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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Needlework

( Originally Published 1913 )



"CRUELL NEEDLEWORKE"

It was about the year 1622 that Dame Anne Sherley made her will, and bequeathed "my Turkey carpet of cowcumbers, a chaire of needleworke of apples, my carpet of needleworke of gilly flores and woodbynes," also " five of my chaires of cruell needleworke " to her heirs and assigns. Crewels were used even then, it appears.

The full list of the ingenious labours which Dame Anne Sherley and her sewing-maids performed with the needle, may be studied in " English Secular Embroidery," by M. A. Jourdain.

Wide is the range of "lines" and collections of this kind; embroidered bed-hangings, applied work, patchwork, Passementeyie, upholstery, emblems, book-covers, gloves, cushions, pictures, bead work, carpet work, costumes, darning, samplers, quilting, portraits, stump work, and what not. In my "A B C About Collecting " I have written on "Acupictura," or pictures in needlework, a fascinating subject, more one for women collectors than for men.

Needlework Miniatures.-Yet there are some branches of interest to all. In how many collections of old miniatures do you see a needlework miniature ? In very few. Yet needlework miniatures are charming old things. They are none of them so old as some other kinds of miniature ; the earliest needlework pictures hardly date back much before the reign of Charles I. Perhaps tapestries suggested them; at any rate, the earliest needlework pictures were done in tent stitch-petit-point-a stitch which imitates the work of a tapestry loom. Needlework miniatures are very rare. You may see one in the Bodleian Library, a head of the Duke of Buckingham, embroidered on the cover of an edition of " Bacon's Essays," published in the year 1625. In the Wallace Collection there is a needlework miniature of Charles I, and there are several of the same subject extant, done in that unhappy king's " own hair." At the Victoria and Albert Museum you may see a hair-embroidered portrait of Peter Paul Rubens. But you will be lucky if you find a miniature of the kind in a decade's search.

Costumes.-Much more numerous, but also more sought for, are seventeenth and eighteenth century costumes for women and for men ; the most valued are those which were embroidered by hand. A large collection of these was recently dispersed from a small village in Nottinghamshire. The collection belonged to an elderly gentleman who lived at a Hall, and was a collector indeed! He had furnished the upper rooms of his fine old mansion with Elizabethan and Jacobean beds, chests, coffers, and furniture to match, and had taken down all the doors, so that the rooms stood en suite. The better to show off his large collection of old costumes, he had, at some time or other, bought up the whole stock of a travelling waxworks show, and he dressed the figures, put them to bed, or set them beside the beds as if in attendance on the sick or dying; so that ghastly effigies-the wax had not been repaired or repainted-of celebrated criminals, such as Weare and Mrs. Manning, all clad in costly costumes of the olden times, stood about those upper rooms, and even by daylight made a night-mareish, nerve-shaking show. I was to have been his guest, and slept among them, but I fled. All that is over now; I wonder whither those beautiful costumes are gone ?

Fine examples of embroidered coats, long-sleeved vests, bodices, and petticoats, may be seen in the capital little local museum at Peterborough, and the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington is rich in treasures of the kind. In the latter collection there is an eighteenth-century petticoat, made for a Duchess, which is covered with needlework representing branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits growing out of fanciful rockwork, and bridges amidst houses, winding roads, and trees ; the rococo and Chinese Chippendale styles at their worst.

Sometimes you come across a beautifully needleworked cover for the sheath of a dress-sword. For the men of those days delighted in embroideries, and had their coats and waistcoats adorned in this wise, upon the pockets, and along the edges of the lapels, the front, the tails, and the sleeves. In the eighteenth century the fashion for English noblemen and gentry was to get their silken costumes made and decorated in Paris, just as it is the fashion in France to get tailored from London today.



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