The Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, England recently held an exhibition of a needlework collection they received as a gift. The gift consists of one of the word’s finest collections of historic English embroideries and was given by collectors, Michéal and Elizabeth Feller. In all 61 pieces comprise the collection which spans the seventeenth century. The exhibition, The Eye of the Needle, ran until 12 October.
Donor, Elizabeth Feller says that it is thanks to her mother’s influence, sewing and embroidery has been a meaningful activity throughout her life. The collection began with pieces worked by other people and consisted of small household items such as needlepoint cushions and went on to include samplers, panels and other items. All are steeped in English history and stories of the people who embroidered them.
Michéal and Elizabeth Feller are long term residents of Oxford and own a butcher’s shop in the City’s covered market.
The following description of the embroideries is from the museum website (www.ashmolean.org)
The pieces which have been given to the Museum are seventeenth-century embroideries which include dramatic pictorial panels, samplers, domestic items and costume pieces. These embroideries were made during one of the most turbulent centuries in English history, when religious and political conflict split families and the country. Beyond the opportunity for demonstrating technical ability, the embroideries illustrate the themes and concerns which occupied the minds of the young women making them. They often depict biblical stories at a time when religious issues, including the use of images, aroused great controversy. Similarly, during a period of increasing urbanization the pictorial pieces show idyllic country scenes with imaginary creatures and flowers.
Exquisite objects in their own right made with colourful silks, pearls, and semi-precious stones, the embroideries also reflect the religious, political and social concerns of the English Civil War period.
Besides telling a story and history of the period, looking at some of these pieces I wonder how they were created with such fine work and wonderful colours when the embroiderer had none of the modern equipment we today take for granted. Not for them the luxury of a daylight lamp right at hand or a magnifier. No super sharp steel needles; tiny needle threaders or set of Dovo scissors. These needle workers used crude tools and worked in poor light. Think what they could have achieved with the benefit of todays tools and lighting!
The following site has a link to two books showing these works in detail www.needleprint.blogspot.com