11 September 2013

Embroidery exhibition at William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

Nicola Jarvis's exhibition at the William Morris Gallery is on until 22 September. She is an embroiderer who has taken elements of Morris's classic designs and made them contemporary. The exhibition links her work with that of May Morris (1862-1938), daughter of William and Jane. May was helping her father with embroidery at age 6, and at age 23 was in charge of the Morris & Co embroidery workshops.

May encouraged other women to design as well as stitch their own work, and to hold public exhibitions where they could be taken seriously as artists. Nicola's body of work explores May's approach to design and stitch by putting her teachings into practice.

The work in progress starts with painted pattern, overlaid with conventional stitches - blanket stitch, french knots, satin stitch had been added -
It's usual to see some working drawings in contemporary exhibits of embroidery, but seeing May's as well was unexpected. These may have been intended as part of lecture notes. She taught all over the UK, gave a lecture tour in the USA in 1909-10, and offered private lessons at home. Her manual  Decorative needlework (1893) is still in print today - available free online here.
Notes and sketches on embroidery, May Morris.

On the left is notepaper from 8, Hammersmith Terrace. Nowadays No.7,
next door, bought by Emery Walker in 1879, is considered to be
the best-preserved Arts and Crafts interior in Britain
Designed and stitched in silk on net by May Morris, intended to be a firescreen.
Stitches are stem stitch, chain stitch, satin stitch, long and short stitch.
The inscription is from a poem by Robert Herrick in praise of violets.
Another of May's designs, made for her father, who carried pens and notes in it
On the walls are well-chosen quotes -

"the first thing the designer will do is to go to natural growths and animal life ... studying their infinite variety and beauty ... These studies should be constantly and faithfully made, until the artist has familiarised himself with all possible peculiarities and diversities of such things." May Morris, 1893
Drawing and close observation of nature are essential starting points for both artists
"work should merely recall nature, not absolutely copy it; the living flower should inspire the living ornament in the brain, certain characteristics being dwelt upon, but the forms all simplified, leaves flatly arranged, stems bent into flowing curves to fill the required spaces" May Morris, 1893
Struck with repetitive strain injury from constant embroidery, Nicola turned
to "stitching with a pencil" for her designs

"since we are using specially beautiful materials, we shall make the most of them, and not forget that we are gardening with silk and gold thread" William Morris, 1884
Firescreen panel and two bags (at left in frame) by May Morris;
the red bag is part of a collaborative project using Nicola's design

As well as the framed "stitch drawings", Nicola painted on oak panels. The quilted panel was designed by Nicola and beautifully made by skilled workers, embroidery colleagues -
The cushions in the display were all stitched from Nicola's designs by colleagues from the embroidery world, a collaborative project that was inspired by William and May working with family and friends to make their embroideries -
Bodies of the delightful birds are carried out in tent stitch (needlepoint), and backgrounds in other canvas-work stitches, in wool -

Another style of working, based on crewel work, includes floral designs and to my eye is rather dull, perhaps because of the symmetry of the designs and the muted colours. The birds' bodies are mostly straight stitch, and contrast well with the back-stitched linear design in the background -
Some kits of these designs are available, as well as a small catalogue -

1 comment:

Connie Rose said...

Awesome and fascinating!