For this research point I am asked to look at a textile piece I have at home with family associations.
The piece I have chosen is the above chair – a Louis IX’th style reproduction chair with Jacobean embroidered seat, back and arms. All the embroidery was done by my late Mum, Jacqueline Murdock, and if I remember correctly during my late teen’s (the early to mid 1980’s). Mum had designed the embroidery herself based on Jacobean textiles I believe she had seen but after completing the stitching decided she was not happy with it and consequently never made the chair up.
I was passed both the embroidery and the actual chair when my parents emigrated to Florida in the mid-1990’s and after my divorce 10 years later I used part of my settlement to finally get the chair completed – unlike Mum I absolutely love it! My Mum sadly died in 2000 and has never seen how beautiful her work looks and this is a textile piece that means so much to me – it sits in our bedroom now with great pride and my fiancé treasures it as much as I do.
The embroidery is based on Jacobean embroidery and appliqué and encompasses a a variety of stitches including chain, stem, French knots and satin as well as bead detailing. To my knowledge the threads used are all embroidery threads (I believe cotton and satin and including some metallic threads) and it is difficult to see how many strands Mum used. Mum used a variety of beads including seed, bugle and faux pearl too for the detail and on close study outlined some of the flowers and leaves. Below are 4 photographs showing different details of the work (I ask for these photographs the shadows to be excused as these are the first taken with a new camera):
This floral motif has used chain stitch in what I now understand is reminiscent of the Banjara embroidery of the East – this is particularly poignant to realise as my Mum’s own father served in India after the first World War and the colours also make me think of India. Mum had a fascination with the last days of the Raj so wonder now if this was a subconscious influence.
I love this motif as it encompasses long and short stitch and what appears to be a long blanket stitch as well as satin stitch in the centres and a delicate beading centre. The flower seems based on an aquilegia which Mum used to have in our garden and know she loved.
Although this photograph is in shadow the detail of part of this motif can be seen – Mum has outlined with stem stitch and what I believe are French knots with faux pearl centre detailing. The size of this is approximately 1-1.5 centimetres and the quality of the stitches is just exquisite.
Again excusing the shadow another motif also stitched with long blanket stitch but with some silver bugle beading detail and with chain stitch stem. On the edge of the photograph can also be seen the braiding trim which outlines the chair seat, back and arms.
Mum stitched the whole piece by hand and I remember it took her several weeks working most evenings. I still have the original sketches somewhere and will now be finding these out to keep with my coursework as would love to take some inspiration from them.
I believe my Mum took much inspiration from Jacobean embroideries and tapestries that we had seen in stately homes and also from the fact that you could have pink leaves and could really use a large variety of colours throughout.
Looking at the chair today I have become aware of repair work that I need to attend to but can also not take the chair apart to sort so am looking at gently using a product such as Fray Check or similar to push the threads through the fabric and try to preserve the piece until I am able to restore it fully.
The backing fabric I believe is a linen upholstery material or similar and the weave seems reasonably loose which is what I feel has potentially caused the problems with the threads but I am also bearing in mind that the chair is in use in our bedroom albeit in a decorate aspect rather than as a seat.
At a later point Mum also decided to do a cushion based on the same Jacobean embroidery – again it was never made up and in fact Mum had unpicked some of her work. I found this embroidery with the chair embroidery pieces and decided to try and repair it and match her stitches – that is no mean feat as Mum was incredibly skilled. I not only had to match the colours but to reach her level of skill so that there was no obvious differences – I am happy to say I cannot remember now which sections I repaired and which are purely Mum’s. This cushion has been very well used for a few years now and I notice again some threads are beginning to break down and particularly in the green satin stitched areas so I guess I am going to dismantle the cushion and do some restoration work again on it. This time I feel I may back the embroidery with a facing of some nature and use a good cushion pad as opposed to stuffing.
As a post script to the chair and cushion unbeknownst to me after Mum and Dad emigrated Mum never quite dropped her love of Jacobean work and after her funeral I duly brought back to England her book on Jacobean applique which is essentially a series of quilt blocks to make up a full sized quilt ….. I guess when time allows I complete the set!
So now to answer a question posed in the course material about what the chair tells me about the maker or user in terms of gender, role in society, wealth or environment – I am not sure how to answer! My Mum made it and I use it but Mum had the time to do the work as at the time she was a housewife bringing up my brother and myself. Our family were middle class and Mum was able to afford good quality threads. We lived at the time in a county market town. But could I have learnt this through looking at the chair? yes I think I would have said a female maker of some considerable skill who was either doing this for leisure or could have made a living from it. I would not have known the environment from just the embroidery or material but would have been able to tell that the maker had the wealth to be able to afford good quality materials but without necessarily being rich. I do not have answers regarding the quality of the stuffing of the base or back but I do remember it cost about £200 to have made up 10 years ago and was done by a local upholstery firm here in Derby and if and when I have to get it re-done in time I expect to pay considerably more but it will be worth it.
As for the last question “What do I particularly like about the piece?” there is only one answer – it was my Mum’s.