Five years ago I went to a Royal School of Needlework White Work exhibition in London, at Hampton Court Palace with my dear friend Pamela Cox. It was an incredible day out especially as we discovered that two friends from USA were going too. Just visiting Hampton Court Palace itself is a thrilling experience as it is such a grand palace steeped in history, standing in the most beautiful grounds. Although the exhibition was only an hour and a half it was so exciting to see the samples that they have in their studios. We were unable to take pictures so I cannot show you the marvelous examples of white work embroidery that were on display, but their beauty was firmly imprinted on my mind. I made sure of that! It is true to say that the antique christening gowns, bonnets, collars, table cloths and handkerchiefs were so delicate and intricate it was difficult to imagine that they were worked so long ago without magnification and artificial lighting. Some were so old, just fragments of a beautiful embroidery worked skillfully by some unknown artist.
We were given a brief history of white work and told about the various forms. I had never realised that such embroidery was an indication of your status and wealth, during the height of its popularity. I think it was the Ayrshire embroidery which I loved the most as it comprised of tiny leaves, sprigs and flowers.
We were told that what appeared to be dolls clothes were in fact samples, like a “Curriculum Vitae” showing the quality of a needle woman’s work, including her skills at repairing. This was exactly what my daughter discovered recently hidden away in her chest of drawers. (Read blog)
White work on christening gown, mostly embroidered with Une Petit Princesse designs.
There is so much to see in the studios when you visit including the current repairs and projects being worked on by skillful members of the Royal School of Needlework. I loved the huge collection of threads displayed in wonderful rainbow colours waiting to be used for the next embroidery to be worked on. Some marvelous embroideries hang their too, including a superb oriental embroidery from China and the work of some of the current students. My mind was racing throughout my visit with ideas for my next white work collection as I could see a combination of more eyelets, pulled threads, cut work and satin stitches.
White work embroidered bonnet
I was already “digitising in my head” some new stitches and techniques. There is a great shop there and you won’t be able to resist a few books and mementos of your visit to inspire you when you get home. I was amazed afterwards as I read one of the books from the shop, how the babies clothes in the nineteenth century were just similar, smaller versions of their mothers clothes. Little has changed in the world of fashion!
Back then after finishing the Jane’s White Work collection I had thought that I needed to digitize a second white work collection called Cassandra’s White work, after Jane Austen’s sister. This exhibition confirmed that completely. May I encourage you to take an interest in the work of the Royal School of Needlework. I hope you are enjoying the Cassandra’s White work designs as I am now releasing them as daily freebies in the 13th Graceful Embroidery event which finishes on Monday October 12th, 2020.
Happy embroidering from Hazel