachel Kay Shuttleworth began over a century ago now comprises more than 30,000 amazing textiles, showcasing a diverse array of needle crafts from elaborately embroidered Chinese Emperor’s robes, to Mechlin Laces; from Bolivian chullos to Indian shawls; from embroidered maps to soldier’s quilts.

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We designers had been invited to take part in an exciting project. We’d been commissioned by Gawthorpe (with funding from the Arts Council) to produce an accessory inspired by an item (or items) from Rachel Kay Shuttleworth’s collection. We began the day with a tour of the part of the collection that’s on public display.

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I particularly liked the display of Rachel Kay Shuttleworth’s desk and work boxes, complete with blotting paper, original haberdashery and notions, and projects in various states of completion. You could imagine her having just left the room, to take a break from her lace work.

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One of the most appealing things about this collection is the way that the hand and mind of its creator is so apparent in it. Reading Rachel Kay Shuttleworth’s annotations and catalogue cards give a great sense of the extent of her vast knowledge about textiles and textile history . . .

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. . . as well as a flavour of her personality through her idiosyncratic – and strongly held – views.

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Rachel Kay Shuttleworth was also an incredibly skilled needlewoman herself, and the collection includes many examples of her work. I was particularly taken with this beautiful crewel work bedspread that she embroidered for herself.

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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.

After tea and cake (cake!) we adjourned to the library where Rachel Terry, the collection’s curator, had gathered an incredible range of objects for us to examine and be inspired by.

There were beautiful and intriguing knitted items . . .

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. . . and work involving other media and skills.

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One of the real highlights of the day for me was getting to examine some eighteenth-century pockets – of which the collection has several examples. You know I dearly love a pocket.

Here, Debbie and I . . .

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. . are checking out these beauties . . .

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. . .which date from the early eighteenth century and whose neat chain-stitch is still beautifully fresh and bright.

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Here, Rachel is showing us a tiny pocket . . .

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. . . which had been fashioned for an infant.

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And I was gobsmacked by the detail of the beautiful corded quilting on this pocket . . .

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. . . which had clearly been cut from an earlier garment. The fabric was certainly too glorious to waste!

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Can you think of anything better than hanging out in a library with great company, getting to examine beautiful historic textiles, and being able to learn about those textiles from their curators? Well, I certainly can’t. It was an amazing day. Now Debbie, Jane, Claire, Emma and I have to go away and have a think about the design we intend to create. The idea is that we all produce patterns for our designs, which will be available as part of a kit from Gawthorpe this coming Spring. I will keep you updated as to my progress with the project as time goes on. I also imagine it may be hard to keep me away from Gawthorpe . . . I definitely intend to be back.

I was deeply impressed by the collections at Gawthorpe, which really are superb, and are a definite must-see if you have a chance to visit this lovely part of Pennine Lancashire. It was also fantastic to spend time with my comrade-designers, all of whom were tremendous fun and none of whom I’d met before. But more than this, I was blown away by the dedication, knowledge and generosity of Jennie Pitceathly, Rachel Terry and their small team at Gawthorpe. “I have a vision,” wrote Rachel Kay Shuttleworth in 1912, “of a place of meeting where neighbours will come for many reasons to seek stimulating thought by meeting other active minds, to find refreshment and inspiration and a joy in beauty”. This truly is what Jennie and Rachel are creating at Gawthorpe, and I feel honoured to be involved.

Gawthorpe Hall – including the Rachel Kay Shuttleworth Textile Collection – is open to the public 12 noon-5pm, Wednesday – Sunday until 3 November 2013. The hall will re-open in the Spring of 2014, when our patterns and kits inspired by the collection will go on sale!


For more information and updates see the Gawthorpe Textiles website. You can also follow them on twitter: @RBKS_textiles


All images in this post are reproduced courtesy of Gawthorpe Textile Collection, and are not to be reproduced without permission.

Sometimes . . .

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. . . only occasionally . . .

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. . . it is very good to make things just for the sake of making them.

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Tom was out with work last night, and, after enjoying making a couple of tiny pompoms for my new mittens, I got out my box of Appleton’s crewel wools and decided to make some more.

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I thought about colour . . .

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. . . I thought about palettes . . .

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And I thought an awful lot about some work I had seen by Donna Smith at the Bonhoga Gallery during Shetland Wool Week.

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Donna’s piece deserves a lot of thinking about, and I’ll perhaps say more about it another time.

I have no idea what I am going to do with these wee pompoms: probably nothing, but that really doesn’t matter. The point is that I enjoyed both the thinking and the making, and, though it has been several years since I’ve done any crewel embroidery, the beautiful muted hues of those Appleton’s skeins have really made me want to stitch something up again.

Now I really am off for a few days! See you shortly.

given

Over the past month or so I have been embroidering this:

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A crewel-work cover for my parents’ old piano stool. The flowers that to me say thrift and yarrow have their origins in two different Katherine Shaughnessy designs. I combined them, added extra grassy stems and a wee bee.

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the fabric is a linen mix with something slightly stretchy in it — good for upholstery. All of the stitches are very simple: chain, stem, running, split, seed, french knots for the yarrow and a little bit of satin stitch for the bee. I was very pleased with the end result — and the recipients like their new stool cover just as much as I enjoyed making it.

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Other things I’ve made and given include this bag for my sister:

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The fabric is from Amy Butler’s recent upholstery range and the pattern comes, of course, from the lovely Amy Karol. I squared up the bottom of the bag with some very stiff lining fabric and added a magnetic snap fastener to the inside lining. Sweeeet!

Then there was this:
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and another pic:

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A cosy wrap for my mum in a simple lace repeat and Rowan cocoon knitted on 8mm needles. The pattern, “Haven,” is from Kim Hargreaves super new collection. A very pleasing winter knit.

Also in cocoon we have this:

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This intriguing looking item has been named The Wal-piece. My dad dislikes fussing around with a scarf, but still requires something to keep his neck warm when he’s out in the chilly winter garden. This was the answer — part polar neck, part scarf . . . indeed, part balaclava. I had a look at similar items designed for a similar purpose by Elizabeth Zimmermann in Knitting Around and came up with my own version, which accommodates the back of the neck as well as the front (unlike those made by EZ). It was knit from the top on one 6.5mm circular needle with increases between the ribs every second round to the desired width and length. When worn, it recalls those chain-mail thingies worn by knights underneath their helmets, viz:

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Thankfully, my Dad does not look *quite* like that, either in or out of his functional and cosy Wal-piece.

As well as his sweater, Mr B received a scarf inspired by this one, sported with style byThe Wire’s evil and charismatic Stringer Bell.

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his version came in lovely, soft, undyed shetland aran from Shilasdair:

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Made in garter stitch with a slip-stitch edging, this was probably the most mindless knitting I’ve done since I was 7.

Finally, my niece and nephew each received a pair of target wave mittens in shetland aran:

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I love Norah Gaughan and this is a super little pattern — I did make some mods, though — shortening the thumbs by about four rounds and knitting tighter than the recommended gauge, having read that the pattern tended to come out rather large for small hands. These ones turned out great.

I’ll post about things received shortly. Meantime, Happy 2008!

for the women of Juarez

I was very affected by Floresita’s tribute to the lost women of Juarez. For those of you who do not know or have forgotten, over 500 women — most of them poor factory workers — have been horifically raped and killed in Ciudad Juarez over the past decade and a half. Because of Mexico’s fourteen year statute of limitations on murders, many of these crimes will now remain unsolved. This injustice adds yet another appalling burden to the families of these women, who, as well as grieving for loved ones who died in such terrible circumstances, have also had to deal with the insensitve investigations and official negligence of the Mexican police and judicial systems. After reading Florestia’s Dia de las Muertas post, I was moved, as she suggested, to follow her example.

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It is a small thing, but I wanted to state my solidarity with Floresita, and opposition to all violence against women, in stitch. Please visit her blog to see her beautifully embroidered act of memory. You can learn more about the Juarez murders from Theresa Rodriguez’s book or Amnesty International.

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