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Needlework in Sudeley Castle

PUBLISHED: 16:57 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013

A stitch in time

A stitch in time

How those items of needlework strewn around the house turned out to be a collection of national importance

Emma Dent, Sudeley's 19th century chatelaine, really was a most remarkable woman. I never cease to be impressed at the extent and thoroughness of her interests, activities, and her vision in leaving behind such an eclectic and well documented legacy of her life and times for future generations to rediscover.



About this time last year I was busy mounting an exhibition from the extensive, but yet unacknowledged, collection of textiles housed here at Sudeley. Most of the items put on view had been stitched by or were personal items of Emma's, or acquired treasures for her small museum, and it wasn't until they were assembled into the Long Room that we really realised what riches had been revealed.



Experts from the Royal School of Needlework and other knowledgeable bodies were consulted and proclaimed it to be a 'collection of national importance!' I, somewhat embarrassed and chagrined by my lack of knowledge and due respect shown to many of these pieces (ie. some had been casually strewn about the house for decorative effect or packed away in unidentified boxes), soon became fascinated and truly amazed at the dedicated skills and patient commitment of past generations of women to this craft. Having made a few feeble attempts at cross stitch myself, I can confidently vouch that fine needlework is not work for amateurs.



The run up after the winter months to reopening the castle to visitors is always frantic. In a rush last year, and assisted by a few knowledgable and generous volunteers, we put together a display of the body of the collection in record time and christened it 'The Threads of Time'. This includes examples of textile techniques spanning 400 years from a magnificent 17th century stumpwork casket, delicate lace, white work, costume and furnishings to sumptuous silk wall hangings and woven tapestry. Emma Dent herself was a highly accomplished needlewoman and pieces of her own work, including the altar cloth she embroidered for the Sudeley church, are featured in the exhibition.



Its appeal and success with our visitors was instant and continuous. Surprisingly our gentlemen guests seemed equally fascinated with the collection and especially the modern work done by inmates of HM prisons for the charity Fine Cell Work. My grandchildren are intrigued by the Charles II stumpwork casket with its seven tiny secret drawers and hiding places and we are planning to make a video showing how the casket can be taken apart and re-assembled.



The collection of samplers has been a great hit with school children who are amazed to learn that until recent times needlework was regarded as an essential part of a girl's education - starting from the age of six. Emma Dent ran a sewing class for the girls in Winchcombe when she found that they were 'lamentably ignorant of the needle'.



All this enthusiasm has encouraged us to remount, embellish and add to the collection as a permanent attraction at Sudeley. Last year we found that both children and adults were fascinated by the chance to try their hand at lacemaking when members of local lace guilds and societies came to Sudeley to demonstrate their skills and in 2008 we plan more demonstrations of embroidery and lacemaking as well as workshops and lectures which will be built round a botanical theme for the year, to complement our award-winning gardens.



Those who love textile and needlework should not miss this exhibition and I would encourage anyone, like myself, perhaps yet unacquainted with the astounding skills and variety of art forms of this medium, to come along and see the story of what generations of tireless hands have woven for us.


Emma Dent, Sudeley's 19th century chatelaine, really was a most remarkable woman. I never cease to be impressed at the extent and thoroughness of her interests, activities, and her vision in leaving behind such an eclectic and well documented legacy of her life and times for future generations to rediscover.



About this time last year I was busy mounting an exhibition from the extensive, but yet unacknowledged, collection of textiles housed here at Sudeley. Most of the items put on view had been stitched by or were personal items of Emma's, or acquired treasures for her small museum, and it wasn't until they were assembled into the Long Room that we really realised what riches had been revealed.



Experts from the Royal School of Needlework and other knowledgeable bodies were consulted and proclaimed it to be a 'collection of national importance!' I, somewhat embarrassed and chagrined by my lack of knowledge and due respect shown to many of these pieces (ie. some had been casually strewn about the house for decorative effect or packed away in unidentified boxes), soon became fascinated and truly amazed at the dedicated skills and patient commitment of past generations of women to this craft. Having made a few feeble attempts at cross stitch myself, I can confidently vouch that fine needlework is not work for amateurs.



The run up after the winter months to reopening the castle to visitors is always frantic. In a rush last year, and assisted by a few knowledgable and generous volunteers, we put together a display of the body of the collection in record time and christened it 'The Threads of Time'. This includes examples of textile techniques spanning 400 years from a magnificent 17th century stumpwork casket, delicate lace, white work, costume and furnishings to sumptuous silk wall hangings and woven tapestry. Emma Dent herself was a highly accomplished needlewoman and pieces of her own work, including the altar cloth she embroidered for the Sudeley church, are featured in the exhibition.



Its appeal and success with our visitors was instant and continuous. Surprisingly our gentlemen guests seemed equally fascinated with the collection and especially the modern work done by inmates of HM prisons for the charity Fine Cell Work. My grandchildren are intrigued by the Charles II stumpwork casket with its seven tiny secret drawers and hiding places and we are planning to make a video showing how the casket can be taken apart and re-assembled.



The collection of samplers has been a great hit with school children who are amazed to learn that until recent times needlework was regarded as an essential part of a girl's education - starting from the age of six. Emma Dent ran a sewing class for the girls in Winchcombe when she found that they were 'lamentably ignorant of the needle'.



All this enthusiasm has encouraged us to remount, embellish and add to the collection as a permanent attraction at Sudeley. Last year we found that both children and adults were fascinated by the chance to try their hand at lacemaking when members of local lace guilds and societies came to Sudeley to demonstrate their skills and in 2008 we plan more demonstrations of embroidery and lacemaking as well as workshops and lectures which will be built round a botanical theme for the year, to complement our award-winning gardens.



Those who love textile and needlework should not miss this exhibition and I would encourage anyone, like myself, perhaps yet unacquainted with the astounding skills and variety of art forms of this medium, to come along and see the story of what generations of tireless hands have woven for us.

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