Bayeaux Tapestry, depicting the events of the Battle of Hastings and Norman Conquest in 1066, record of it first appears on the Bayeaux Cathedral inventory in 1429.
Well, I thought I knew what was meant by Crewel Work, but there is debate amongst embroiderers, historians and enthusiasts. So, to be specific, I am describing raised embroidery on heavyweight linen or cotton using wool rather than silk or any other yarn. I say “raised” because the designs do not completely cover the back cloth, leaving a texture to the fabric. Traditionally, a rough pattern was marked on to the back cloth using either a pricked pattern and a pounce (a talc-filled bag, padded onto the pattern and allowing talc through to mark guides) otherwise the technique was “free” allowing interpretation and embellishments, in contrast to the thread-counted silk embroideries.
This curtain is from a set of bed hangings which, when pulled closed around a bed, provided warmth and privacy. They were usually the most important part of the bed, generally referred to as the ‘furniture’, and were often valued more highly than the wooden bed frames they decorated.
The curtain is embroidered in a technique known as crewel work, from the crewel or worsted wool used. Crewel work was popular through much of the second half of the 17th century, and was used extensively for bed hangings. It was usually carried out on a strong ground fabric of linen and cotton twill. The embroidery is worked in stem, satin, coral, herringbone and link stitches.
Needlework was a skill taught from early girlhood in 17th-century Britain. Adult women might earn their living from it, or use it in the upkeep and decoration of their households.
The seventeenth century was a high point in the production of crewel and it is often referred to as Jacobean embroidery featuring highly stylized floral and animal designs with flowing vines and leaves. Many of these would be exotic and incredible to their audience. The term “Crewel” is thought to be derived from curl, meaning the staple or average length of fibre used to spin into the yarn used for such a technique.
Image traditionally called Dorothy Cary, later Viscountess Rochford, c. 1614-1618 showing richly embroidered waistcoat.
Outlining stitches such as stem stitch, chain stitch and split stitch create areas that are often filled with satin stitch, using tonal graduations to give the impression of shade and light. Occasionally couched stitches (where one thread is laid on the surface of the fabric and another thread is used to tie it down and create a trellis effect), Seed stitches and French knots embellish the overall design.
The crewel work of the 17th century was used lavishly for bed drapes and wall hangings – it was a time of affluence in Britain and, with the establishment of trading links via the East India, crewel work began to be produced in Asia. A wave of interest also carried across the Atlantic to America and there are many fine examples of crewel work appearing in the USA in the 18th century up to the time of the revolution.
Bed rug, 1796
Maker Unknown (American)
Colchester, New London County, Connecticut
Linen/cotton and wool;
The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century next saw a revival in the UK. Led by William Morris, the movement believed in going “back to the earth” and his marriage to Jane Burden and the establishing of their home was the pivot that steered Morris to his devotion and study of the decorative arts. In particular, Morris invested time in producing natural dyes to provide soft shades of blue and green woollen yarn. Morris expanded medieval design to reflect his generation and need. The long and short stitch was nicknamed the Kensington stitch and a cottage industry was formed to produce the embroideries.
Embroidered hangings or bed curtains designed by May Morris (1862-1938) in 1891-2 and stitched between 1898 and 1902. Worked in crewel wools on natural linen in stem stitch with satin, chain, running and knitting stitches and French knots, the ground is of narrow widths of hand-spun and woven linen with the edges butted and seamed prior to embroidery.
When we, at Tinsmiths, found a supplier of crewel work fabric a couple of years ago, we decided to offer the fabric on the basis that it has a weirdly austere luxury – a contradiction in terms but one that describes a cloth that is quite distinct from any other.
You can find our “Hall” fabrics Berrington & Morants in the patterned fabric area of our on-line fabric shop. If you are inspired to sew some crewel of your own, linen backclothes can also be found in our web-shop. We would suggest using a linen such as Wholemeal, Highland or Linen Flax.
Until now our working lives have been those advanced in their careers. Luis, at 19yrs and just six months out of college, is at the beginning of his working life and we asked him few questions.
How did this begin? “When I was fifteen my school programme of work experience came along and I had no idea how to spend the five days allocated. ‘Well, think about what you have enjoyed most in your life to date’ suggested my Dad.”
“A day with Ben Orford, a multi-disciplinary craftsmen, had so far been the best day of my life. With Ben I was allowed to really use tools and equipment to forge a blade and horn mount a woodsman’s knife” and Luis’ response led to a week with blacksmith, Alex Wilkins at Stretton Grandison, followed by six evenings at Holme Lacy College. “I was lucky that I had just had my sixteenth birthday – allowing me to enrol for the evening class and follow up my work experience”.
* Luis (14yrs) linishing at Ben Orford’s workshop
How did you learn? From there, after GCSE’s, Luis spent three years at Holme Lacy College, which is part of Hereford College of Technology, learning blacksmiths’ “sets” – that is the sequence of processes to achieve particular functions. The sets are essential and these were practiced over and again until perfect; a thorough approach that “sold” the course to Luis. “The college felt so different to school. There was mutual respect; I showed that I wanted to learn and the teaching staff gave me 100%.”
* Handmade Tongs for specific tasks, made at Holme Lacy
In a summer break, Luis built a forge at home and about that time began selling his small fire irons. “My forge wasn’t perfect – I little poisonous in fact – but selling my work was really encouraging, it was great to know that people wanted what I was making.”
* Water Twist Fire Pokers by Luis
Luis completed his course this summer and turned to improving his own forge and building up equipment, “It was quite a shock to come from the biggest and best equipped teaching forge in Europe to a small outhouse with forge and anvil – with rather inadequate ventilation! At college we learnt to make all our own handtools, but that didn’t stop me missing both the power hammer and the company of enthusiastic students”. Time management and self-discipline would be a challenge to most teenagers but Luis tries to put in six hours at the forge most days, admin and designing taking up more time. “If I’m working on a new idea or in the flow of making a group of pieces I work until I’m finished, recently I’ve been making for three Christmas events and have commissions to get out too”.
Plans for the future? Get a driving licence and go on the road. Luis is keen to get working alongside experienced blacksmith in a team or as an assistant on larger projects.
Did family background play a part? “I think there has been a sub-conscious influence on me as I was growing up – having parents who are skilled in art and craft has trickled down to me. Most of their friends are creative and work on their own in this field so it was normal to me to see people working fairly autonomously. However, college really opened me up to learning, exciting my interest widely, so I’m thinking of a little more education – I’ve always enjoyed Biology and would like to speak Spanish.” Well, all he needs to find is a Spanish Blacksmith, making enormous animals who needs an assistant!
Luis’ work can be found in little Tinsmiths – toasting forks a speciality
This morning was not the best time to turn up at Cilla Clive’s Fruit Farm, Redbank, close to Ledbury.
Cilla Clive Fruit Grower
Despite the pressures of harvesting, monitoring ripening apples and huge decisions to be made as the fruit market across Europe reels at the fallout from Russian blockades, Cilla was welcoming.
“I grew up on a farm growing hops, cider, blackcurrants and Hereford cattle. My father believed that women should have proper roles and, when I planned to go to agricultural college at Seale Hayne, he suggested I study agriculture, rather than specialise in dairy from the start. He didn’t want me to be tied to a cow’s tail”.
Cilla’s Father, Denys Thompson.
Her father wasn’t the only person to encourage Cilla to furnish herself with the knowledge that she needed to be an independent woman and fruit grower. In 1974 she embarked on a “crash” course in fruit growing with instruction from Dick Clive.
Dick Clive Grafting
The winter of 1976 found Cilla planting strawberries in the snow on the south-facing banks of Wall Hills, near Ledbury which became Red Bank – the nucleus of a many enterprises in later years. The strawberries were a cash crop to help fund the longer-term investment in orchards which have been Cilla’s main concern in the intervening years.
‘Long term’ is a phrase that crops up around fruit growing – commercial fruit tree nurseries and marketeers need to know what you will be planting in the next five years and what you will be harvesting in the next decade.
Preparing the Ground 1976-1977
Redbank before Fruit 1976
Clearing Orchard Boundary 1976
Planting the First Strawberries 1976
Building the First Apple Store 1978
First Strawberry Harvest 1978
Weighing them up 1978
Work starts at Red Bank at 8am at this time of year when workers arrive and the length of the day depends entirely on the season.Cilla at 73 yrs, has only just, under advice from medics, given up tractor driving but is firmly in the driving seat making decisions daily if not hourly.
Cilla Preparing the Ground 1976
First Apple Harvests
Buckets of Apples
First Apples for the Apple Store
Of course, Cilla takes advice and she takes it widely and with great care. I was struck by the way she is constantly comparing fruit growing across the world, listening and filtering facts and anecdote. What in her working day would she gladly be rid of?
“There is a ton of office work, which is a pain, but I am lucky to have the back-up of my son’s business, Haygrove, which allows some relief from it. I am a grower – that’s it”.
Orchards on a Misty Morning at Redbank, Sept 2014
So what to grow in the future and what drives her forward?“Inheritance Tax!” she exclaims, and, as it turns out, global warming. The champagne regions are on the move North and growing grapes for wine is becoming a real option in Ledbury. But this isn’t the first time that the slopes of Red Bank have been vineyards.
In 1266, Thomas Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford and last English Saint, visited his palace in Ledbury to hunt boar on the Malvern Hills, instructed that the vineyards on the south facing slopes of the Wall Hills be re-planted. Now Cilla is doing it again. Bacchus (grape variety) is gradually re-claiming the slopes, and in this, its first year, looking good.
“I realised that apple growing was unlikely to be of interest to my son whereas grape-growing and wine-making would excite him. I put it to him and was delighted by his interest.”
Cilla’s excitement at this new area of activity is tempered by her practical, business-like approach and years of experience; she explained that it is always important to grow for demand rather than personal preference and to spread risk in this weather-dependent realm of horticulture. The world of wine-making is short of Bacchus, hence Bacchus……
First fruitings of Bacchus at Redbank 2014
Cilla has no plans to retire, she enjoys being part of a multi-generational and international fruit growing community all around her home in Ledbury and making research trips nationally and internationally.
“I had a great road trip two years ago to see my first batch of young grape vines growing in a specialist nursery in Luxembourg. The nursery-man was surprised to see me, apparently nobody visits their young plants, but it’s good to make the connection and I think people make a special effort in response”.
Jazz Apples at Red Bank
Many thanks to Cilla Clive for an hour of her time – in the middle of apple picking! I look forward to a Spartan, Jazz, Cox or Bramley soon and a little later, a glass of something from Bishops’ Vineyard.
Trying to keep to a format for our Working Lives interviews has been a bit of a struggle. Visiting places of work often means that my mind veers off immediately to ask about a tool or technique, forgetting to stick to the questions I had planned; however I made an attempt this time when I visited potter, Patia Davis at her workshop near Ross on Wye.
Patia Davis at her kick wheel.
What is Patia’s daily routine? There isn’t one, she said, but the perfect set-up is a 7am walk through her local woods with Ruby, her ever present, quick-witted, whippet/poodle. The apron is usually on by 9am. Every day is different.
Replica Pitcher for Brockhampton ready to be fired, also glaze & clay tests
The day I visited she was sieving grit for a project with the National Trust to produce replicas of medieval jugs for Lower Brockhampton, near Bromyard. “I’ve realised that every year is unusual. This commission came out of the blue and has meant interesting research – I’m partly using river grit to make a close match to the type of clay body used by the potters in medieval times, known as Malvernian ware and galena (now very restricted) to make a lead glaze. When unusual requests come through it stretches my own understanding and potentially adds to my own pots.
Pottery is a slow process, clay changes its physical properties according to the environment and it’s a part of the potter’s job to control this. Therefore, everyday is different since nothing is done from start to finish in a day. For instance, a kiln firing may take over 18hrs not including the cooling period! It takes a patient and accepting approach.
“When I was eighteen, after “A” levels, spending too much time lying on the sofa watching Dynasty on tv, and about to fall-off into unemployment, my mum brought me up short. She wasn’t one to stress about things, so when she said “Patia, you’ve got to sort yourself out and decide what you want to do”, I sat up and took notice”. Patia was a self-motivated artist, painting and drawing unprompted throughout childhood. An application for an arts foundation course was made by slipping in through the back door, from there she enjoyed the famous studio pottery course at Harrow, meeting Mo Jupp and Mick Casson who gave their support without stint, afterwards joining the degree course at Cardiff.
Wobage Farm is Patia’s first and only workshop and she has always shared facilities with other makers, including its founders Sheila and Mick Casson. Her work has changed over the 24 years since leaving college and she has become well-known for her “Homage to Slipware” an individual approach to a traditional form of decorating earthenware vessels.
Slipware bowls by Patia Davis
Pottery, historically considered a lowly artform, and certainly part of the everyday, nevertheless has significance. “The mug you have your first cup of tea in enhances your mood – it is my responsibility to put my creative energy into my pots. That’s what I’m aiming for and is what I appreciate in other people’s work”, explains Patia.
So, what is a potter’s least favorite chore? There is nothing that Patia doesn’t enjoy about making pots, although when I got all excited about witnessing the opening of her latest kiln firing, she was pretty firm that this is a solitary moment.
” I’m pretty useless at promotion and marketing myself. I just find that aspect the least interesting”. Patia accepts she on is the ‘creative introvert’ side of the spectrum. She began at Wobage with a shared space, but later realised that a lone space is her ideal, as creative ideas are ‘flighty’ and thoughts easily interrupted. This is not to say, that sharing ideas and thoughts is not equally vital.
Slipware Buttons by Patia Davis at Tinsmiths
Patia’s ideas are as fluid as the liquid clay (slip) that she uses so breathtakingly to decorate her platters, bowls and buttons.
She throws the more upright designs, like jugs, mugs and deep bowls on a kick wheel but the more shallow forms she makes from sheets of clay slumped and dried over formers.These shapes she relishes for their “canvas” – almost flat surfaces that allow expressive use of poured and trailed slip.
Applying liquid slip to an un-fired “baker” – note use of tin cans.
The day I visited a group of mugs were off to Japan for an exhibition, but most of Patia’s pots are sold at exhibitions, or through galleries in the UK. Patia is also in demand to give talks, demonstrations and short courses. Wobage has an annual programme of classes run by potter Jeremy Steward, with visiting tutors and taking up to 12 student potters.
We usually have a good selection of Patia’s work in the showroom at Tinsmiths and if you are touring around Herefordshire in September, Patia (and 129 other arts venues) will be open for H.art from 6th September to 14th September – it might be worth getting out a map and working on your itinerary.
Oak Tile Shelf at Tinsmiths
Sitting at a generous ash dining table she made in her sun-filled home near Ledbury, I asked Gudrun Leitz to tell me how she became a green woodworker. “I always knew that I had worker’s hands, that I would do something with these” she said, offering them, open-handed. It took Gudrun some time to realise the privilege. She grew up in Stuttgart. At that time, in Germany, anything that looked back to a life on the land rather than forward to technology, was frowned upon; Gudrun’s education was totally academic, the only respite being fondly remembered days out and holidays in the Black Forest, where her mother “came to life” and this large family enjoyed nature and the outdoors.
Teaching in Japan 2013
Gudrun with her “Queen Anne” Chair
Gudrun came to Britain to study language and stayed, initially, for love. After three years as a language teacher she began to look around for other options, something that would be physical and use those hands. Luckily, London in the early 1980’s was just the place to find a 10 week course like “Women’s Introduction to Building” and of all the topics, joinery grabbed Gudrun’s attention. Pursuing this spark, she enrolled at the London School of Furniture and completed a traditional City and Guilds course in fine furniture, working late shifts photo-typesetting for the printing industry keep the wolf from the door. Back then she band sawed elaborate shapes from large sections of kiln dried oak to fashion a traditional Queen Anne chair as her final piece of coursework. She was brave enough to let me photograph her end of course piece, kept hanging on the wall of her workshop as a reminder of the start.
A piece just ready for the finishing touches, April 2014
Replacing Masts on the Pascual Flores in Bristol Harbour
Moving to Bristol in 1987 to help restore the “Pascual Flores” a 70 foot wooden schooner berthed in the harbour was an important milestone, “ We did everything by eye, trees delivered whole to the quay, we looked for the right shape from the start, it was a revelation to me that one could work in that way” Gudrun explained. Her year on the boat was a joy, in the open air, working with highly skilled and experienced boat-builders. This was quite a contrast to her next job, working for furniture-makers in nearby Bath but using machinery and power tools to shape wood to a blue-print. The sound and space of a modern workshop, the work itself, became increasingly alien.
Around 1990 green woodworkers Mike Abbott and Tim Wade were becoming known for using unseasoned wood to make chairs in the same way that craftsmen like Philip Clissett working in Herefordshire in the late 19th century had done. Via a series of short courses, often as the sole woman, and later as assistant to Tim, Gudrun became more and more drawn to this way of life which combined the outdoors, use of hand tools and traditional craft processes. Soon she had been invited by Mike and Tim to run greenwood courses for women in their workshops and progressed to her own annual series of courses.
Her affinity with the convoluted grain of ‘marginal’ trees twisting to reach the light in often under managed woodlands led her to develop her own very recognizable style of working with these timbers, full of exciting curves and wild grain.
Marginal Ash for Freeform Furniture
She often uses the term “freeform” to describe her approach. Her process may take a specially interesting section of wood as a starting point around which the design develops. She cleaves the section with axes and wedges to reveal mirroring components which are further worked with a variety of hand tools resulting in very organic three-dimensional shapes for components. Combined with selected ash, oak or elm planks she has often dried herself for up to ten years she fashions her distinctive free-form furniture, be that a garden seat, a rocking chair or one of her trademark large elm or oak tables.
In 1993 Gudrun won a contract to make 200 pole lathe turned balusters for the new Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s Southbank. “The Globe made my name, it was wonderful on every level”. For this project authentic processes, true to the era, were a priority. As 200 increased to 500 balusters, trees were donated from all over the county including the National Trust at Lower Brockhamption; the job took three winters to complete and was an amazing feat for an individual.
While working for the Globe, Gudrun began looking for a woodland to work and run her courses in, and with Mike and Tamsin Abbott and furniture maker Chris Armstrong from Clyro found a deciduous woodland close to Ledbury which became known as Clissett Wood.
Woodland Shelter at Clissett Wood were students can camp on site.
The group of four soon expanded to seven and she has worked this woodland co-operatively with a changing group of partners ever since, as well as running furniture making courses for the last twenty years from her large woodland workshop. The courses have developed a loyal following and every year both newcomers and returners come to stay in Clissett Wood for up to nine days to make a very individual chair or other piece of furniture, either pole lathe turned or free-form.
Freeform Bench by Gudrun Leitz
The year’s rhythm is fairly predictable, with the summer season being for teaching her greenwood courses, late autumn to spring for furniture making. “Luckily I can juggle to fit circumstances but I like to separate my own work and experiments in technique from teaching – eventually a new approach may become the subject for a course”, Gudrun explains. “I usually have a few commissions on the go, these come directly or through a couple of galleries* who show my work but I really love making pieces that are inspired by the wood itself. Now I am well established, people bring me interesting timbers and I like to use what is offered locally.”
Cleaving Ten Foot Lengths of Oak in Childer Wood
Cleaving is the basis of all green woodwork, but Gudrun takes it further into an exploration of very large trees as well as very convoluted sections. Nearby Childer Wood, sustainably managed and worked with horses by her partner Doug Joiner, gives her access to almost all her greenwood material. Using wedges, Gudrun is able to cleave even the largest oak trunks, firstly by splitting them in half and then in diminishing segments to whatever dimensions are required. Very little waste or woodland damage, no transportation as the timber is processed where the tree fell and anything not needed providing a habitat for wildlife.
Lately there have been exciting developments in Clissett Wood. Interest from highly regarded product designers, looking to study craft traditions, resulted in the greenwood project “Bodging Milano” with the resulting collection being shown at the Milan Furniture Fair, Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2010. Interest in fusing traditional chair bodging and contemporary design is on-going with some industry partnerships developing.
Bodging Milano Group
This just about brings us to today. An April-showery spring day in Clissett Wood, buds bursting and seven students –mostly new, one returning – with Gudrun teaching an introductory weekend course by helping the students put together some simple three-legged stools. We stood back. Looking hard, identifying timbers, assessing the parts, checking for stability, making adjustments, handling tools with increasing confidence and listening to the “after rain” birdsong.
Short Course April 2014 with stools to take home.
When asked if she would consider doing anything else for a living, Gudrun said simply, “ I realised long ago this (green woodworking) would be my passion for the rest of my life, there are so many directions to take. I don’t know what the future holds and I consider that a privilege”.
For course information go to Gudrun’s website
For woodland management using heavy horses go to Doug’s website
See Gudrun’s Furniture at 20:20 Gallery, Much Wenlock or New Leaf Gallery, Monmouth.
On being asked why he became a hairdresser, Mervyn Parnell is liable to give one of two answers, either: “I was good at art, I could draw and I knew I was creative. I could have gone to art college but it was full of ‘hippies’ not people like me, so I thought that hairdressing would allow me to be creative and earn a living”. The other answer is “I was a 5’2” lad with buck teeth, so I figured that going into an industry which had loads of girls and not too many heterosexual men working in it, that I would be bound to pull.” I’m not sure which answer is true. In any case Mervyn started as a Saturday boy in a salon near his family home in Gloucester in his early teens, he was cutting hair at 15 and had is own client list at 16. “No one ever taught me, there was one chap John Phelps who ran another salon and had been a world champion, we just used to talk about cutting hair which sounds a bit sad but he’s the only person that I learned anything from”.
A girlfriend and job brought Mervyn to Ledbury at the beginning of the 80’s. “I remember getting off the bus with a Mohawk haircut wearing bondage trousers and I thought ‘What the heck am I doing here?’ Mervyn has continued to be one of Ledbury’s more stylish residents with a collection of more than 60 vintage Levi jeans, 25 Levi jackets from the 40’s & 50’s, Pendleton shirts and 1948 -1956 suits it can be said that Mervyn is more into clothes than most “It just smacks of laziness, dressing badly”.
In 1986 Mervyn opened the Cutting Club, with a distinctly mid century feel and educational selection from Mervyn’s extensive record collection of northern soul, 50’s & 60’s R & B and roots rockabilly music playing, the salon has been busy since the day it opened.
“My working day starts at 7.30 in the morning and ends at 7.30 in the evening, I have 20+ clients a day and I can’t wait to get a pair of scissors in my hands”. “So you like what you do?” “Absolutely; I like to create and change, I like cutting hair and I really like the people that I work with, in 28 years I’ve never had a crossed word with any of my stylists”.
Like Martin (the Printer from January), Mervyn is another Ledbury Luddite, there is no computer in the salon or in Mervyn’s life and no mobile phone either, this seems to be an aesthetic choice as much as anything ‘I struggle with technology, I’m just not interested, I prefer things which are crafted with a hand and heart’. And fashion as a concept is difficult for him too ‘I like style not fashion, I like a good hair cut where you can see it’s a whole exercise in shape, not to be dressed’
Mervyn and I go back along time; he first cut my hair when I was 14, it is a haircut which is etched on my memory because until that day my hair had been long, straggly and mainly scratched back into a ponytail and found under a riding hat but the sleek sharp bob that Mervyn gave me made me aware of a whole new world of possibilities!
The Cutting Club. Tel:01531 635866 and to get a flavour of the music Mervyn is cutting to follow this Spotify link to a few of his favorite tracks.