Thursday 12 May 2016

Georgian Embroidery Workshop ...

Last Wednesday I headed over to Osterley Park, where their lovely volunteers were hosting a Georgian embroidery workshop. It sounded amazing, and, whilst my terrible eyesight makes embroidery a bit of a challenge for me, I was intrigued to learn about a group of ladies who were keeping alive the skills of the eighteenth century needlewomen. Bravo to them!

As it turned out the workshop was on whitework, which involves white stitch-work on the finest and most delicate of cotton cloth to produce an effect (when done well!) not dissimilar to that of fine lace. With my limited experience and wonky eyes it would have been difficult to have come up with something that was a greater personal challenge for me. However, the wonderful ladies assured me that they would not be put out in the least if I failed to place a single sensible-looking stitch in my fabric. The object of the workshop was to learn, to be inspired and to enjoy.

The ladies leading the class had very kindly brought along their own favourite books on the topic, which they invited us to look at for some inspiration.

Next they took us through the ground floor of Osterley Park to look for inspiration in the design of the house. The idea was to look for motifs and elements that we could incorporate into our work.

Osterley, by way of background, is a great triumph of the neo-classical style. Designed by Robert Adam in the 18th century, it's one of the first examples of architect-led total design. Adam specified not only what the architectural elements of the house would look like, but he also designed the contents. From furniture to carpets and bell pulls to light fittings, his input was universal and his style is everywhere.

Now, as regular visitors to my blog will know, Osterley is one of my favourite places. I've written about it before hereherehere and here (for example). I've visited more times than I can count, but I've never actually gone through the great house looking at the individual elements of its design before. And it was an interesting exercise to go through looking for motifs, designs, embellishments and inspiration that could be used in my own work.

One of the most prolifically reproduced emblems within the house is the marigold. They're everywhere, and for good reason. The house was re-designed in the 18th century by banking magnate Sir Francis Child, of Child & Co. private banking fame. The marigold was the trade sign of the bank, from which the profits came to subsidise the building of the house. The marigold's ubiquity is a deferential nod to where the money came from.

The plasterwork on the ceilings is full of them:

They've been incorporated into the architraves:

They're woven into the carpets:

They're all over the bed in the very magnificent state bedchamber, where the state bed was also designed by Adam.

The coverlet on the bed is a masterpiece of stitch-work.

And, of course, marigolds abound.

And just look at this amazing sunburst ceiling in the drawing room. Again, it's designed by Robert Adam (no surprise there!). They say that he was influenced by an engraving of the Temple of the Sun published by Robert Wood in his 1753 book, Ruins of Palmyra, which I very much hope still exists after all the fighting recent fighting in that part of Syria.

It's surrounded by marigolds, and unless I'm much mistaken, he's even placed a cheeky little marigold in the very centre of the sun design.

It's also echoed in the carpet underneath, like a reflection in a lake.

And they're all over the stone mosaics that have been used in the side tables.

There's even a few smuggled into the design of the Etruscan Dressing room.

Anyway, as you can see, my search for inspiration was quickly turning into a game of spot-the-marigold. Pausing in the Etruscan dressing room I was rather taken with this shell and acanthus architrave, which I thought would look splendid as a border on a classically-inspired textile.

Isn't it exquisite? I love the subtlety of how it has been coloured. In this room it's also picked up in the plaster mouldings.

And, of course, we can't talk textiles at Osterley without a mention of their fabulous tapestry room, complete with tapestries woven by hand on the famous vertical looms of the Gobelins factory in Paris. Ordered in 1772, they were delivered to Osterley in July 1776.

And the remarkable thing is that they've been hanging here ever since. Revolutions have come and gone, schools of philosophy have risen and fallen, and they're still hanging in the room for which they were originally designed. Just think: if only textiles could talk ... what a story they'd tell. I especially loved how they'd been personalised for the family who lived here. If you look closely you can see a be-ribboned pet rabbit ...

... and Mrs Childs' favourite gardening hat ...

And, of course, mention must be made of the triumph of design that is the crewel-work sofas at either end of the Long Gallery. They were re-upholstered in Victorian times, but they are exquisite.

My favourite design element of the sofas was not the flowers, lovely though they were, but rather it was the cheeky snails who'd snuck in to get their own piece of the action.

Finally we went downstairs to admire the gold-work on the Earl of Jersey's waistcoat ... 

... and some replacement samples that hadn't made it onto the sofas. 

I got nowhere near finishing anything in the time that remained. And I won't embarrass myself by showing you what I produced, but I enjoyed the excursion through the design of the house, which really was an inspiration. It got me thinking. Good design has to be original.  For me those individual, personal details that were introduced to Osterley from the ubiquitous marigold, to the pet rabbit, to Mrs Childs' favourite gardening hat to the bothersome snails that annoyed her in her garden were the star elements. They introduced the human story, with all its warmth and humour. Without them Adam's homage to the classical art of ancient Rome and Greece would have been impersonal - just a cold intellectual reflection on something that didn't have much to do with the people who had to live with it.  

And that got me thinking about which design elements I'd like to introduce into my work to make it personal to me. The ladies intended that I should think about some of the classical motifs I'd seen in the house, but I'd like to personalise it with something bright and vibrant like my Costa Brava poppies, ...

... and the goldfinches who delight me in my London garden, ...

... and my faithful hound , the WonderDog would definitely deserve a part ...

... and the apples from the orchard in Devon ...

... and a few artfully chosen knitting things ...

... and maybe some abstract border inspired by the waves breaking on my favourite sun-kissed beach in the Costa Brava ...

What would you chose, and what would it say to you about your life?

All the best for now,

Bonny x

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