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CETG online talk on Monday 14th March 2022

Lynn Hulse – “The Needle’s Art”

contemporary hand embroidery inspired by an early Tudor pattern book  



Lynn Hulse thanked CETG for the opportunity to talk about “The Needle’s Art”, which was on show in at the Bodleian Library in Oxford from 20th November 2021 to 30th January 2022.  This was a collaborative exhibition between “Ornamental Embroidery” and the staff at the Bodleian Library and the Ashmolean Museum. 


“Ornamental Embroidery” was founded in 2010 by Royal School of Needlework trained Lynn Hulse and Nicola Jarvis who met when teaching on the RSN degree course.  The main objective of Ornamental Embroidery is to bring together history and practice, through their expertise in the teaching and designing of historic needlework, running lectures and workshops in museums, art galleries and historic houses in the UK. 


An earlier exhibition, “The Needles Excellency”, was the outcome of a raised work casket project that took place at the Ashmolean Museum from 2021-2017.  The inspiration for the exhibition included the 1673 raised work panel “The Sacrifice of Isaac”, pieces from the Mallett and Feller collections, and a particular piece from the Ashmolean’s own collection.  The original idea was for students to work from the same design for each casket’s nine panels.  The project quickly developed into the students’ personal ideas being designed by Nicola Jarvis; a total of 156 panels! The success of the exhibition of the caskets and panels at the Ashmolean in 2017 resulted in further displays at the Knitting and Stitching Shows in London, Dublin and Harrogate in 2018.  Copies of the booklet that accompanied the exhibition are available from Lynn Hulse at Ornamental Embroidery.


Lynn went on to tell us about Ornamental Embroidery’s Celtic Revival project at the Ashmolean, which had to be put on hold due to Covid.  The last module of the course is due to take place this year with the intention of displaying the finished work at some point in the not too far distant future.


The idea for “The Needle’s Art” project arose out of a visit by Lynn and Nicola to the Opus Anglicanum exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in January 2017.   Amongst the treasures on display was the manuscript MS Ashmole 1504, a pattern book of images typically found in late fifteenth century church vestments and embroidery.  Originating in East Anglia, linked to Helmingham Hall and the de Vere and Tollemache families, and estimated to date to the 1520’s, the pattern book came into the possession of Elias Ashmole who gifted his collection to the University of Oxford.  Initially MS Ashmole 1504 was housed at the Old Ashmolean Museum, the building which now contains the History of Science Museum.  Over time the manuscript moved to the Ashmolean in the location we know it today, and thence to the Bodleian Library. 


As a result of study sessions looking at MS Ashmole 1504, designs were chosen for students to work on.  Materials were carefully chosen and threads matched to the original colours in the manuscript. The Digital Bodleian catalogue contains images and information from MS Ashmole 1504 “The Tudor Pattern Book” and can be viewed here.  Twenty-five students took part in the project, attending two-day workshops in addition to working independently at home.  The techniques used included red work, black work, canvas work, crewel work, silk work, gold work, raised work, bead work, ribbon work and appliqué.  The display featured a wide range of objects from sewing accoutrements, book covers, domestic furnishings to garments and accessories.  Many of the designs used bear a close relationship to those featured in MS Ashmole 1504 whilst others are more liberal in their interpretation.  The impact of Covid caused a 15-month delay to original plans.  The finished embroidered pieces were finally delivered to the Bodleian Library in October 2021, at which time a decision was made to divide the display between Blackwell Hall at the Weston Library and the Proscholium in the Bodleian Old Library.  


Lynn went on to show us a series of images of the stitched pieces from “The Needle’s Art”, together with their reference images from MS Ashmole 1504.  To conclude, Lynn described the project and exhibition of “The Needle’s Art” as one that demonstrates how manuscript sources and library collections not only provide a window on the past but continue to inspire designers and practitioners today.     




Words © Sue Robinson, March 2022


Photo: 'Ann Howden, Jacket detail Silk and metal threads with silk appliqué and beads on a silk ground, 2020'.

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