Image: Ellebre’ (Hellebore) and ‘Flour de Lyz’ (Iris), MS Ashmole 1504, fol. 15r. Photo: Lynn Hulse. Courtesy: Bodleian Libraries.
THE NEEDLES ART:
Contemporary hand embroidery inspired by an early Tudor pattern book
Weston Library (Bodleian Library), Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG (2021, dates tbc)
Ornamental Embroidery is 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 Needles 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 Needles Art began in Spring 2019. Work on the project is nearing completion and will be ready for display in 2021 alongside the original pattern book.
Over twenty embroiderers, including tutors, are taking part in The Needles 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 over the past year, the students have 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 features 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 has chosen 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 are 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 Needles Art demonstrates the value that such material has for modern embroiderers in interpreting and understanding their craft.
MS Ashmole 1504 is available online at https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk
Work from the exhibition has just been published in issue 108 of Classic Inspirations Magazine.
Image: Silk jacket, decorated with motifs taken from two stylised, floral ornaments, stitched by Ann Howden.