But at a recent visit to the NGV to see their current exhibition Exquisite Threads: English Embroidery 1600s - 1900s (seems we don't need an apostrophe these days!) there was the most delicate and intricate Sampler completed by a 7 - repeat 7 year old. Can you imagine a 7 year old in this day and age sitting with a needle and thread working on a Sampler of such intricacy. For middle-class women embroidery was a matter of learning, discipline (lots of that!) and moral instruction.
|Bottom line - Sarah Burch finish'd this samplar in the 7 year of her age|
I was fascinated to hear a little dot of around 7 say to her father with her bell-like voice "Aren't they beautiful Dadda". Good for Dadda to bring the dot to the Gallery and to the Exhibition. After making such a wonderful statement she skipped off with pigtail bobbing to find another treasure. Heaven.
|A family register - completed by Susanna Gillmore 21 May 1814 (born 26 March 1802) - aged 12)|
The needlework and the creativity of each piece was amazing. One could almost forget that much of what we saw was handmade - so used are we to everything being machine-made. I guess with no ipads, television, radio and the dreaded social media 'being ladylike' meant that those with 'means' sat and created by candlelight while those without means also created mostly for those more fortunate than they - that is until their eyesight failed.
I loved the Stomacher (I wonder why I was drawn to that!) - lined with whalebone the decorative V shaped panel fastened to the centre of the bodice - to hold the stomach in!
|Lace yourself into your Stomacher (no wonder they had tiny waists!)|
One of the exhibits that caught my eye was a beautifully embroidered apron. The more beautifully embroidered the apron meant the less actual physical work was done by the wearer in the home. So it became a symbol of wealth.
|An apron - including gold and silver thread - not much 'downstairs' work done in this - and the waist was tiny!|
The delicate early seventeenth century coif, worn both inside and outside and was considered important for modesty and health, was also a highlight. Again the more detailed - the more the symbol of wealth. Those 'downstairs' wouldn't have had a moment to be so creative - for themselves!
|An 'upstairs' coif with once-sparkling sequins|
One of the most fascinating pieces was a sample of embroidery designed by Norman Hartnell for the Coronation dress for Queen Elizabeth 11. Incorporated in the sample were the Tudor Rose of England, the Thistle of Scotland, the Shamrock of Ireland, the Leek of Wales (!) the Wattle of Australia, the Protea of South Africa, the Fern of New Zealand and the Maple Leaf of Canada - to name just a few. It was truly divine and this was just a small snippet. Imagine an entire 'frock'!
|E R at the bottom and a sprig of Australian Wattle top right|
This waistcoat was made of silk - definitely an 'upstairs' outfit I suspect. I loved the detail and colour of the embroidery. Men were rather more flamboyant in those days!
|Even the buttons are embroidered|
I've always loved the quotation by designer William Morris - famed for his fabric designs and wallpapers (Morris & Co retailer 1861 - 1940). "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful".
|Wall hanging - William Morris|
Although there were just 60 works each one was so detailed that more would have been overwhelming. It gave a wonderful view of a world that has passed us by. I must say I would have hoped to live 'upstairs' rather than toiling 'downstairs' in those days.
|Tapestry slippers - perhaps I could do these!|
It made the current tapestry I am working on (in front of the television!) pale into insignificance!
|My own attempt - now I have to decide what to do with it/them! Slippers anyone?!|