Many of you know that Witney Antiques in England have a needlework exhibit each year, and that they publish an accompanying catalog with wonderful photography. Most of us don't get to attend the exhibit, as we live in all the four corners of the world, so the catalogs become so important to us as the "next best thing". Becky and I recently got our copies of the latest and here is my review:
'Wrought with the Needle'
Art Treasures of English Domestic Embroidery Elizabeth I to George II
The photographs in this book are the real delight - they are absolutely astounding and give several views of many pieces, often in microscopic detail, allowing you to see each thread, coil and purl. The stitches stand out and are easily seen and studied.
The examples shown are testament to the extraordinary period for embroidery that is embodied in the "Elizabethan Era". How Witney gets such remarkable pieces to exhibit is a mystery to me, but they always have wonderful examples of every type of needlework being shown in the exhibits and the catalogs.
Text for the book is written by Rebecca Scott and Joy and Stephen Jarrett, and are carefully researched and well-written. You will learn much about Elizabethan styles and materials by reading the book. Photographs are by Justin Jarret, and they are the real jewel here. Until you actually see the gold and silver metallic threads, the vivid colors of the silks and the lifelike rendering of three-dimensional figures on these artifacts, you can't truly appreciate them. The photography does justice to the amazing skill of the needleworkers. If you've never bought another of the Witney catalogs, I would say this is a glorious place to start!
While I've never quite managed to get to Witney for an exhibit, I did once spend time in England, just missing the exhibit dates by a few weeks. Joy Jarret invited me to come anyway, saying that many items from the exhibit would still be there, with just a few pieces gone that had been loaned or sold... I was so excited! We were staying in London in a cute little flat in the Notting Hill Gate area (nope, didn't see Hugh Grant OR Julia Roberts, though I DID see the famous "blue door"). What follows is an excerpt from the travel blog I put up so my friends could come along with me on this needlework adventure.
Off we go from London into the countryside on "the Oxford Tube" which is a bus service from London to Oxford, where we switch to a city bus that drops us in Witney about 45 minutes later - just down the street from Witney Antiques. We have all seen those wonderful catalogues they publish - now I was going to see the real thing!
The Oxford Tube is a very modern coach with wi-fi ports, very comfortable seats and I daresay, air conditioning when needed, though in November, it really wasn't necessary! When we arrived in Oxford, we waited nearby at a city bus stop, and were soon picked up by a regular, local bus you would expect to run just through the streets of the city of Oxford. But it took us out into the countryside as well. We threaded our way through some very narrow lanes with dry stack stone walls on each side - very picturesque!
When we arrived in the lovely old town of Witney, we were already charmed, but when we were let off at a corner down the street from Witney antiques, we were stunned to see how beautiful the building was. The whole town seemed to be made of buildings out of this wonderful old stone.
Each fall, they do an exhibition and publish a new catalogue - and I've missed this year's "Stitched in Adversity - Orphanage and Charity School samplers" by just a few weeks, but of course, many of those pieces are still at the store, and there are rooms of just samplers to look at!
Joy Jarrett, the proprietor, meets us at the door and we are ushered in - the first pieces we see are 17th C. embroideries - many of them raised work. Joy shows me a large Elizabethan panel which is in perfect condition - she has just received it from the framers - I'm the first person to see it! This room has some real wonders - my favorite was a piece of raised work with the most masterful purlwork I could imagine! All the foliage is little loops of purl in many different colors of green - I've never seen it in so many colors. Such an effective use of it. Also in this room is a gorgeous casket - beautiful silk embroideries all around - it's displayed on a rotating platform, in a glass box - just incredible - in very fine condition. Another favorite is a piece depicting Orion and a dolphin singing together (I'm sure I've mixed up the story somehow - it was one I didn't recognize - at any rate, you have Orion and a dolphin (you can see the scales on the fish) and a ship in water) - all in the most wonderful metalwork!
Then we head upstairs to the sampler gallery - three rooms just filled with the most gorgeous samplers - all in exquisite condition. Many are German band samplers with areas of spots - most with an Adam and Eve - absolutely marvelous! Fresh, vibrant colors - Joy tells me most of those are from one collection which had been seized by the Nazi's in the '30's and not brought out until the 1990's when they were repatriated to the family of the original owner, and they sold off the needlework. So they have not been exposed to light and are in fantastic shape!
Another one that caught my eye was a small strawberry sampler with many beautiful stitches all in bright red and cream - very sweet and pretty - I think not counted because the vines are very curved in a very natural pattern in stem stitch - it was so eye-catching. I'd not seen another like it - Joy says she knows of two similar ones but not any others.
We'd arrived around 11:30 and about 1:00 Joy suggested we might want to run next door into their local pub for lunch and come back again later, which we did. Witney is a lovely little hamlet with the gorgeous old stone buildings (one of which holds Witney Antiques) - and the pub - The Three Horseshoes - is one of these - very charming. We had "Cottage Pie" by the fire with a glass of wine - just a delightful sojourn.
Then we were back and Joy was showing me some of the other orphan pieces - three wonderful huswifs, which she has had framed in reversible frames. Terrific pieces! A last look around, and we were ready to head home.
What a beautiful day - just a delight. If you do go to England, I thoroughly recommend stopping at Witney - Joy is so gracious and knowledgable - you'll have a lovely time talking samplers with a fellow needlework lover! Be sure to let her know you're coming, though, as it's a bit out of the way to travel to and find the shop closed for the day.