Jacobean Hunt by Phillipa Turnbull
19th July 2019
Jacobean crewel embroidery is the embodiment of liveliness and fun in stitching. A traditional design framework is combined with an overt disregard for proportion and a joyful excursion into fantastical and exotic motifs of flora and fauna. This style of embroidery, using wool threads on strong linen twill, was ideal for soft furnishings and was increasingly desirable during the 1600s for adorning great houses.
Developments in dyes and influences of imported textiles, especially from India, contributed to the lavish, densely embroidered designs with pops of brilliant colour that were in demand during the second half of the 17th century.
Phillipa Turnbull’s ‘Jacobean Hunt’ from A Passion for Needlework | Factoria VII, a replica of a design from the 1660s in her private collection, is a striking example of this style of Jacobean crewel work.
The original Jacobean crewel design adorning a pillow was worked in the 1660s and is in Phillipa’s private collection. Photograph courtesy of Phillipa Turnbull.
The design features the traditional framework of a tree of life, with a main stem rising from hillocks ranged across the lower edge. This mighty tree, with lofty heights beyond the bounds of the upper edge of the design, bears an abundance of oak leaves and acorns on one side, and grape leaves and fruits on the other.
Two giant flowers tower above a stag and hounds racing across the hillocks, and a fanciful bird with exotic plumage is perched on the tree stem, distracted from its acorn meal by the animals below.
The strong blues, greens and rose pinks of the design are still evident on the original pillow. Owning the piece meant that Phillipa could go a step further and examine the unfaded colours on the reverse side of the linen, ensuring that the colours she used to work her replica, including the softer olive, yellow and brown shades, match the original design.
You wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who is as passionate about historical crewel embroidery as Phillipa, whose family business, The Crewel Work Company, revolves around sharing the fruits of research by providing guided tours of embroidery collections in museums, castles and country houses in and around the UK.
It follows that the eleven stitches Phillipa uses in ‘Jacobean Hunt’ were also in use at the time of the original design, most of which are familiar, old friends to embroiderers today. These include fly stitch, long and short stitch, French knots, padded satin stitch and trellis couching. Some of these can be seen on the historical pillow, including the brick stitch that imparts an interesting change in texture and colour across the main stem, setting it apart from the other elements.
A Passion for Needlework | Factoria VII includes step-by-step instructions for working the interlocking satin stitch blocks that form brick stitch. Phillipa recommends turning your work 90 degrees so that the edge of the stem is oriented to the top, and then, beginning along the upper edge, working the stitches from the lower to upper edge of each colour block.
The finished embroidery is quite large, measuring 42cm x 48cm wide (16 ½” x 19”). While the finished design could be framed, why not follow the example of the original pillow and make up your piece into a generously sized cushion? It would be a magnificent display piece and would certainly be in keeping with historical accuracy.
Make Your Own Jacobean Hunt
Jacobean Hunt by Phillipa Turnbull from A Passion for Needlework | Factoria VII is a superb crewelwork study of a stag and hounds in a fantastic forest.