My mother-in-law Elizabeth, who has been a keen needlewoman all her life, has asked me over the past few years to go through some of the embroidery stash she had no further use for (you may remember some interesting goldwork threads she bestowed on me some years ago). Recently, in view of her failing health, she asked me to sift through the remainder and divide it into things I could use, and things to be passed on to her embroidery group once they are allowed to meet again.
In the drawers of her needlework chest I found a wealth of lovely textured threads and ribbons, some of which I hope to use in my Canvaswork module (the next one after Bruce is finished), as well as a variety of metal threads, something that looks like coloured pipe cleaner (the blue a bit mottled with age), and miscellaneous bits and bobs including some pretty mother of pearl thread winders.
But the biggest haul, going by quantity, was an enormous bundle of vintage Filoselle silks. My guess is that they were originally intended for a tablecloth or a project of similar scope, presumably with a pattern of leaves and flowers – mostly leaves, if the amount of green is anything to go by!
Pearsall’s Filoselle silk, which has sadly been discontinued, was produced until relatively recently (I bought some in a sale in Cumbria back in 2012). Judging by the paper wrappers, however, these skeins are likely to be a lot older than that. They may well be the same age as the “Journal of the Embroiderers’ Guild” which I found on one of the bookshelves – Spring 1956, when Elizabeth was four years married and a young mother. Perhaps they were bought for the transfer illustrated on the back cover?
One of the things that struck me in the magazine was the names, or rather the titles, of the various “Officers of the Guild” and the Presidents, Chairmen (mostly women, actually), Secretaries and Treasurers. Her Grace the Duchess (two, plus a Baroness, if we count vice-patrons as well); a Countess and a Viscountess; numerous Honourables, Ladies, and Honourable Ladies; a Captain and a Major. I fear the Guild has come down in the world somewhat since then… Still, a more egalitarian Guild may well be a reason for rejoicing; but what saddened me when flicking through the magazine was the advertisements. Such an abundance of shops to buy your needlework materials from! And what has happened to them all?
Francis of Bath Street in Leamington Spa is long gone; Celic in Bedford who advertise as Mail Order Stores are now a “catalogue shop”, but what they offer and whether they in fact still do so is anybody’s guess, as Google declines to throw up any further information. The name of Boynton & Turner, “Designers and Makers of Transfers for Every Kind of Embroidery since 1906”, turns up only on Etsy and eBay and the like where people offer their “vintage transfers”. Art Needlework Industries of Oxford is no more either; one of the few mentions I found was about an old shade card for their wool. Harrods – well, Harrods still exists of course, but I had no idea whether nowadays it has “everything for the needlewoman”, let alone whether “demonstrators” are still “at hand from time to time”. A bit of search engine activity brings up a promising page called “Needle & Thread” on the Harrods website, but this turns out to be a clothing brand. The only remotely crafty things seem to be in the Children’s/Toys section…
Art Needlework Industries or A.N.I. must have been quite an influential shop – they appear in several more adverts dotted throughout the magazine. As for the other advertisers on the page shown below, the Dundee Heritage Trust has some swatch cards and sample booklets which seem to be the only remnants of Richmond Brothes and their Glenshee Embroidery Fabrics. Like Boynton & Turner, Peri-Lusta turns up only on sites like eBay as vintage materials. Briggs & Co. of Manchester and their “Waffle-Weave Embroidery by Penelope” have been through some changes too – James Briggs & Sons are stil trading, but have nothing to do with needlework now; Penelope seems to be still going although I’m not sure what they stand for now besides the name of a type of canvas. Searching for Aero hoops leads to bicycle parts rather than embroidery, and “Flora Macdonald embroidery needles” once again turn up only in “vintage” sales.
Elsewhere in the magazine, Deighton Brothers advertised transfers, “art needlework and needlework accessories” and a book on smocking; they still exist, but only for “on-demand tapestry printing”. Knox of Kilbirnie stopped making their linen embroidery threads (some of which – see below – I found in a charity shop in The Netherlands!) in the 1990s and now produce “industrial and military nets”. The Needlewoman Shop in Regent Street closed in 1985. The Old Glamis Factory in Dundee which produced embroidery fabrics closed in 1984.
We still have many amazing manufacturers of threads and fabrics, and we’re not likely to run out of resources any time soon, but it is sad to think of those many, many shops selling beautiful materials which for whatever reason were no longer viable. Fortunately we can still use and enjoy their products, now with the label “vintage”; here is one of each of the Filoselle colours from my mother-in-law’s collection with a square of linen from another of her needlework drawers for a project. A rose, perhaps? Or an E decorated with flowers? Whatever it is going to be, it will be a lovely reminder both of my mother-in-law and of all those wonderful needlework manufacturers.