Delicate antique collars, sleeves and cuffs; christening robes and baby caps; fine underwear and Sunday-best table linen and handkerchiefs exemplify some of the most intricate pieces of Whitework embroideries to form part of the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) exhibition from its Collection from May to December 2015.
Co-curated by Dr Clare Rose (RSN Degree Contextual Studies Lecturer) and Dr Susan Kay-Williams (RSN Chief Executive) this exhibition demonstrates how Whitework was once part of everyday life with women and young girls spending hours creating these intricate works of art for very practical uses.
Dr Clare Rose comments, “In the past, Whitework embroidery was big business, with professionals producing monogrammed underwear sets for Princesses – and for lesser mortals. Ayrshirework christening gowns and women’s accessories were worked on by teams of embroiderers, with apprentices doing the edging and the most highly skilled doing the delicate needlelace fillings. The value of Whitework can also be seen in the care that was taken to maintain it, from starch glazing and ironing after every wash, to meticulous darns to repair torn muslin ruffles. Whitework is one of the most international techniques, and the exhibition will feature pieces from Bengal and the Philippines.”
Although the exhibition features one embroidery technique there is a great variety in the pieces on show, for example, an exceptionally fine handkerchief from the Paris Exhibition of 1867 representing the Egyptian Pavilion; a set of miniature garments made in 1844 comprising skirt, boned bodice, bloomers, petticoat, nightdress, shirt and socks; a toddler gown featuring the Prince of Wales Feathers and Ayrshirework, a tea cosy in pulled thread work and bedding featuring a cottage scene.
Dr Susan Kay-Williams says, “The quality of work is exquisite and features several of the Whitework techniques including Carrickmacross, Hollie Point, Cutwork, Pulled threads, Hardanger and Ayrshirework.”
Contemporary applications of Whitework will be represented by examples from RSN Diploma students and graduates showing how these delicate techniques can be used to create an amazing variety of patterns, textures and designs all without any colour.
The exhibition takes place at the RSN’s base at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey on set days each month and pre-booking in advance is essential. Tours are 1.5 hours and cost £16 per person and groups are welcome too. You’ll listen to a short illustrated lecture on the RSN and Whitework and then be shown around the exhibition by volunteer tour guides.
To book for the RSN Whitework Exhibition visit www.royal-needlework.org.uk or telephone +44(0)20 3166 6941.