The Swan’s Bower Etui by Betsy Morgan

24th January 2020

If you are on a certain stretch of the River Thames in London in July, you might hear the cry “All up!” coming from a group of blue or scarlet-clad folk in wooden skiffs. They’re about to count swans.

This annual census, a centuries-old tradition, is called Swan Upping.

In England, mute swans (Cygnus olor) have been the property of the Crown since the twelfth century, specifically, unmarked swans on open waters. Ownership rights of these valuable birds could be granted by the monarch to other people, or scholarly or guild institutions, however you needed significant wealth to maintain those rights.

Ownership would be marked on the beaks of the swans, a practice that thankfully no longer exists. Swans are now a protected species and only three organisations apart from the Crown maintain a traditional claim of ownership, the Abbotsbury Swannery, and the Vintners and the Dyers livery companies.

These rights, dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are now marked by leg rings, with cygnets begin allocated to the same ownership as their parents. The representatives of these companies wear blue jackets during the Swan Upping, and representatives of the sovereign wear scarlet.

The reasons for Swan Upping have changed. No longer recorded for food stock or monetary value of ownership rights, the focus of the count is now conservation and education. Swan numbers were in severe decline due to habitat loss, pollution and animal attacks on cygnets.

The Swan Uppers, teams on the boats, weigh, measure, and check the swans and cygnets for injury in addition to counting them. Where possible, injured birds are rescued, rehabilitated and released back to the river. Efforts to address the protection of swans and their habitat have led to a gradual increase in numbers, with 134 recorded in 2019.

The life cycle of swans is depicted on Betsy Morgan’s beautiful ‘The Swan’s Bower Etui’ from her book Willing Hands.

Her inspiration came from nineteenth century samplers that featured regal swan motifs. Stitched on cream linen lined with pale yellow silk, the front cover of the etui features a tranquil queen of swans resting on her nest, hidden in her tall bower.

On the needle holder inside the etui, an egg-filled nest is revealed, along with a pair of young cygnets, ready to explore their river world.

Two generous pockets in the etui hold a thread minder featuring a very young cygnet riding on its mother’s back, and a scissor sheath with older cygnets standing on an ornate fountain.

On the back cover, the fountain motif is repeated, only the cygnets have now become young swans, showing off their white feathers.

The shape of this portable, wallet-style etui was inspired by a nineteenth century needlebook made by Morris and Yeomans, a needle manufacturer of the time. The Swan’s Bower Etui would make a unique and graceful addition to your sewing accessories!

Make Your Own | The Swan’s Bower Etui

Step 1 – Purchase Project Instructions

The Swan’s Bower Etui by Betsy Morgan is an elegant, folding etui accessorised with a needle holder and pockets to contain a scissor sheath, scissor fob and thread minder.

Printed Books

Willing Hands

Step 2 – Purchase Ready-To-Stitch Kit

The Inspirations Ready-To-Stitch kit for The Swan’s Bower Etui includes everything you need to re-create this regal etui: Fabrics (unprinted), interfacings, interlining, firm card, felt, charm, button, embroidery threads and needles.


The Swan’s Bower Etui – Willing Hands Kit

Please Note: To cater for flexibility of purchase, instructions are not included with our kits. For step-by-step directions on how to create this project, please refer to the book ‘Willing Hands’.

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