Monday, October 21, 2013

Gawthorpe Hall

Some time ago I booked a study visit to the textile collection at Gawthorpe Hall, in Lancashire.  This is the second largest collection of embroidery in the country and was established by Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth, whose family owned the hall.  Now the hall is administered by the National Trust and the local council, but the textile collection is a separate enterprise.  I went on Wednesday of last week.  Rachel Terry, the Curator, and her team had already chosen relevant items for me to examine.  They were very helpful in suggesting further leads.

So what was it that made me embark on this trip - after all, I live in Essex and it is a five-hour journey there, involving four trains and a taxi.  Well, in 1991 my husband and I holidayed in Brittany, in a gite.  One day we drove to Vannes, a sea-port, to take the boat out to one of the islands in the gulf of Morbihan.  As we wandered through the town I spotted a brocante with some textile items for sale.  I had in mind one of those lace coifs traditional to the area.  However, these were eye-wateringly expensive.  A much larger item was bundled up on an outside table.  The shopkeeper seemed keen to sell it to me at a discount, but we were about to go on a boat-trip so I hesitated. 

What would you have done?

The reverse of a section of my coverlet

As we sat eating lunch at the harbour, I just knew that I had to have the item so I rushed back to the shop, bought it and parked it in the car.  That evening I unfolded it in the gite.  It was very large, and covered all over in very elaborate embroidery.  It was so large that it was difficult to take in, and the embroidery was white on white, so it needed close study.

Over the years I have gathered expert opinions on the piece.  It is a double bed size quilt, constructed without any wadding but with cording outlining the flower motifs.  It is very densely embroidered and of a very high standard of workmanship.  It is clearly an early piece - but how early?


This is a motif from the very edge: you can see the rows of backstitch forming channels for the cording outlining the flower. It is photographed larger than life-size.  Filling each segment are French knots and pulled thread work.  Now imagine this kind of embroidery all over a coverlet ninety inches square.

I visited Gawthorpe in order to examine other examples of corded quilting.  I was able to spend some time looking closely at a wonderful piece edged in heavy lace.  This was said to have been a panel for a quilted petticoat in the eighteenth century, reused as a table cover.  I was intrigued to see how much it had in common with my item, and how it differed.  I would like to thank Rachel and her team for all the help that they gave me.

Copyright:Gawthorpe Textile Collection.

After a fascinating afternoon examining the Gawthorpe items with a magnifying glass, it was back to the taxi and the four trains to get home again. 
My plan is to try replicating a very small motif from my item to understand the technique better.  I'll be planning a visit to the new study collection at Olympia to see what the V&A has in store.  And I will be taking my time, because the coverlet itself is not in a hurry.

Monday, October 07, 2013

On the Needles 1

As usual, I have a number of different projects on the needles at the same time.  Some are easy to continue while chatting, watching tv or riding in the car.  Some demand every bit of concentration and good light.

One of the projects is a throw, knitted in strips about forty stitches wide.  I'm using cable patterns from a Barbara Walker Treasury. 

Assembling a throw like this brings up a number of design decisions.  Many of these can be seen in my previous throws.

This one, from 2003, had a colour scheme based on the regency striped wallpaper of the room where it was to be used.  It has some reference to a strippy quilt though those were mostly done in red and white.  However, I also decided that complex patterns look best set against simpler textures, so I knitted the strips alternating a complex cable with a simpler texture.  Assembling the throw was quite challenging as the textural stitches threw the size of the blocks out. 

My next throw was intended as an experiment in Celtic and/or Viking knitting as I was visiting Sweden and had been much impressed by Elsebeth Lavold's Viking designs.  I certainly knitted some of this on the ferry to Gotland.  However, almost everything on this throw is drawn from Alice Starmore jumper patterns  Only the animals facing each other is my own idea. 
Again, a strip construction, alternating cream and blue, but this time using a plainer, simpler cable and ladder design for the cream strips.  

So then, here, Celtic designs on the cream strips and a range of cables on the taupe strips.  I had already bought the Barbara Walker Treasury, but Alice Starmore is still in evidence.  I gave this to my younger sister for a significant birthday.  Putting the more complex patterns on the cream stripes gives a lighter, prettier look to the whole thing.  Or perhaps that is just the sunlight?
The question is: Is contrast necessary for a successful effect?  Contrast of colour , or of textures?
The strips I have so far on this current project would fit nicely on the Farrow and Ball paint chart.  In fact, the grey is Rowan Cork, and the taupe the same as used in the throw above.

  Setting them side by side reveals that there is a subtle contrast there already - it's more muted but it is there. 

I have four strips already, so perhaps I should continue in the same two shades, resisting the urge to insert cream strips between? So, perhaps a wider central panel?  I'm wondering how much of each yarn I actually have left and whether this will force the design decision.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Aix en Provence

After Avignon, we moved on to Aix.  Those visiting need to be aware that TGV stations are remote from the towns they serve, not quite on the scale of London Stansted, but still some distance.  It is barely half an hour on the train from Avignon to Aix, yet there is no direct train there.  Instead,  you have to use a combination of shuttle buses and taxis which makes the journey much more of a hassle - or an adventure if you like.


Central Aix is mediaeval in its pattern, with cavernous ancient streets and many squares with fountains.  The streets are narrow and still have a centrally placed gutter, which must once have been the case elsewhere too.

 On a Sunday, with a jazz combo entertaining the passing crowds, a street market in full swing, pavement cafes doing good trade and classic car owners raising money for charity by giving tourists a ride around the block, Aix is full of bonhomie.  It would be a great place to be a student or to take a term's course.

While we were there it was the Heritage open weekend - or Patrimoine.  Outside the cathedral, various artisans and conservation studios had their stands.  I was much taken with this textile belonging to one Herve Hornoy who runs a textile conservation business, Memoires-Tissees.  This is Chinese canvaswork which he explained was used as a 'prentice piece before they moved on to embroidery on satin.

We must have visited more art galleries on this trip than we have done in the previous ten years.  In Aix we were able to catch the exhibition at the Musee Granet, exploring the way the area was a breeding ground for artists in the early twentieth century.  In their basement they had not only a Rembrandt  self-portrait, but also some very strange pre-Roman sculpture showing dismembered heads.

On a hot afternoon we visited this lovely little House, set in well-kept gardens.  Inside, in pretty rooms with some antique furniture, was an exhibition of very modern and very ugly artwork, somehow trying to make a textile link with the past.  It was the kind of exhibition where the room steward has to tell visitors not to step on the carpet as it is actually a work of art.  One room in particular lingers in the mind's eye: it was decked out in red with structures mimicking carcases in an abattoir hanging from the ceiling.

Our best visit took us up the hill to Cezanne's studio.  We climbed the steps not knowing what to expect but there was the single room painted in a soft grey.  On the shelf were recognisable coffeepots and pottery, coats still hanging on the rack, and a giant step ladder centrally placed.   Can this really be a survival from 1912 or is it a reconstruction?   I asked about the curious long slot-like window and was told that Cezanne used this to slide big canvases out to see what they looked like in daylight. Amazing.

From there it was a short walk up the hill to the Garden of the Painters, where I took this photo.