The Kings & Queens
Hanover to Windsor (continued)
Edward VII 1901
George V 1910
Edward III 1936 (never crowned)
George VI 1936
Elizabeth II 1952
During the nineteenth centuries the country engaged in two world wars. The end of the first world war saw the end of the monarchy as a feature of the hierarchy in many countries. The years between the wars saw much social unrest and unemployment and embroidery was obviously affected as few people could afford extravagantly embroidered clothes and accessories. The Second World War also caused great upheaval and the mindset of “make do and mend”.
The Coat of Arms of Edward VII. Embroidered by the RSN. Gold and silver thread with long and short stitches.
During the early years of the century women of the upper classes were still expected to a have a wardrobe of clothes for various occasions. The 1920’s saw hemlines raised to just below the knee and beading became popular. Evening dresses were often heavily embroidered. Towards the end of the 1930’s the shoulders widened, skirts were shorter for daywear and waists were again constricted. The World War II years saw shortages of luxury items which was naturally reflected in the fashion world. Following the war the 1950’s saw the famous Chanel outfits and tailored outfits. The 1960’s and 1970’s saw many large prints on fabrics and new shapes such as the halter neck top. Embroidery was mainly reserved for evening wear.
Needleworkers in the twentieth century were influenced by a wide range of experiences, not available to their predecessors. They had unrivalled knowledge of past techniques and styles. There was access to a wider than ever range of natural and man-made materials and threads.
Panel 1902 shows the influence of modernism.
Many needlework pieces looked back to traditional techniques, whilst others moved forward to take embroidery from a home craft to a modern form of art.
Early twentieth century whitework
Rebecca Crompton (1895-1947) changed the direction and development of embroidery designs during the 1930’s. Previously the emphasis had been on technique with little attention paid to design. In 1913 Rebecca Crompton began studying draughtmanship, fashion and embroidery at the Derby School of Art. In 1917 she began her teaching career. Following her marriage she moved to Croydon, her work shows a development of contemporary embroidery techniques with untraditional designs. Her students were encouraged to design their own projects from museum studies, to use a variety of fabrics and threads and to concentrate on the design rather than perfection of stitches.
“Autumn Pavement” Wall panel mainly appliqué 1931
As well as teaching, her own work was widely exhibited and some examples are in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Her particular innovation was the use of transparent fabrics and the appreciation of contrasting textures.
Rebecca Crompton. “Fantasy”
22”x17”. V&A Museum
She was a prolific embroidery, teacher and author. One of her students, Constance Howard was to become a huge influence on Embroidery. Her book “Modern Design in Embroidery” published in 1936 was a guide to her style of design led embroidery. The first page encourages embroiderers to consider design for themselves. “Many embroideresses who are excellent needlewomen do not consider that creation comes within their sphere, but I hope to show in the following chapters that there is no reason why all of us should not be, to some extent, creative in our approach to this fascinating craft”. Chapters of the book included “The value of line in design”, “Tone value, design and workmanship, direction of stitches, superimposing and texture”. Other chapters covered light and solid fillings, colour and sources of inspiration.
Towards the end of her career Rebecca began experimenting with machine embroidery and sometimes combined hand and machine work.
Design worked on transparent fabric, two layers are placed together with a gap between each layer. 2’x3’
Following her death in 1947 her obituary in the Times read “To Mrs. Rebecca Crompton, dress designer, embroideress and decorative painter, more than to anybody else belonged the credit of revolutionising the ancient crafts of the needle and bringing them into line with the aims and ideas of modern painting”.
“Blue Bird” 1931 Rebecca Crompton.
Elizabeth Grace Thompson trained as a painter and became a student of Rebecca Crompton's. She was also a teacher and was responsible for passing on many of Rebecca Crompton's ideas. She also exhibited her own work.
A large-scale embroidery was worked to commemorate the Second World War. The Overlord Embroidery employs much appliqué which had come back into fashion.
Section of the Overlord Embroidery
Constance Howard carried forward Rebecca Cromptons vision of turning embroidery into a respected art form. Constance was born in 1910 and died in July 2000, a few months before her 90th birthday. She studied initially at Northampton School of Art, followed by four years at the Royal College of Art.
Panel exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Society.
Constance Howard, 1946.
In 1948 she began part and then full time teaching at Goldsimths College in London. She went on to establish a Department of Embroidery in the Arts School, and to become Principal Lecturer in charge of textiles and fashion. In 1951 Constance was commissioned to create a panel for the festival of Britain and she exhibited her own work with the Arts and Craft Society (later to be called the Society of Designer Craftsmen).
Panel by Constance Howard, 1950.
"Those who think of embroidery as an occasional sedative occupation... must think again. A quite revolution has been taking place in this field for some years, and the results can be clearly seen at Goldsmiths College, London, where an exhibition of embroidery and collages, by staff and students, has been organised by Mrs Constance Parker, head of the department." The Guardian, 5th February 1964.
Constance taught and influenced many of today’s well know textile artists including Diane Bates and Richard Box. She fought endlessly to give embroidery credibility and for it to be recognised as an art form in its own right. On her retirement she was awarded an MBE for her services to Art Education. Constance left Goldsmiths in 1975 (and was succeeded by Audrey Walker) and she began lecturing abroad and writing books.
Both Rebecca and Elizabeth Grace trained teachers and in 1946 Grace Elizabeth was appointed the first full time Inspector of Women’s Crafts for the Ministry of Education. She was very involved with the Needlework Development Scheme, sponsored by J&P Coats, which was formed to raise the profile of embroidery and the standard of design.
A student of Elizabeth Grace Thompson was Beryl Dean who designed many works including vestments for the Bishop of London for the Silver Jubilee in 1977.
In 1995 the 100th anniversary of the birth of both Crompton and Thompson was commemorated by an exhibition at the EG Entitled “Freedom to Stitch”; “…Rebecca Crompton and Elizabeth Grace Thompson were amongst a band of embroiderers who resurrected embroidery, and in releasing it from the dictates of technical perfection gave it the freedom to grow into an expressive art form…”
The Robe of Estate made for Elizabeth II in 1953, designed and embroidered by the RSN
Beryl Dean has created many religious articles that show original designs and incorporation of modern techniques.
Part of a cope designed by Beryl Dean for the Queen Silver Jubilee 1977.
Alice Kettle has gained a reputation, along with Audrey Walker for her figurative, large scale embroideries.
Haymakers, Alice Kettle. 1989
The late twentieth century has seen the move to fine art embroidery and the availability of the City and Guilds Syllabus that has introduced many embroiderers to contemporary ideas.
Following Constance Howards innovative ways with stitches Jan Beaney published “Stitches; New Approaches” in 1985. This was a comprehensive guide to using stitches innovatively. Other books followed including the Double Trouble Enterprises publications that she publishes in conjunction with Jean Littlejohn.
Work by Jan Beaney
Whilst many embroiders were forward looking, some retained a more traditional approach, such as Helen Stevens with her intricately worked images of flower, butterflies and country scenes. All worked in very fine silks.
Organisations such as the 62 group, set up in 1962, continue to promote the work of the “best” contemporary textile artists. A recent exhibition in 1997 called the “Language of Touch” exhibited work by many of its members.
“Vessel for Gathering III” Hilary Bower. 62 group.