Exhibition – Threads Through the Landscape: The Embroiders’ Guild and Capability Brown, Pickford’s House Museum, Derby

In August I had the opportunity to visit an exhibition at Pickford’s House in Derby which was put on by the Embroiders’ Guild for the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown.

In my feedback for Assignment 3 I was encouraged to visit some textile exhibitions and much as it shames me to admit it I had already done so but forgotten to write them up (oops!) and will be doing so over the next couple of weeks now but I am starting with this one as it had a couple of pieces which were woven and absolutely appropriate for Part 4 of this course which I have almost finished.

Firstly I the question I asked myself was ‘who was Capability Brown’? as a relatively keen gardener I have been aware of his name and the fact he was an English landscape designer of the 1800’s for some years and his name has cropped up on my visits to country houses for the History of Art module I have been doing alongside this course.  Capability’s real name was Lancelot and he was born in Northumberland in 1716 and he served an apprenticeship with one Sir William Lorraine.  Capability later moved to Buckinghamshire in 1739 and two years later started work with Lord Cobham in Stowe.  In 1764 Capability was employed as Master Gardener at Hampton Court such was his high level of skill and the status he had gained in the intervening years when he independently practiced as an architect.  What I had no idea about was how he gained his nickname of ‘Capability’ and it transpires it was simply because he often described country estates as having ‘capability for improvement’!  Capability himself it seems did not describe himself as landscape gardener but as a ‘place-maker’ which ties in with the simple fact ‘landscape gardener’ did not become a trade name until the following century.

Here in the UK we are very lucky in that many of his gardens survive on country house estates as well as private estates and many are open to the public – the National Trust have taken over many of our great estates and the gardens are preserved, maintained and restored by this great charity.

I have been doing two modules alongside each other over the past 18 months – 2 years with the other being History of Art and  I have been required to visit a country house and a town house and have made additional visits to several other country houses too.  A valuable consequence to these visits has been an opportunity to see textiles in these great houses as well as some exhibitions which my fiance and I have gone back to so as well as this exhibition at Pickford’s House, (which I became aware of on one such visit), I will be writing a series of blogs detailing what I have had the fascinating pleasure of seeing.

img_7805So back to this exhibition.  Pickford’s House is a 18th century town house which was built around 1770 so it is entirely fitting that the Capability Brown exhibition was chosen for the location for the surrounding  local Embroiders’ Guild branches.  There was a huge variety of stitched works on show and I took photographs of almost every one but have selected my favourites based on technique, colour or simply inspiration due to the colours or the atmospheres evoked and happily due to my National Trust membership I now know many of the places portrayed.

I must thank the Embroiders’ Guild for all the help they have given me regarding questions I have had where I did not manage to get a clear image of the name of the artist/needle worker and also for their kind permission in letting me publish my photographs of their excellent exhibition.  Much of the information I mention about the individual pieces I have gleened from the leaflet at the exhibition and which happily I did manage to save considerable time by getting a clear photograph of!

img_7588The first piece I chose was a felted work by Anita Fountain of Capability Brown.  I have not as yet tried felting but have subsequently watched some videos to understand the technique.  Anita has used Merino wool which she wet felted over a mask which was used as  a resist and then let dry before pulling, stuffing and then stitching into place.  The wig is un-dyed Gotland locks which were dry felted.

I really love this piece as the different tones of the felt give a real sense of life to Capability’s face and the different combination of wet and dry techniques provide different textures.

The next two images were both based on autumn and as I write this we are now in this season and so the pieces are even more evocative.

img_7592The first Start of the Fall by Valerie Midgelow there is no information on technique but it seems to be a combination of applique and free machine quilting or stitching which provides different areas of textures and line.  There is a further element of texture by the addition of small stones around the base of what appears to be a silver birch.

I love the colours used and the slightly hazy effect that has been produced which gives a wonderfully atmospheric feeling.



The other piece The Grove by Pat Campbell is deceptive in its simple design as it is a much more complex piece.  Pat has used applique with additional machine and hand stitching in a variety of cotton and wool yarns.  I love the effect of the foliage coming through the trees and the simplicity of the lines of the trees over the contours of the ground.

img_7602The Fishing room at Kedleston Hall by Sheila Harris is an area I know well and this pavillion is on the banks of one of Capability Brown’s lakes.  The pavillion itself is of a Roman style in total keeping with the house but here there is a slight error for the gardens are not the design of Capability Brown but they are by Robert Adam who designed and built the house – this comes as no surprise to me having extensively researched the house and understanding Robert Adam’s work for he can only be described as somewhat as a perfectionist in his work and there is no doubt his designs for the garden would have to be in total keeping with his vision for the estate as a whole.  However the two architects Robert Adam and Capability Brown had very similar ideas and I question whether Robert Adam was inspired by his contemporary with his elegant vistas – it would be hard to distinguish his gardens from those of Capability.  Going back to this work by Sheila I really love it as it is a combination of machine embroidery with what looks like some fabric painting or possible applique.  I particularly like the fact that Sheila has framed the vista with fabric in the form of stones which echo the bridge which I feel she may have been stood on at the time – as I say I know this view well as it is very much a favourite area for me and the only thing missing from her beautiful work is some sheep or geese which graze the area.

img_7632A Capability View by Jennie Riley was apparently inspired by the gardens of Capability Brown and is a combination of applique and free machine stitching.

As I look at this piece I do so from an artistic viewpoint and really like the tones and fabrics used for both the foreground and background which give a real sense of perspective and bring the work to life.  The scene is one of peace and calm as you look across the great house in the distance and as I sit here typing this I long to be sat on that bank on a summers day!

img_7711In My View by Dorothy Griffin is one of my favourite pieces  of all the exhibition.  Dorothy has used a combination of French knots combined with machine embroidery on dissolvable fabric and wrapping and has created a three dimensional piece which draws you.

img_7715The detail on this piece is exquisite and I wonder how many hours it took.  There is no question I now understand some of the wrapping exercises I have seen fellow students do on a different module and can take inspiration of how this technique can be used in my own work.  I also really love the use of the French knots and also some of the stuffed areas – the variety of textures throughout the piece are extraordinary and I am more than happy I have got further photographs for inspiration.

img_7612Winter Trees by Kate York was inspired by a Calico Gardens Workshop with Katrina Witten from Rowandean and combines hand stitching, quilting and padding.

The piece has an artistic quality to it and is wonderfully atmospheric in its rendering of line, colour and texture and gives a definite impression of form.  I feel there is nothing in this piece of work that does not need to be there – the design and execution works together harmoniously.

img_7621Linking the Landscape by Julie Tanner is a very different style of work with a combination of words and painted fabric with hand stitching.  I do wonder if some of the leaves are printed from perhaps leaves gathered on walks.  The idea is beautifully executed and I love the simple style of the work and the composition.  This is another piece that is wonderfully inspiring for ideas particularly at the moment as the leaves fall off our native deciduous trees.

img_7623The Woods Shine by Eve Cook brings me back to the first two autumnal works in the use of colour and the silver birches.  I love the defined lines and colours which clearly differentiate between the foliage and the ground cover  and give an impression of walking through scrunchy leaves.

img_7625Eve has used a combination of machine and hand embroidery and from what I can tell fabric painting for additional colour.  I am aware of how free machine stitching can work for creating textures and lines and the addition of hand embroidery further enhances the piece.

This is a piece of work that draws you in for a closer look and gives a real impression of depth through the use of simple perspective.

img_7626As a total contrast Elizabeth Roberts has used real maple leaves bondawebed onto the background fabric with running stitch and a variety of Blackwork stitches for the borders in her piece simply entitled Leaves.

I am fascinated by the variety of stitches which create such beautiful patterns and the echoing of the colours of the maple leaves.

img_7630Another contrast in style is shown by Nearly Home by Sonia Clayton.  The description on the leaflet is simply ‘stitched felt’ but what drew me to this piece is the use of woven stitches for the cooling towers.  The woven stitches I noted as I approached the weaving section I am currently working on and give a wonderful texture for the towers.  I also liked the different combination of stitches used throughout the piece.

img_7640Capability Brown at Sherbourne Castle by Helen Livesey was paid very close attention to!  This is a piece woven on a tapestry frame with the addition of some French knots and was one of the first pieces I looked at.

img_7644Having now done all but one of my tapestry weaving samples for Part 4 I can fully appreciate the combination of techniques used throughout this piece and also the variety of textures created by the yarns.  I also like the simple display of a green rod which enhances the tapestry  perfectly.   My final piece at Part 5 is based on Derbyshire and this piece has given me some inspiration for developing some of my sketchbook work and also confidence in my chosen colours and yarns.

img_7657Winter Waters by Maggie Ready was inspired by the River Mole in Surrey on a winters day.  Maggie has used a combination of layers of silk, organza and net trapped over soluble fabric and this has then been overlaid with free machine stitching before being burnt through in places to reveal the base layers.


img_7661In Part 3 of this module I experimented with layering of fabrics and also burning through to reveal layers and really appreciate the work done by Maggie.  I really love the combination of colours and stitches used – there is a sense of depth and form as well as beautiful reflections of the trees and the whole design of the composition gives a real feeling of a crisp winters day.

img_7663Blossom over the Bridge by Jan Merryweather was based on a photograph taken in the Lake District  and in contrast to the winters day above this one is very much clearly based on a beautiful spring day.

The techniques used are machine embroidery over silk but the flowers are three-dimensional so it seems as though these maybe stumpwork.  There are also padded rocks and small appliqued areas which add texture and form.  I really like the artistic interpretation of the scene and how Jan has portrayed the trees and the  bridge.

img_7685Beneath the Boughs by Eddie Cheadle was inspired by country house parkland,  Eddie is a member of branch of the Guild not very far from where I live and I suspect I may know the property on which the piece is based – mind you as I say that I am aware that every country house in our joint locality has an identical scene to this with sheep grazing or resting under the boughs of the trees and it has been one of the joys of the summer to see such characterful faces looking at us with such curiosity.

Eddie has used a combination of applique, machine and hand embroidery and no further words are needed to describe the sheer delight I experience with the scene captured so perfectly and simply.

img_7606Sylvan Gateway by Sylvia Birch is another personal favourite and is simply inspired by the spring gardens at this time of year seem so far away!

Sylvia has used a combination of wrapped silk trunks, hand dyed fabric leaves, ribbon embroidery flowers and silk pieced over card for the gate.

Like all the exquisite pieces of work in this exhibition you are drawn into the image and want to go through the gate and wander through the flowers under the leaves.  I really like how the leaves spill out of the centre section of the image into the border section and the same is done with the gates being stitched just at the edges and combined with the tree trunks there is a wonderful three-dimensional quality.  As with Dorothy Griffin’s piece the wrapped tree trunks are beautifully done and give me some inspiration for how wrapping can be used as a textile technique in my future work.

img_7702Playtime by Marie Meacham is a delightful scene of rabbits amongst the trees and one anyone who loves country walks will know and undoubtedly love.

img_7705Marie has appliqued tweed trees and wild life on a dyed background and then used free machine stitching for texture.  The bracken has been done by free machine embroidery on dissolvable fabric which has then been appliqued.  I love the use of the tweed for the different trees and used similar fabrics for one of my own samples in Part 3 of this course.

img_7771One of the most interesting exhibits was a book by Linda Schofield and this first photograph shows a page which was based on her photograph (also in the book) and called Exit from the Walled Garden at Calke Abbey.  This particular scene is incredibly familiar to me as I was at the Abbey just two days ago and have decided to try to include scenes in doorways in my final designs in Part 5 – there are many doorways in the gardens and each has its own vista beyond and gives a wonderful impression of a secret garden.

img_7774I was very lucky as whilst I was at the exhibition the book needed to be propped back up in the way Linda had required it and very kindly (and  carefully) the curator showed me the rest of the book and each page is as exquisitely executed as the next.  The book consists of 9 pages and is machine and hand embroidered and I wonder if there is also applique included too.

img_7794The actual book cover is also machine embroidered with the date of the book on the spine.

I cannot begin to think how many hours have gone into this but it is truly a work of art.

img_7647The final piece I have chosen is one by Chris Watkins and called simply The Vista.  Chris has depicted a view through a printed paper article about a bridge designed by Capability Brown.  The techniques include hand stitched detail for the lake and also machine embroidered trees which are attached to the frame – the latter I wonder if there is use of water dissolvable fabric and these trees add a wonderful three dimensional quality to the work.

It has been incredibly hard to choose the pieces of work for this blog as each was as exquisitely stitched and rendered as the next and the whole exhibition was incredibly inspiring and I know I will keep my photographs as reminders of how different techniques can be used in combination with each other.  Every piece of work is truly a work of art in its own right and there was an incredible variety of techniques used to depict scenes which are so familiar to many of us and it was a wonderful tribute to one our nations great landscape designers.


capabilitybrown.org. 2016.  Capability Brown [online]. [Date Accessed:  October 2016].  Available from: http://www.capabilitybrown.org/

Embroiders’ Guild. 2016.  Capability Brown Festival [online]. [Date Accessed October 2016].  Available from: https://embroiderersguild.com/index.php?page_no=278&page_menu=capability-brown-festival

Garden Visit. 2016.  Brown, Lancelot ‘Capability’ [online].  [Date Accessed:  October 2016].  Available from: http://www.gardenvisit.com/biography/lancelot_capability_brown



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