Twitter can be a very surprising place! Through a recent conversation with the RHS Lindley Library, I connected with a whole world of history, literature and creativity! Andrew Bentley joined in the conversation about Elizabeth Blackwell’s ‘A Curious Herbal’ (I studied the illustrations from this beautiful book during my degree). Andrew is currently designing a garden at Chawton House Library in Hampshire inspired by ‘A Curious Herbal’. Chawton is an internationally renowned centre for early women’s literature. It houses a large collection of writings from 1600 to 1830, in a beautiful 400 year old house, which was once connected to the family of Jane Austen. This year it is 200 years since the publication of Emma, and Chawton has its first large exhibition to celebrate this.
Naturally I did some research on Chawton, and stumbled upon something marvellous, and very relevant to me! As part of the #Emmaat200 celebrations, Dr Jennie Batchelor, (who is working on the Lady’s Magazine Project) was organising an exhibition of stitched work inspired by a collection of 240 year old embroidery patterns once featured in this historic publication. Having discovered this with only 3 weeks to go until the opening, I just had to drop everything and take part!
The brief was to create a new piece using embroidery (hand or machine) which somehow incorporated these patterns. I quickly had a sense that I wanted to make a 3D piece, and while researching on Pinterest, found this Sevres plant pot from the same period.
I felt that I could make a ‘pot’ from wood, and apply some embroidered panels to create a similar look. Here are the sketches I made for the embroidery, inspired by a combination of elements in the the muff and waistcoat patterns from the Lady’s Magazine.
After a little sampling, I decided to use a traditional linen ‘scrim’ fabric, which I painted white. After tracing the pattern on to the painted scrim, I set to machine embroidering the pattern. These four panels alone (see above right) took me several days of hard work, resulting in a very sore neck and shoulders! The final pieces were then hand stitched onto the ‘pot’, (made from shaped pieces of hardboard).
Having made the pot to my satisfaction, I knew I wanted to make a stitched ‘plant’ to go inside it. I had found out that Jane loved gardening, and Oriental Poppies still grow in the garden she tended. Poppies of course also mean remembrance in the language of flowers. So I set to making 5 large poppy heads with leaves using my handmade linen paper as a base, together with 4 leaves for each poppy. Once everything was stitched, the flowers and leaves were assembled and stitched onto wire. Here is a selection of images of the finished ‘Oriental Poppy Pot Plant’, which is around 45cm tall. The final image is my Poppies in situ in the Oak Room at Chawton House Library!
I am thrilled to be taking part in the #StitchOff Exhibition with many other talented stitchers. The show opened last weekend (21st March 2016) and runs through until September. It very much feels like the start of something really exciting for me, and hopefully the beginning of some important and long lasting connections. I am hoping to make the long trip down from Yorkshire to Hampshire later on in the year. Do click on the links and read all about the fascinating projects connected with this beautiful place. Huge thanks go to Dr Jennie Batchelor, the Lady’s Magazine Project and Chawton House Library.