Tuesday, 15 March 2016
Now and again I come across an image of a woman sewing or doing embroidery or one that shows her work-basket or what might be some of her work and I wonder what happened to it all. It's common enough in England to find the kind of tablecloths or tea cosies embroidered with silk or woollen flowers that were made to sell at church sales but fine embroidery is another thing. The watercolour portrait of Daisy Tuff drawn by S. G. Boxsius about 1916 even shows what might be two of the Pitman Craft series lying flat on the second shelf of the bookcase. But what happened to her work? I'm not certain that Daisy Tuff ever did any fine embroidery but she was an art teacher at the time the portrait was made (it's only a small section of a large watercolour) and they had far more practical skills than any art teacher would have today.
The basic story modern fine embroidery goes back to the 1860s. Once Jane Morris and her husband, William Morris, had rented Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire, she set about doing work like the bedcover you can see on the oak bedstead, above. She and her sister then handed on their skills to Jane's younger daughter, May, who eventually made the hangings to go round the bed. At the age of twenty-three, May was placed in charge of the embroidery department of Morris and Co and in 1896 supervised the embroidery class at the new Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.
I suppose it is always possible that Frank Morley Fletcher's wife, Dolly, trained under May Morris (above) while Frank was teaching his class at the Central School. She certainly had an embroidery class of her own while they were living in Edinburgh but that is all that I know. And it isn't much.
Men tended not to do embroidery but only make designs. J.H. Dearle who designed many of the floral backgrounds for Edward Burne Jones' tapestries, designed the screen. William Morris also produced designs for embroidery so he obviously understood what the craft involved, hardly surprising, really.
Phillips Needell was more attentive, which I suppose you would be if you had that kind of a name and I assume the woman shown doing embroidery in his colour woodcut is his wife, Anne, but I can't be sure. One thing you may have already noticed here is how commonly orangey terracotta was teamed up with blue-greens and turquoise. I certainly haven't chosen these examples deliberately. You only have to look at the colour of Daisy Tuff's dress and compare the section of Boxsius's Seaside, below, with its chic use of a warm and cool combination.
As colours they were used not only by Arts and Crafts practitioners. They came to us by way of Iranian art and it was a commonplace of European orientalists to use the colours to suggest the East but as a colour combination with style, it goes right back to ancient Egypt, that mother of style.
Arthur Rigden Read being the artist he was and having a wife well occupied with her own work, suggested all kinds of crafts in his colour woodcuts. I think they must be Kathleen Rigden Reads embroidery wools and work-basket in the window in May morning. I should think, if you look hard enough, there may be other examples. These are just a few that have struck as I've looked through pictures and what have you. Hopefully, now, someone will turn up some of the work itself. Because I tell you now I know it's out there and certainly in the United States.