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Image: Ellebre’ (Hellebore) and ‘Flour de Lyz’ (Iris), MS Ashmole 1504, fol. 15r. Photo: Lynn Hulse. Courtesy: Bodleian Libraries.


Contemporary hand embroidery inspired by an early Tudor pattern book 


Weston Library (Bodleian Library), Broad Street and Proscholium, Bodleian Old Library, Catte Street, Oxford 

(20 November 2021 to 30 January 2022)


Ornamental Embroidery was delighted to be teaming up once again with the Ashmolean Museum, this time in partnership with the Bodleian Library in Oxford, to showcase the work of students in an exhibition entitled The Needle's Art. The project grew out of a two-day workshop held in May 2018 inspired by an early-sixteenth-century pattern or ‘model’ book (MS Ashmole 1504), preserved in the collection of Western Medieval Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library. In addition to working on a couple of designs from the volume, we were given an opportunity to study the contents first-hand in the company of Dr Martin Kauffmann, Head of Early and Rare Collections. This collaboration greatly enhanced the students’ understanding of early English pattern books and their use in the production of secular needlework. 

Following the initial investigation of the manuscript, Ornamental Embroidery was invited by the Bodleian to exhibit work inspired by MS Ashmole 1504 in the newly renovated Weston Library, situated in the heart of Oxford. Preparation for The Needle's Art began in Spring 2019 and completed over a year later, ready for display in November 2021 alongside the original pattern book. 

Twenty-five embroiderers, including tutors, took part in The Needle's Art. The brief was to produce a piece of secular needlework stitched in wool, silk and/or metallic threads on a woven linen or silk ground. Working closely with Nicola and Lynn, the students responded to the challenge using a variety of hand stitch techniques (redwork, blackwork, canvas work, crewelwork, silk and goldwork, raised work and appliqué). The display featured a wide range of objects from sewing accoutrements, books covers and domestic furnishings such as framed picture panels, cushion covers and a footstool, to garments and accessories, including a pair of slippers, a child’s coif and an Elizabethan mitten. Each participant chose a discrete design from the pattern book as the inspiration for their work. Many of the embroideries are closely related to the original images in MS Ashmole 1504, while others are more liberal in their interpretation of the designs. The objects on display were a wonderful testament to the skill and industry of their makers, and to the inspiration that can be found in museum and library collections. The Needle's Art demonstrates the value that such material has for modern embroiderers in interpreting and understanding their craft.  

MS Ashmole 1504 is available online at

 To listen to the podcast about the exhibition and the pattern book that inspired it, visit

Work from the exhibition has just been published in issue 108 of Classic Inspirations Magazine



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Image: Silk jacket, decorated with motifs taken from two stylised, floral ornaments, stitched by Ann Howden. 

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