Sunday, 22 February 2009


One of last week's problems involved the future of my degree. As of next weekend Opus will no longer exist. A new school, The Julia Caprara School of Textile Art is being established and all current degree students with Opus are being asked to transfer. As with any major change, there have been many queries and questions, not all of which have been answered, which has resulted in a great deal of uncertainty. To say that I felt unsettled was an understatement. I have thoroughly enjoyed the degree course so far. The content has been both interesting and stimulating, the level of tuition has been outstanding and I have started to gain a confidence and direction in my work that has been lacking in the past. So to think that it might not continue was disconcerting. But amid all this, the new module also started last week. I'm studying Embroidery in its Social Context, which will involve lots of research and finally a 3000 word essay. So I thought the best way to deal with all the changes was to get stuck in with the research and yesterday I took myself off to the V & A for some serious studying.

It has always been one of my favourite museums but I hadn't realised the wonder of its textile collection before. In the textile study room you can take out tray after tray of old textiles, to study at leisure, to draw and photograph and to stare in amazement at the beauty of some of the pieces. This is a sampler that dates back to 1598, the earliest sampler in the V & A collection. The detail and the stitching are exquisite. I wonder what Lucy Bostocke who stitched this would have thought if she knew that over 400 years later people were studying her work in a museum!

The piece below is a blackwork coif (cap) stitched around 1600. Again the stitching is tiny and perfect. I can't imagine the hours of work that must have gone into completing this.

This is another coif dating back to about 1600 but this time in whitework. More exquisite stitching and in amazing condition.

And below is a stomacher dating back to the early 18th century. It is worked in coloured silks in long and short stitch, satin stitch, stem stitch and back stitch on a background of linen.

I sketched and photographed so much more but still only looked at a tiny part of the collection. I could quite happily immerse myself there for weeks. Do you think they would let me move in?

I experienced a landmark moment on the way there. I got on the crowded underground train at Kings Cross and a young man offered me his seat - one of those designated for the disabled or elderly! Initially I declined but he insisted so I smiled and graciously accepted. That was a first... perhaps the grey hair isn't such a great idea after all!


  1. Aargh, can't believe the Opus situation is still not resolved. I hope it all will be soon.

    The embroidery is absolutely exquisite - and just think in 400
    years time your degree work could be the basis for someone else's thesis ...

  2. There are some advantages in looking, lets just say.........more mature.
    The Opus situation is not good but it will be resolved soon, let's just hope you are able to continue with no problems.

  3. Oh what a nightmare, this is how i felt when ours fell apart. Let's hope they get it all straight soon for you. Poor you with the tube thing, but don't forget your as young as the man you feel so rush out an find a 20 year old!!!!!

  4. I love the V&A,I could live there!
    Thanks for sharing these beautiful embroideries.
    Hope your Opus course is sorted soon.
    Perhaps one day I will be able to do it.

  5. I am hoping to go to the V & A in my Easter holidays, as I didnt get there this half term. What wonderful work they produced! I hope that you manage to get your course sorted out, as you know I am looking to do a C&G next level and finding a course that fits in with work is hard. I dont think I could do distance learning, going of to a college gets you away from phones, visitors etc.

  6. Oh what a nuisance about the Opus situation - I hope it gets sorted soon. The embroidery is beautiful - so painstaking and delicate - I don't think we would ever consider spending that much time on a small piece of work nowadays.

    Don't worry about the tube thing - I'm sure it had absolutely nothing to do with your hair! Any gentleman should give up his seat to a lady, whatever her age - and amazingly there are still a few people who behave in a gentlemanly manner!!!!

    Lucy x

  7. Gina I have spent many an hour studying the collection at the V & A and reading your post makes me ache to go and spend lots of time there. Thank you, I really enjoying looking at the incredible work.
    As for underground, you know, he was probably a genuine gentleman and would have given his seat up for any woman of any age.
    Hope the Opus thing gets sorted and soon.

  8. Oh I hope your degree continues so you can feel more settled about continuing the studies.

    The V&A collection is amazing - I suppose the girls who stitched the embroidered clothes knew their work would be loved and admired for years and years - not a fickle fashion that would be discarded for next season's style.

    I love the stomacher.


  9. I haven't been to the V&A in way too long - something to put down in my 'to do' book I think.

    Sorry to hear about all the Opus shenanigans, I really hope it gets sorted soon. They must realise it's not at all good for their students.

    Those pieces of work you showed are wonderful - isn't it great that textiles can have such longevity?


  10. hours of stitching... hope they had good magnifying specs back in he day

  11. Hmmmm, change is horrid... I haven't heard anything about the changes but I hope it settles soon. I haven't had chance to do a good V&A visit but it looks like there is loads to inspire!

  12. How very unsettling all the changes at Opus must be for you. At least you can get on with your research while things are sorted out. To be able to actually see those embroideries must be wonderful - I have only seen photos of them in books - they are exquisite. Always accept a gentlemanly gesture - there aren't too many of them about, and we wouldn't want to stop them trying to be polite! Good luck with the degree course - I am not brave enough to make the commitment.

  13. i hope your course is soon sorted - not very good timing for you to put it mildly!
    i love the pics you took - such beautiful painstaking work - breathtaking!
    i find it amazing to look at something that was done by someone so many years ago - if only she knew!

  14. ohhh the V and A. I soent many hours there during my degree course. It is my favourite museum of all. I have many of their postcards too. I was looking to do a course in machine embroidery now that Sophie is older and Opus was one to look t on my list. Never mind. Hope it all sorts itself out. What degree are you studying? Keep going with it.

  15. How rude -- I think blogger ate my comment LOL.

    Anyway, it's so fun to see the needlework from the V&A -- when we were in the UK in the fall, I spent a few hours in the textile room and I think I even took pictures of that sampler and the blackwork -- so funny!

    You must look positively on the tube experience -- at least young people still have good manners! ;-)

  16. I really hope you find a solution to your study problem, one that is right for you. I once went to the textile study room at the V&A and they wouldn't let me in because.....wait for it.....Melanie Griffith was filming in there! To say I was miffed is an understatement.
    p.s. Love the donuts!
    p.p.s something very strange happened with this comment, I hope you don't get it in triplicate...sorry!

  17. sorry to hear of your uncertainty. Hopefully it will all work out well. And what a good excuse to go to V&A (I love it there too). Exquisite embroidery! I am going to Bath this weekend where i will be sure to take in another visit to the Fashion museum. xx

  18. I think I'm going senile! i read this post days ago but obviously forgot to comment!!

    I do hope the situation is resolved with your degree soon - it must be so unsettling after the all the hard work you've put into it.

    The V&A textiles look incredible. Even more amazing as they didn't have the machines or huge range of textiles that we do these days.

    I don't think it was your age or your hair - I think he was just a very well trained and gallant young man. His mother would be very proud of him :-)



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