Stitches and Sequins

The North-East of England is such a wonderful area for textiles. I have been to two specialist exhibitions recently: the first was ‘Quiltscapes & Quiltline’ by Pauline Burbidge, which ran from November 2015 to early April 2016, at the Bowes museum in Barnard Castle:

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I had rushed to see it late one afternoon, with just enough time in hand before the museum closed for the day and was privileged to be alone in the gallery. Since there was haunting and beautiful music (specially composed for this exhibition) playing as a background, it made for a very intense experience. I heard Pauline Burbidge speak about her work at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham last year, so it was lovely to see these carefully considered pieces, full of deceptively simple hand-stitched and printed marks, combining to make a complex and interesting whole, reflecting aspects of the Borders countryside where the artist lives.

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A number of sketchbooks were on display alongside the textiles, which clearly demonstrated how close observation of natural forms linked to the finished work.

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A particularly generous and interesting part of the display was a large set of stitched, printed and dyed samples. I love seeing these glimpses into an individual’s creative process.

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The Bowes exhibition has now finished, but the work can be seen at the Ruthin Craft Centre in the UK in the future. Click here to see Pauline Burbidge’s website.

Then, more recently, I went to see ‘Plots and Spangles’ at Bishop Auckland Castle. This is a collection of embroidered pieces by Helena Wintour who lived from 1599 until 1671. She was the daughter of Robert Wintour, one of the men who put together the ‘Gunpowder plot’ to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Like her 21st century counterpart mentioned above, Helena Wintour dedicated her life to producing stunning embroideries. In Wintour’s case, the pieces were made to be used in a Catholic religious setting, such as chasubles for the priest to wear and the maker stitched daily as an ‘act of devotion’. Sequins (called ‘spangles’ in those days) were very much in evidence, including for example, in this depiction of the Holy Spirit as a dove.

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It is by permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College, the British Province of the Society of Jesus, and the Trustees of Douai Abbey that these textiles have been put on public view.  This exhibition has been extended until 24 April 2016, so there is still time to see it.

Some of these items were in such good condition and the colours so fresh, that they looked as if they could have been stitched last month. Extraordinary.

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And while you are in Bishop Auckland, you might like to call in to the Pod Gallery in the marketplace (just across from the Castle) for their first year ‘Celebration’ exhibition, where you will find a stitched piece by yours truly:

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