Review: A Collection of Crewel Work by Phillipa Turnbull

A Collection of Crewel Work – A peak inside Phillipa’s collection

This book on the collection of crewelwork in Phillipa’s ( from the Crewelwork Company ) collection, is a wonderful feast for the eyes if you enjoy crewelwork embroidery. And, as I am currently planning and designing my next Jacobean piece, it is a great source of inspiration!

A Catalogue, not an instructional book

This book is a catalogue of the personal collection of Phillipa and her daughter. It was released to coincide with an exhibition of her collection in New Zealand. And we can all benefit from this, not just those lucky enough to have attended the exhibition. You can purchase your own copy of the book through The Crewelwork Company’s website.

A brief history on ‘crewelwork’

Before we are shown some of these wonderful pieces, Phillipa gives us a brief history on ‘crewelwork’, or ‘Jacobean’ work. Interestingly to me, she points out that the technique was wrongly attributed to the time of King James the first. I’ll have to do more research on this point!

It’s also interesting to read her point about how embroiderers used whatever they had on hand at the time. In times of struggle, the designs were simpler, and with a smaller number of threads used. In stronger economic times, and with the development of trade with China and India, the designs developed, and the materials used became of a ‘higher quality’.

What is wonderful, regardless of the economic climate they were worked in, is that these pieces have survived!

A Wide Range of Pieces

The works displayed in the book span a period from the 1600’s through to the 1950’s. Whilst I’m not an ’embroidery researcher’, I did enjoy the way the pieces were displayed in the book in chronological order, as it does give a great visual history of crewelwork.

Casket with Jacobean Crewelwork

Jacobean Crewelwork example

More modern example of crewelwork found in Phillipa Turnbull's collection

Finding similarities in design and stitches used

Re-occuring motifs

One thing I found useful as I was looking through the book at the designs over the years, was how certain motifs (in particular an English rose), appeared time and time again. There were some variations on where the rose was placed, and the colours and stitches used, but it made an appearance in a number of the pieces.

The leaves used in the designs through the years also don’t change a great deal, with the same shaped leaves being used (often as a ‘border’) throughout the period covered in this collection. What was interesting was how the same shaped leaf can be stitched in a number of different colours, stitches and colour patterns.

Stitches used

You may remember, as part of the RSN Certificate Jacobean piece, the requirement is to use a rather large (in excess of twenty) stitches. Whilst I’ve said before that any future piece I would design and stitch wouldn’t use this number of stitches (despite still being amazed at how well that number of stitches worked together), I was surprised at the rather limited number of stitches used in a number of these designs.

The more ‘simple’ designs used four or five different stitches, and the more ‘complex’ ones, up to ten different stitches. So I don’t need to feel bad about not wanting to use twenty stitches again!

The other interesting point on the stitches used was the prevalence of long and short stitch in the majority of the designs. There is a lot of long and short stitch used, and some designs are very heavily focussed on this stitch. Perhaps not what some of you wanted to hear, sorry!

An aged example of Jacobean crewelwork in Phillip Turnbull's collection showing the reoccurring theme


A practical example of crewelwork has been used in the past

A Useful Resource for Inspiration

My copy of this book arrived at about the same time I was designing another crewelworkpiece.

For my next piece, I had decided I wanted to do another ‘Jacobean’ inspired piece. But I wanted to see if I could design a piece in the Jacobean style, but without the tree of life which is so important to the period. I had most of my design worked so I was happy with it, but there was one section I just couldn’t get ‘right’. This is where this book came to the rescue!

After discovering how many of the designs had the English Rose in them, I knew I wanted to work that in. And it just worked that the section I wasn’t happy with was well suited to an English Rose!

So whilst I wouldn’t say I’ve done much research, this book has come in handy in knowing what is ‘typical’ of the crewelwork style, and will help me with any future designs too!

A book for Crewelwork lovers

If you love looking at crewelwork, and textiles in general, you will enjoy this book.

The photographs of the pieces are clear and detailed, and Phillipa has noted the stitches used in each of the pieces so you can consider more how to design and replicate certain motifs.

The book is a softcover book, and is much like a lot of ‘museum guides’ you can get in any number of museums, on their collections. I wouldn’t say it was a ‘coffee table’ book, but it will certainly be a lovely book to flick through for inspiration in your crafting sanctuary.

You can purchase the book from The Crewelwork Company directly, and it currently costs GBP25.

8 thoughts on “Review: A Collection of Crewel Work by Phillipa Turnbull”

    1. I do hope she has a few copies there for you Rachel! It is one of those lovely books I can see myself flicking through when I need some quiet time or inspiration. Just imagine seeing the collection in person!

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