Last August I took part in a two day workshop with Lynn Hulse, Nicola Jarvis and Jacqui Carey. The class was based on a swete bag from the Micheál and Elizabeth Feller collect that was due to be exhibited at the Ashmolean last year. The original exhibition was postponed which was disappointing at the time but the good news is that “The Eye of the Needle” has now opened and runs until 12 October 2014. There is a full program of lectures, study days and workshops centred on the exhibition: I have signed up for everything except one of the workshops and will be practically living at the Ashmolean museum for the next 3 months! I have already attended one workshop, more on that later, but today I want to talk about the exhibition itself.
Together with a selection of the 17th century English Embroideries from Feller Collection, which are on public display for the first time, are a few outstanding examples from the Ashmolean’s own collection. The exhibition includes beautiful samplers and pictorial panels; dress accessories including caps, coifs and gloves; swete bags; a chatelaine; the Ashmolean’s famous frog purse; and two embroidered boxes. Every item is exquisite and the workmanship is to be marvelled at. They are made with colourful silks, metallic threads, pearls and semi-precious stones; one small needle lace picture, worked entirely in white thread, includes over 400 tiny fresh water pearls. As well as demonstrating an extraordinary range of techniques the embroideries also reflect the religious, political and social concerns of the time. The exhibition is made all the richer by the information cards displayed with each piece. The curator, Dr Mary Brooks, supplied information not only on the techniques and materials used but also what is depicted and the context in which they were made.
The two day workshop I attended on August 1 and 2 included entry to the exhibition on its opening day. I spent about an hour in the exhibition before I reached saturation point but the Ashmolean were very generous in allowing us to view the exhibition again on the second day: I still could not take everything in!
No pictures are allowed in the exhibition and unfortunately there is not a catalogue but there are two excellent books on the Feller Collection: The Micheál & Elizabeth Feller Needlework Collection Volume I and The Micheál & Elizabeth Feller Needlework Collection Volume II.