Needlewoman or not, you can’t help but enjoy this lovely exhibition of nearly 60 works presented by the National Gallery of Victoria. Appropriately named ‘Exquisite Threads’, the work demonstrates the role of embroidery and its relation to education, fashion and domestic life in England.
A display case houses samplers and fragments of fine delicacy, the reverse side of which we can see through the mirrored base of the case which reveals the intricacies of reverse stitching and the shows the original dye of the threads. Samplers were a means by which young women were educated in the art of needlework as well as appreciation of religious texts and moral teachings.
The domestic and household items featured range from crewel embellished bed curtains, delicately embroidered coverlets and more personal items such as this intricately worked writing box.
A key item in the collection is an elegantly decorated apron that would have been cherished by a well to do woman. Such items were handed down as heirlooms rather than used to protect clothing in a domestic environment.
The early fashion items are especially fascinating. One outstanding piece is a stomacher, beautifully embroidered using silks and gilt-metal threads. This V-shaped panel comprising whalebone and cotton was fastened in the centre opening of the bodice of a woman’s dress.
The publication of Berlin wool-work patterns where designs were printed and then coloured enabled those not so highly skilled to achieve decorative results. This led to an escalation in ornamental needlework. An example can be seen on these charming slippers that feature very popular floral designs.
Two delightful evening bags are included in the exhibit. This dainty example dates 1820-1850 and is made of delicate silk.
A more modern version is this 1926c that catered for the absence of pockets in close fitted dresses. The new lifestyle made it an essential for accommodating lipstick and cigarettes and other necessities. These bags were highly decorated with embroidery, sequins, beads and metallic cord.
The inclusion of an embroidery sample by Norman Hartnell (England 1902-79) to be approved by Her Majesty the Queen for her coronation dress in 1953 is fascinating. The design features emblems of the Commonwealth. Note the golden wattle for Australia!
Elegant and striking is the evening cape circa 1924 featuring diamanté beading in Art Deco style. Worn to opera and theatre and grand events, the cape embodied style and sophistication.
To appreciate some of the skills involved in this exquisite work, see the video demonstration below by Alison Cole, Embroidery Specialist. It’s wonderful!
Exquisite Threads: English Embroidery 1600s – 1900s is a wonderful and insightful exhibition. Put it on your list under ‘Must see’.
Entry is Free