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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Embroidering Chawton

The last time I completed a significant piece of needlework (see below) was during the early months of pandemic quarantine, when being stuck at home still felt like an extended snow day rather than the death of hope.


My quarantine sampler

I’m not a particularly accomplished needleworker—the design of this cross-stitch sampler came from a kit—but the many happy childhood and adolescent hours that I spent stitching more-or-less useful items for friends and family have left me with an abiding love of needle crafts.

 

So it kills me that I probably won’t make it to southern England in time to see “Chawton in Stitches,” an exhibition that opens at Chawton House later this month. On display will be three hand-embroidered panels inspired by Chawton House’s gardens, literary holdings, and Austen connections--the master’s thesis of textiles artist Emily Barnett.

 

Growing up in Hampshire, Barnett gained an intimate knowledge of Chawton’s grounds and collections when she worked there during her high school and COVID-scarred university years, initially as a tea-room assistant. Her Chawton embroidery project was the culmination of her degree program at the Royal School of Needlework. (Don’t you wish we Americans had such a thing?)

 

Barnett’s Instagram is replete with fascinating short videos of her work on the Chawton House project, which she estimates consumed some fifteen hundred hours over seven months of 2023. Each of the three wall panels is more than a meter high and portrays plants from a different section of Chawton’s gardens.

 

One panel incorporates the names of female writers, including Austen, whose work is in Chawton’s collections; another panel uses the titles of recipes from the cookbook of the family of Edward Knight, Austen’s third-oldest brother and Chawton House’s longtime owner. Barnett’s techniques included embroidering the text of an 1813 Austen letter, in Austen’s distinctive handwriting, onto parchment paper and then using that custom fabric to create petals for a wisteria plant portrayed on one of her panels.

 

The effects look amazing even in photos, but needlework is best appreciated in person. The exhibit is on display from May 13 to August 26: If you go, please report back!

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2 Comments


Kylowna Moton
Kylowna Moton
May 02

I will be there in July. I will let you know how it looks in person. 😊

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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
May 03
Replying to

Lucky you! Enjoy!

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