Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Embroideries at the V&A

Our little grandson Jake
I visited London in December 2010. The occasion was the birth of my first little grandson, Jake. He arrived in a great rush on a cold and very snowy day, almost before his dad could get his mom to the hospital for his birth. Jake and his mom are now doing very well and regularly brave that wet wintry weather to go out for walks.

Whilst in London I managed a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see some of the embroideries - always food for the soul! I particularly wanted to look at articles embroidered with Dresden Lace, but the costumes and textiles are in the process of being moved to another location and sadly it will be 2013 before they are all on view again.

The Textile rooms 95-99 were closed the day I visited due to staffing constraints, but I was fortunate to find the Textile Study Room 100 open. Room 100 will be open at limited times only until the end of February 2011. If you plan to try and see the embroideries there before they are moved, it may be an idea to phone the V&A beforehand.  Tricia Nguyen has written a very informative post about the scheduled move and the new premises on her Thistle Threads blog.

 Enquiring at the help desk, I was directed to look through the English galleries before making my way up to Textile Study Room 100 and I'm glad that I did because I saw some thought provoking work. The V&A has a number of embroideries by Martha Edlin. Not much is known about her but she possessed the needlework skills typical of a young educated girl in the mid 17th century. By the age of 11, Martha was an accomplished embroiderer and there is a fine casket of hers on display that she embroidered in 1671 with silk and metal threads on satin. You can see some details of the casket panels on the V&A website By the time Martha embroidered the casket, she had already completed a  sampler worked in silks at age 8 and also a complex piece of whitework and cutwork by age 9 although this is not on display in the British galleries. I just can't imagine a child of that age today having the skill or attention to complete such a major piece of fine embroidery. There are just too many other distractions vying for attention.

Although perfectly understandable, it is a pity that embroidered pieces must be stored behind glass. I would have liked to take a closer look at an oblong pincushion embroidered with silk on satin to study the stitch that Martha used for the two large red roses. They appear to be Queen or Rococo stitch, but I couldn't be sure? If so, then I can't help wondering just how Martha's embroidered a stitch that today is more usually used on canvaswork or some form of counted thread embroidery. I was also intrigued by the collection of articles that were kept in Martha's casket, especially the little ear spoon that formed part of a manicure set. Imagine using a tool like that as part of a daily routine to scoop earwax out of your ears!

Next I saw embroidery done by Mary Queen of Scots but more about that next time.