What Are You Stitching?

19th July 2019

If you’re familiar with the work of Phillipa Turnbull, you’ll know that she is passionate about historical embroidery and has built a successful business and career sharing the fruits of her researching labour. This week it’s the projects in our What Are You Stitching? files that have an historical bent to them that have caught our eye…

Christine McCarthy

‘I am a long-term reader and advocate of Inspirations Magazine and have learnt a great deal from your pages. Beginning in 2010 and involving more than two and a half thousand hours of work, I coordinated the stitching of 23 tapestry kneelers for the sanctuary of St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Sydney. The project was inspired by tapestry kneelers in Anglican Cathedrals in England. The designs were based on stained glass windows in St Mary’s Cathedral – fourteen vertical images of angels playing musical instruments. Sydney artist, Benjamin Pollock, redesigned these images, painting horizontal designs suitable for kneelers. These images were then transferred to tapestry canvases.’

Benjamin Pollock & Some of the Project’s Volunteers

‘There were twenty people, some as young as 7, 9 and 11 who stitched the kneelers. The participants were mainly women, though there was a fourteen-year-old young man who worked one of the needlepoints. His whole family became interested and not only his sister, but his father and mother worked three more of the kneelers.’

Christina English & Colleen Davoren – the Project’s Youngest & Oldest Volunteers

‘The whole project took several years, delayed by my being out of the country, in Rome with my husband, for three and a half years just after we began recruiting volunteers. For months on end I was unable to personally oversee the project although I returned briefly a number of times during our lengthy stay in Italy and resumed our initial tutorials at my home or at the Cathedral House. From my experience with Inspirations Magazine I know how important it is to give detailed instructions, so our kits provided instruction sheets, a picture of the relevant painting, painted canvases and all wools, silk and gold threads needed to complete each kneeler. Most of the participants worked at their own pace without much further assistance.’

‘Each kneeler has embroidered on the reverse side the name of the stitcher, the year the tapestry was worked and the age if the volunteer was a child. Many people dedicated their work to a deceased loved one. This stitching project, which we named Angels in the Sanctuary, marked the 200th Anniversary of the establishment of the Cathedral choir from 1818 to 2018. I know readers will appreciate how much joy these kneelers have given not only to those who contributed their time and skill but to members of the congregation and visitors to St Mary’s Cathedral.’

Christine, what an incredibly fruitful way to ply not only your talent, but the talent of all involved! The tapestry kneelers speak of history, tradition and community. Thank you for sharing the project with us and thank you to Giovanni Portelli Photography for capturing the project’s participants.

Nancy Duncan

‘I recently wrote a novella titled ‘Imagination Prymm of Ipswich: A Year and a Day’ which details the final year and day of a 70-year-old midwife and healer living in 1678 Ipswich, Massachusetts, who finds her life coming full circle through the apprenticeship of a 14-year-old girl. Rich in history and herbal lore, it is full of the Colonial arts of spinning, sampler embroidery, black work, and bobbin lace.’

‘While trying to get my book published, I decided to embroider the book, which begins in Lancashire, England, and ends with the old woman’s last breaths. The motifs begin at the great yew tree at the bottom and work counterclockwise through the seasons and various important events from the book. Goody Prymm’s house and gardens are at the center of it all and I have only the autumn leaves, the snow and spring rains to complete it.’

‘The piece is stitched on hand-dyed linen, 30 count, in hand-dyed threads and measures 18 x 27” (45 x 68 cm). Both works have been labors of love although I am still trying to get my book published in the traditional way.’

Nancy, they say a picture speaks a thousand words, but in this instance, it would seem your words have inspired a thousand stitches! Both your writing and stitching have been an incredible labour of love and we wish you much success with the publishing of your novella.

Mary Alice Sinton

First published in Inspirations issue #52, Susan O’Connor’s Elizabethan Botanicals captured 16th Century Elizabethan England and its opulent use of magnificent floral embroidery at its finest. Susan taught one of designs from the silk embroideries, Poppies and Peas, at the needlework convention Beating Around the Bush last year, where she guided one of her students, Mary Alice, through stitching her own piece of Elizabethan history.

‘I am happy to say I have been stitching non-stop on my Poppies and Peas thanks to the Easter Holiday. I thoroughly enjoyed my class with Susan and love that piece. It was such a great project to use on the Beating Around the Bush logo!’

Mary Alice, it was such a pleasure to meet and host you at Beating Around the Bush in 2018! Poppies and Peas is a stunning project that you’re making spectacular progress with and we look forward to seeing the finished result.

Have your needles and threads stitched something that’s been shaped by history? We’d love to see it and hear the story behind the stitching. Email photos of your stitching along with a few details about your stitching journey to news@inspirationsstudios.com

Join our FREE weekly newsletter All Stitched Up!

Back to top