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‘English Work’ at the V&A.

The current ‘Opus Anglicanum’ exhibition of Medieval ecclesiastical embroidery at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum took me way back to my student days when I was lucky enough to be of the generation when it was still possible to study Embroidery A’level. My lovely embroidery teacher allowed us to take off on flights of fancy with creative embroidery whilst instilling a respect for the timeless techniques of the past. It is hard nowadays to imagine a state school sixth form running an A’level course with only three students, but at the time we never even questioned it! Alongside our study of artistic and contemporary stitch techniques the history of embroidery was an integral part of the course and I was thoroughly absorbed for a while in the world of ecclesiastical embroidery and it’s techniques. The no photography protocol of the V&A meant me taking out my note book and sketching some of my favourite  fragments, and even this was time consuming, leaving me to speculate on the unnumerable hours that were spent actually stitching these pieces!

va-museum-opus-anglicanum-exhibition

bologna-cope

The language of this exhibition was not unfamiliar to me as a past student of ecclesiastical embroidery, although I did hear several people wondering “What is a ‘chasuble for?” or “Which is the ‘split stitch’ and which is ‘couching’? ” ( A chasuble is the highly decorated tabard that a priest wears over his normal robes whilst celebrating Mass) Split stitch and Couching are shown  here:embroidery-stitches

In the 13th Century, English embroiderers were at the pinnacle of embroidery workmanship. Church and high society aspired to commission their garments from the English embroiderers in London.   bologna-cope

Large embroideries like the  Butler Bowden and Syon Copes were made by highly trained professionals, both men and women. They were employed in workshops which were funded by merchants and noble patrons. The merchants took the profits, not the embroiderers who received only modest payments for their work. Most workshops were in London where the necessary capital was available and which was the principal port through which the imported materials arrived. The phrase ‘opus anglicanum’ was first coined to  describe the highly-prized and luxurious embroideries made in England of silk and gold and silver thread, full of elaborate biblical imagery.’English Work’ or Opus Anglicanum remained the most sought after work until well into the 15th century.

I was looking forward to the rare opportunity to see ‘up close and personal’ the incredible detail in the embroidered vestements worn in the Medieval Church. I found it sad to think that the hours of work that were put into the embroideries were lost on the congregation, as they would not have had time or opportunity to ‘read’ the pictorial stories depicted on the garments, nor would they have been able to see the minutiae of the stitches that created these incredible works of art. There are exquisite examples of intricate stitching and beautiful fragments of embroidery in this exhibition, but I did feel that it was a missed opportunity on the part of the V&A. In comparison with the recent exhibitions of the past year , this one fits the norm of a dry, old fashioned, ‘museum’ exhibition. I had the impression of wandering amongst embroidery and theological aficionados, who, albeit enthusiastic, certainly did nothing to enliven the atmosphere.

The staging of this exhibition is in a dry, traditional style, some of the beautiful work is presented so far back in the glass cabinets, that it is impossible to make out the details. There are fantastic stories depicted in many of the Church garments, none of which were adequately told in the labelling. The minute stitches really needed to be magnified, but there was no way of doing so. A short film demonstrated the technique of one style of stitching, but was small and nestled between two glass cases, so difficult to see if there were more than two or three people looking. All in all I left, even after my second visit, feeling frustrated at the lack of interactive or engaging display.

However, if you have any interest at all in the world of textiles or history, then this may be the only opportunity  for a long while to see such a comprehensive collection of some of the worlds greatest embroidered treasures, so essential viewing !

Through rose tinted…

Having spent the last couple of weeks looking at various design exhibitions I couldn’t help but notice a predominance of Pink in the new launches this autumn.Not that ‘Barbie pink’ we all love to hate, but a fluctuation between soft dusty pink and what I always think of as a hot ‘Indian pink’.

There are so many preconceptions about the colour pink, but it has recently come to the fore of home furnishing palettes as a sophisticated and fresh tone within the home. Despite today’s misconception that “pink is for girls’, historically the colour has had masculine associations, notably in Japan, where the coloured pink-blossomed cherry trees are seen as representing the young Samuraii who fell in battle in their prime.The flowers took on a similar meaning during the second World war, when they were painted on the side of Japanese kamikaze warplanes

The city of Jaipur in India is known as the ‘Pink City’some say that the Raja Jawai Singh had the city painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales on an official visit, and the colour has become part of the reatition of the city  with new constructions taking on the colour to this day. As Diana Vreeland said; “Pink is the navy blue of India”

This dusty pink plays a part in the current colour trend, adding a subdued tone to the pink palette. Icons of Denmark have used this soft tone in the upholstery of their contemporary chairs as seen at Design Junction last month.

Icons of Denmark pink upholstered chair

Icons-of-Denmark

Chanel’s iconic pink tweed has been re-invented over and over in their collections, this season it ranges from the original soft pink through to hot “Shiaparelli” pink.

In the home textile collections launched at this season’s Focus show at Chelsea design Centre several companies reference this pink tweed, for example ‘Cestino Flamenceo’from Harlequin, which from a distance, gives a softly undulating pink tone.  Villa Nova also introduce their design Koji geranium; a  warm, dusty pink, textured weave from their Hana Weave collection.

Harlequin fabrics, Celestino pink tweed fabric

Harlequin-fabrics

Whilst Romo have created a new tiny geometric weave using the same tones of soft pink.

Don’t be concerned by today’s prejudices against pink as only being ‘for girls’,  This is a relatively new phenomenon.  For centuries, according to Jean Heifetz (When Blue Meant Yellow: How Colors Got Their Names . Henry Holt, 1994), European children were dressed in blue because the color was associated with the Virgin Mary. The use of pink and blue emerged at the turn of the century, the rule being pink for boys, blue for girls. Since pink was a stronger color it was best suited for boys; blue was more delicate and dainty and best for girls. And in 1921, the Women’s Institute for Domestic Science in Pennsylvania endorsed pink for boys, blue for girls. It is a matter of debate as to when the colour pink became tagged as being only for girls ( I blame Barbie, but am probably wrong!)

Pink is generally known as a colour of happiness and innocence and it has been shown to have significant effects on our psycological state.

  • It has been used in prison cells to effectively modify agressive or erratic mood swings in inmates.
  • Pink is a symbol of joy in Catholicism
  • The color pink is thought to have a tranquilizing effect. Sometimes sport’s teams use pink to paint the opposing team’s changing room!
  • Pink encourages friendliness while discouraging aggression and ill-will.
  • Male weightlifters performance has been diminished when surrounded by pink, whereas female weightlifters performance was enhanced!

The Portugese luxury interior design company Jetclass presented a sumptuous interior display at 100% design, with soft pink furnishings and contemporary accessories.

Of course The Pink House By Rebecca Cole collection is right on trend with our “Love Walk”  hand printed cushion design too!

Brighter pinks are youthful, fun, and exciting, while vibrant pinks have the same high energy as red; they are sensual and passionate without being too aggressive. This is on show in Mauel Canovas’ Indian inspired embroidered linen, Clermont Pivoine  which lifts the spirit in the true tradtition of pink design. Brighter pinks are stimulating, energising and can increase the blood pressure, respiration, heartbeat, and pulse rate.They also encourage action and confidence. So we will keep an eye open for this positivity in seasons to come!

 

 

London Design Week Trends

London’s Chelsea Harbour Design Centre was celebrating London Design week with the crème de la crème of London’s interior textile showrooms launching their new fabric and wallpaper collections to the trade.  From an overwhelming array of design inspiration I have picked out some themes that  emerged as I made my way through champagne sipping, canapé nibbling, interior designers and buyers in the pristine showrooms!

A return to nature was evident across many collections, including Sanderson where the design studio has been busy out in the countryside sketching woodland plants and creatures for their new ‘Woodland Walk’ collection! Embroidered feathers wafted gently across silk in the Osborne and Little showroom on the King’s Road, as if just shed by a passing bird to form a swirl of plumes, and Manuel Canovas had stylised feathers in their collection too. The delicately painted floral design in the Harlequin showroom, whilst not typically ‘English’ in its flower forms, certainly gives the feel of a soft frosted tangle of wayside flowers.

Hedgerow fragmentshedgerow fragments

Cole & Son Wallpapers led the trend for design inspired by mineral surfaces and formations, Their stunning ‘Quartz’ design was inspired by the 2009 Turner prize nominee Roger Hiorns’ crystal encrusted south London Flat, whilst the sequinned embroidery of Sahco Hesslein evokes seams of precious minerals across rich grey silk. Osborne and Little have joined the current trend for rich velvets, producing a sumptuous printed malachite effect  which is contrasted by the industrial chic metallic surfaces of Harlequin’s wallpaper collection.

Mineral Elements

Elements and Minerals

The blowsy florals of the 1950’s are resurfacing with a vengeance in the home furnishings world. Designer’s Guild have launched a new collection of ‘Couture Rose’ designs, comprising of windblown Rose stems, Orchids and Irises. The mid-century glamour is epitomised by the loose brushwork of the Designers Guild signature style. Long recognised as the home of beautiful floral prints, Sanderson has revisited some of it’s classic designs in its ‘Vintage 2 ‘collection, bouquets of Sweet Williams and classic pink roses against a stark black and white stripe, hark back to the classic designs of Sanderson’s origins. Jean-Paul Gaultier has created a floral design inspired by the masters of botanical floral art. The photographic reproduction of old masters are mixed with his signature sailor stripe in a clever envelope cushion design.

Windblown floralswindblown florals

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