Archive for the museum Category

Going for Gold

Posted in Embroidery, museum, Needlework, out and about, Stitches, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 10, 2018 by suetortoise

Hanny Newton (standing on left) and about two thirds of our workshop group busy with their stitching.

I have just spent the day at an excellent goldwork workshop, here in Shrewsbury.

Hanny Newton is RSN trained. She produces beautiful work: combining technical excellence with fascinating simple design. Have a look on her website – although photography never does goldwork full justice. She’s a very good tutor: inspiring learning by experiment, rather than pedantic coursework, but able to give lots of tips and pointers.

I have never had a great urge to get into goldwork as such – although it is hard not to be a little tempted after today’s workshop. However, this day was focussed on couching, and knew I did need help with that! I’ve let myself down with bad couching when I have wanted to edge silkwork with metal thread (an effect I really love), so I went hoping for help and tips. I wasn’t disappointed. I have come home with lots of good advice about the thread to use (fine passing) and how to get it to sit neatly in place – and to stay there.

We were in a beautifully light room, in the barrel-vaulted attic of a medieval mansion house, part of Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery. We were one storey above the Corbett Bed, and I think that some benign influence from that feast of stitching percolated up to inspire us.

It was a relaxed and friendly day, everyone enjoyed it and learnt from it. My humble efforts are hardly worth showing here, but I was there to learn, and I hope that I can practice and do better. You can see rather wobbly lines of couching, some playing about with buttonhole stitch as a couching technique (one of the triangles is detached buttonhole stitch) and an attempt to couch down a big twisted cord, going from very visible stitches to hidden stitches. That one was not much of a success (I was getting tired by then), but all the experimenting was valuable.

Thanks to Hanny for an excellent day’s stitching, and to Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery for setting it up for us and providing refreshments. More please!

On Friday I am off to Sewing For Pleasure at the NEC in Birmingham. I will be touring the embroidery supplies stands looking for fine passing thread!


In which Batty goes visiting, Curis Tabescimus goes straight, and I learn a new stitch

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, museum, Needlework, shrewsbury with tags , , , , on September 6, 2013 by suetortoise

Ukrainian Square Knot Stitch Sample completed

A quick round-up of recent events.

Last week, Batty went on an outing to meet Elizabeth Mason at the Old Market Hall café. Elizabeth and her husband John, are the people who published the excellent facsimile copy of A Schole-House for the Needle, which I have already talked about. She wanted to see the finished Shorleyker’s Bat picture, so we arranged to meet up. I was a bit worried that we might not have much to talk about. I need not have worried! Elizabeth was pleasant company, and told me a lot about the Corbet Bed Project.

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Update on the Bowdler Picture

Posted in Embroidery, History, museum, shrewsbury with tags , , , , , on May 18, 2013 by suetortoise

I promised I’d let people know when I had any more news about the Strange Little Picture  – the apparently 17th century piece with paper filigree and ribbon collage, which I found in Shrewsbury Museum’s stores last year.

(C) Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Museums

(C) Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Museums

I spoke to the Collections Officer about it, yesterday. She told me that the Bowdler Picture has now been taken out of the old art store at Rowley’s House and into the dedicated conservation store at Ludlow Museum. So it will not deteriorate further. The Museum staff are all very, very busy right now: the exciting new Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery is due to open at the end of the year. I don’t expect to have further news of the picture until after the big move is completed and the staff have time to do more research and get expert opinions. I am very glad that the picture is out of harm’s way. It has not been forgotten.

Don’t worry – I won’t let them forget it!

Screams from the Gallery

Posted in Digital Art and Fractals, History, museum, shrewsbury with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2012 by suetortoise

Atcham Boot 1

Sometimes you don’t need a dark and stormy night in late October for a horror story. No ghosts, witches or vampires, just a pile of old leather boots in the stores of Shrewsbury’s town museum, and a little knowledge of their history.

Not a dark and stormy night, but a stormy afternoon. A Sunday afternoon in July, 1879. Atcham, a little village on the bank of the River Severn just to the east of Shrewsbury. It’s been opressive all day and now the rain and thunder have started and the sky is very dark. The weather has kept some parishoners away, but there’s a fair turnout for Evensong at St Eata’s Church. The Reverend Francis Barney Parkes is taking the service. Up in the gallery, the children’s choir are fidgetting and whispering, as usual, while the second lesson is read. And then….

Atcham Boot 2

On a separate page, I’ve transcribed the full story from the local newspaper, Eddowes Shrewsbury Journal, July 23rd 1879. (Copied from the reprint volume Salopian Shreds and Patches, volume 4, from a copy in Shropshire Archives.) It’s a very readable account. I suggest you go and read that now and then come back here and we’ll talk some more about it under the cut.

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A Little Progress

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, Family and Friends, museum with tags , , , , , on September 2, 2012 by suetortoise

A quick post to update you on various things.

Zodiac Box 2012

My mother was discharged from the cardio ward in Shrewsbury three weeks ago, and transferred to Ludlow Community Hospital. She is likely to be staying there for some time yet. This makes visiting much easier for my father, and it’s a friendly atmosphere for her. So I am back to making twice-weekly visits on a country bus service which detours from the A49 through various towns and villages on the way. Stitching on the bus makes the long journey seem shorter, but the work needs to be fairly sturdy and shockproof. (Otherwise I spend too much time unpicking my progress when I get home.) My stitched boxes are ideal for travelling as the sections are easy to carry about and easy to see. I finished this one on the way back from Ludlow on Saturday.

It’s a design I’ve used several times before, with minor variations and with various colour schemes, and it is one of my favourites. The thread is acrylic DK knitting yarn for with Twilley’s Goldfingering for the glitter, and it’s worked on 10-mesh plastic canvas.

Here’s a work that’s still in progress:

Heartsease WIP 2

I’m currently working on a little rococo stitch pincushion top (probably a pincushion, it might be used for a needlecase or sachet instead). This is very portable, small enough for my handbag, but too intricate for stitching while on bus journeys. The fabric is not evenweave, I’m not sure of the fabric content but I suspect it is a polyester, or polyester-cotton, rather than linen. It’s rather pleasant to work on, whatever it is. It’s a open-weave fabric with a count of 33×38 – an oddment from a curtain and upholstery shop. That lack of evenness makes it ideal for old sampler designs like this, which look very much livlier when the warp and weft count are not the same. I’m using machine embroidery rayon 40 for this, with the  two roving strands in the twist separated and used together. (In many cases I’ve used one strand each from two different colours to make a blend.) Not the easiest of threads to work with, split like this, but it gives much better coverage on the rococo stitch than the thread used just as it comes from the spool. Here’s a chart for the heartsease flower, which is based on a motif on a spot sampler in the V&A museum.

Viola tricola  - rococo stitch chart

Talking of museums, Shrewsbury Museum service are still trying to find out more about the ownership of the Bowdler Picture before contacting the V&A. They’ve discovered that it came to them a few years ago, but whether it was a donation or a loan or just left with them for an expert opinion is still unknown. Investigations continue… My next major article on the blog will be a piece about some other objects from the museum collection – some old boots – and the story behind them.

Back on the embroidery front. I’ve got another long term project using chain stitch in silk thread on linen, based on a 16th century book illustration. It’s not portable enough for bus trips, hospital visits or wet lunchbreaks, so it’s growing very slowly at present. I’ll write more about it later, when the stitching is a bit further forward, but here’s a quick glipse of one of the figures to pique your curiosity. This chap looks as though he’s rather surprised to see me using something other than rayon thread or acrylic knitting yarn!

Curiosity WIP 1

Thanks for the very positive responses to my trellis stitch pages. Do let me know if there’s some other embroidery technique or stitch that you’d like me to tackle in depth for you. I enjoy a challenge!

A Strange Little Picture

Posted in Embroidery, museum, shrewsbury with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2012 by suetortoise

(C) Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Museums

When I caught a glimpse of this picture in the dark depths of the picture storeroom at Shrewsbury Museum in Rowley’s House, my first thought was: “Surely that’s not a piece of Jacobean stumpwork over there, is it?” Lifting it out into the light, I soon realised that it was not 17th Century embroidery, but was a most unusual imitation of the style; with paper filigree replacing metal thread embroidery and cut ribbon work instead of silk stitchery. As I put it carefully back onto the shelf, I noticed a nearly label pasted on the back. It was nearly illegible, but a date caught my eye among the writing – 1860.

I could not stop to examine the picture that morning, but I knew I wanted to spend time looking at it closely and recording it, and that most of all I wanted to share this quaint and curious little image with my readers on Tortoise Loft. Shrewsbury Museum have very kindly given me permission to do that, and I want to thank them.

(C) Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Museums

The label is in very faded ink but I have made out most of the writing. It says:

 This Picture was given to me in Shrewsbury August, 21st 1860 by Mrs
John Lawrence [?th]at was a Cousin’s Widow who got it from my deceased aunt Margaret Bowdler who resided with her and who brought it from her Father’s House at Munslow – and is the only relic preserved.
It is said [underlined] to have been in the family 300 or 400 years.
Rich\d Bowdler
Kirkham – Lancashire
Mr Edw\d Hughes of Shrewsbury has portions of ?Furniture made from very old timber – grown on the Marton Estate.

I don’t know if the mention of old timber refers to the frame? There are various branches of the Bowdler family in Shropshire, going back to medieval times. It would be interesting to know where Aunt Margaret’s family lived. Munslow is a parish near Church Stretton, including the village Ashford Bowdler, There is also a Hope Bowdler just south of Ludlow. There are several places called Marton in Shropshire, but I don’t know of one near Munslow. 

Let’s have a look at some details of the picture.

(C) Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Museums

The paper filigree (a craft sometimes called ‘quilling’) is made of paper with gold-leaf edges. The heyday of this craft was the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Bookbinders would sell the strips already gilded and cut, ready to be rolled or crimped and glued into place. A few coils are missing, but the glue used must have been good – the vast majority are still firmly in place. One of the four corners of the design has much less paper and more ribbon flowers than the other three. I wonder if the maker of the picture was running short of gold-edged paper? In the opposite corner, red ink or paint has been used on the board beneath the pattern. The dark marks around the top-left edge appear to be damage rather than deliberate tinting.

(C) Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Museums

The flowers and leaves are neatly cut from coloured ribbon and glued into place.  You can see from this damaged red and white flower that the petals of the main flowers  were assembled on a circle of paper before being fixed to the backing board.

(C) Shropshire Council, Shrewbury Museums

The cornflower is a common motif on seventeenth century embroidery, the carnation, and roses too, are very typical. This leads me to wonder if the artist adapted the design from an old piece of embroidery. Perhaps it was the original of this piece that was in the family for many generations? I would be surprised if this picture itself was more than 100 years old in 1860, but the craft of paper filigree was known in Jacobean times, so maybe…?

On the central figure, you can see the only stitching used in the piece – a few stitches to catch down the silk hair and the scraps of metal-thread braid used on the costume. Some of the ribbon has a fine pinstripe, some has neatly graduated shades (used to good effect on the cloud above the figure’s head, along with ink wash), and there is a white ribbon with a patterned weave used on the dress. All the other ribbon is in plain colours. Some red ink can be seen on the face and costume, as well as the black ink. There is also some paint, or ink, that is a light blueish-grey, used on some of the filigree papers and in spots on the ribbon-work. The figure’s hands are cut from pink paper, and there are two small birds near her head which appear to be cut from printed paper. The birds have been further coloured with red and black ink. Apart from the paper filligree, all the other details are made from ribbon. The edge of the board is also covered with ribbon.

(C) Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Museums

I am fascinated by this little picture (it measures 28cm wide and 35cm high, excluding the wooden frame). I have never seen anything else quite like it. Can anyone shed any more light on it? Who made it? Where? When?

All the pictures in this article are Copyright Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Museums, 2012. Used by permission. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited. For further information please contact Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

In Which Good Things Happen – Eventually

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, Family and Friends, museum with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2012 by suetortoise

PB Test Piece Completed
I promised to post a photo of this piece of stitchery when it was completed. The last stitch went in yesterday, and I have stretched and starched the piece, ready for framing. Considering that it was only intended as test piece for learning plaited braid stitch, I am very pleased with the result. The last few weeks, it has been growing terribly slowly. I was beginning to think it would never be complete. And then suddenly I was on the last leaf, the last length of thread, and it was done. Now I’m looking forward to starting another embroidery project; I’ve already got three or four ideas in mind to choose from.

My mother is out of hospital and back home with my father. She’s very pleased to be back. She was due to be released on Tuesday afternoon last week, and I went down to Bucknell to be there to help my father with her. But she spent the entire afternoon and evening sitting in the ward waiting for the ambulance. At half past eight, it was clear she’d need to be kept in overnight. I had to leave on the nine-twenty train as I was working the next day. Mum finally came back home the next evening, at six pm. Needless to say, she was very frustrated by this long wait. The staff on the ward were very frustrated and apologetic – they were lovely with her. The hospital transport service kept delaying her pick-up time – it was two, it was four, it was six, it was eight…  I think that there’s room for improvement in that service.

The launch of the Impressions exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum was a great success. We had an hour of readings by most of the writers involved, and the booklet of poems and prose looked very tidy and presentable. The exhibition is now running until late June, having been extended by a few more weeks. It was all done in a mad rush – and on a shoestring because all of the museum’s money is earmarked for the new building. “We’re not supposed to be having exhibitions at the moment” said Adrian Perks, a museum assistant and the driving force behind the writer’s group. So our exhibition was sort-of sneaked in quietly. We seemed to be heading for a total hodge-podge of unrelated exhibits at first, along with an equally scrappy and disorganised booklet of writing; but it all came together at the last moment, and we had nothing to be ashamed of.


Posted in books, everyday life, museum, shrewsbury with tags , , , , , on June 6, 2010 by suetortoise

Yesterday I did something that I haven’t done for several years: I got a couple of books out of the library.

The Library from The Castle

Sounds odd, doesn’t it, coming from someone who so fond of reading – let alone someone who lives almost within a stone’s throw of the library? But it’s true. I’ve been into the library quite a few times, researching this and that, but it’s many years since I have wanted to take a library book home with me.

The main part of Shrewsbury’s library is housed in the old Shrewsbury School building. With a fine statue of Charles Darwin outside – educated here. The music library is housed in a room which still has the old panelling on the walls, covered in schoolboy names and initials, cut deeply into the wood, usually in rather fine handwriting.

It was the music section that drew me this time. I tend to get most of my fiction reading from charity shops – much of it returns for resale – and since I’ve had Internet access, I have found less and less need to go across the road to look up facts. However, the guitar occasionally needs feeding with new songs, and I thought it would make sense to see what could be borrowed, before I get tempted into buying new songbooks or waste more hours chasing things down on the web. And once I’d had my elderly library card replaced with a shiny new one, I came out happily clutching a couple of collections of tunes with a few ‘possibles’ in each.

(Much of this afternoon has vanished in transposing and getting to grips with ‘Carolina in my Mind’. Which turns out a great deal less daunting than I expected, once I’d rescued it from the key of F and put it safely down in G to get rid of the flats. I flatly refuse to play flats, except B flat. One has to draw a line somewhere. I will put up with a modest number of sharps.)

One advantage of not having borrowed from the library for so many years is that they may have had some turnover in the fiction section since I stopped bothering to look at it. Maybe there will be some new non-fiction on subjects that interest me? Who knows? I may have been lured back into library usage by the demands of a hungry guitar, but there’s a lot more than music in Shrewsbury Library (quite apart from the joy of being inside a lovely and historic building). I’m looking forward to my next visit….

In Which We Learn What Sue Does on Thursday Mornings

Posted in museum, out and about, shrewsbury with tags , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by suetortoise

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting of the Friends of Shrewsbury’s Borough Museums. (A group about to get a name-simplification, as we’re no longer a borough these days, but that’s beside the point.) This meeting was an update on the progress of our eagerly awaited museum-to-be. This is the careful conversion of the old Music Hall in the Square into a place which not only provides much more space to display our treasures than the present museum, but reveals and incorporates the old buildings that were hidden inside the Music Hall complex: a medieval mansion and a fine Georgian assembly room among them.

The new museum is still two years away, but the staff at the old museum are engaged in the massive task of documenting all its stored pieces in preparation for the move. At the Friends meeting they appealed for more volunteers to help with this. As I’m only working part-time at present, I thought it was about time I got involved. So I offered my services, went to a preliminary meeting where everything was explained, and a couple of weeks later I spent my first morning in the attics of Rowley’s House (the present museum – which is still open for business, folks, and worth a look around). That first time I was unwrapping and re-wrapping swords and pieces of armour, cudgels, billhooks and a broken set of stocks. The next week, the rusty metal and wood gave way to a box of Roman bone objects – mostly hair pins, with a smattering of counters and some bits of metal keys and one very fine spindle-whorl. Everything has to have  its new number, its old numbers, its description, condition and some other essential facts recorded onto a catalogue sheet. Its photograph is taken for the record, and then it is carefully returned to the store.

Roman remains

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the next stage of the job instead. Sitting in an office at a computer, inputting records off the catalogue sheets into the new main database in conjunction with any further information about the items that I can find on an existing database of the Roman collection. There’s a lot of Roman material in the museum attics – a remarkable amount. The vast majority of it comes from excavations and finds at Wroxeter, the old Roman city of Viroconium, a few miles outside of Shrewsbury.

The database work is a little too like my day job to be quite as interesting as the cataloguing stage. But it needs to be done, and if there is no other volunteer there to work with (cataloguing is a two-person job), I’m happy to help by tapping a keyboard instead. I get to read about the items and see the pictures, and I’m learning a lot. Maybe next week I can get back to the thrill of unwrapping more forgotten treasures in the attic. Thursday mornings are fun.