In between developing kits and other designs, I’ve been working on my Gawthorpe project (which you may remember is a commission to produce a pattern inspired by the wonderful textile collections of Rachel Kay Shuttleworth). The piece on which I’ve decided to base my design is a large coverlet, featuring deep teal-coloured woollen embroidery on a plain linen background. I knew that this beautiful piece had been stitched by Rachel Kay Shuttleworth herself, but I had only seen it behind glass on my first visit, as it was part of the collection on display. So I decided, a couple of weeks ago, to pop back to Gawthorpe to take a closer look, and do a little research.


I had assumed, when I first saw the coverlet, that the motifs were ferns, or fern-inspired, but this turned out not to be the case. In her notes about it, Rachel Kay Shuttleworth describes the motifs as “big feathers” and gives two sources of inspiration for the pattern she’d used. The first is another piece in her collection, which had been embroidered by Rachel’s contemporary, Hilda Ashworth . . .


. . . which had in turn been inspired by an original Tudor piece, purportedly embroidered by Amy Robsart (the wife of Robert Dudley, whose death in mysterious circumstances made her something of a sentimental cause célèbre at the turn of the twentieth century). Robsart’s original crewel-work, featuring the “big feathers” was part of the collection of Rachel’s friend, and champion of the Arts and Crafts movement, Lewis F. Day, and Rachel had borrowed it when drawing up her own design.


Rachel’s coverlet features a total of 100 feathers, each of which features a different embroidery stitch.


Rachel described the coverlet as “a sampler of line stitches.”


The embroidery is made with a lovely teal-coloured wool, which due to its provenance from different sources and dye-lots, has faded over time into several different deep blues and greens. I find this uneven fading both attractive and intriguing, because of the way it writes the time and process of Rachel’s stitching into her finished piece.


The colour Rachel chose for her stitches is a similar shade as the ink she familiarly used to write with. The annotations to many pieces in her collection are written in her hand, in a shade of ink, which has also faded over time in an uneven way, to a series of greens and blues that echo the varied hues of her stitching on the coverlet.


And just like her handwriting, Rachel’s signature is evident in the coverlet she embroidered, which is a showcase of the varied possibilities of crewel embroidery, and the skill of a truly talented needlewoman. It is a piece in which Rachel’s deep knowledge, and love of, stitch is immediately apparent. But it is a piece with a family story as well.


Around the border of the coverlet, Rachel stitched a Latin inscription in Lancastrian red. Translated, the inscription reads:

“He who would have ordained that his children should acknowledge the supreme Lord has survived by family descent a great many generations. His granddaughter of the tenth generation fashioned this work of devotion with her needle.”

Rachel had designed the coverlet to commemorate her ancestor Richard Shuttleworth, also known as Richard the Roundhead, or “Old Smoot”. A prominent parliamentarian, Richard had led the Lancashire forces against the King during the civil war, served as a magistrate during the commonwealth period, and, having reconciled himself to monarchy under Charles II, was the parliamentary member for Preston for a total of eleven terms.

Using motifs inspired by Tudor embroidery, the coverlet speaks to Rachel’s heritage in a prominent Lancashire family (a heritage of which she was clearly very proud), and perhaps quietly celebrates the commonwealth politics of her famous ancestor.


Rachel completed her work by stitching her own initials around a crest of her own devising depicting weaving shuttles, thereby connecting her heritage and family name to her own profound love of textiles.

(Rachel Kay Shuttleworth, at work on the coverlet)

Rachel stitched away on her huge “Richard the Roundhead” bedspread for several decades. Though she embroidered the finished date of the piece as 1966, she was actually still working on it at the time of her death in 1967. Her niece, Rosemary Kay Shuttleworth, completed her aunt’s work, and it is now a key piece in the Gawthorpe collection.

The coverlet has such a wonderfully rich context, which I’m glad I took the time to find out about, and which I hope I’ll be able to speak to a little in my own design. There will be feather-y motifs, shades of wool inspired by Rachel’s stitches and handwriting, and a nod to Rachel’s (and my own) Lancastrian heritage.

More soon!

All images in this post are the copyrighted property of Gawthorpe Textile Collection, and are reproduced here with their permission.

42 thoughts on “Gawthorpe, encore

  1. I was thrilled to see you piece on Rachel and Gawthorpe Hall. I grew up next door to the estate and spent many happy childhood days playing in the grounds pretending that I was a member of the grand family who inhabited it! Thank you for your lovely post and The memories they brought back. Rachel x


  2. I love this post and the story of process that you have uncovered and shared through your research. There is something truly magical about how time and light changed both the ink and the shades on the yarns, mapping the project across years and months. Just gorgeous; I am so excited to see how all this will be referenced in your own amazing textiles practice!


    1. I was going to comment on that too – I really appreciate the way this (as do many of Kate’s posts) gives us an insight into both the artefact and the process of design, creation, research…

      Helen (must come up with another name for commenting here – I think there’s at least one Helen around here already)


  3. Thank you fo this post. It is fascinating to see read about Rachel inspiration for such a beautiful piece of work. Looking forward to seeing your design in the future.


  4. I just told my husband that Gawthorpe is at the top of my “bucket list”. A trip to Britain is becoming necessary to my well-being. Thank you so much for posting about it. I greatly look forward to your designs.


  5. What beautiful work. I too love how the stitches have faded in much the same way as her ink, showing a passage of time and a narrative of materials all on their own. And the fact that they are feather motifs just adds another layer of writing imagery for me, as if they were pens. It makes me think of how many generations of women, who were perhaps illiterate or others never otherwise recorded or published, left their life and ‘writing’ in our textile heritage. Among the many narratives that humans can leave of our lives, those textiles are a stunning record.


  6. Thank you for being an academic because you know how to delve into these historical artifacts and present them to us in a beautiful way. Are these writings related to your fern photos from a few weeks ago? Thanks again for sharing such important work.


  7. That link between the complementary fading of the stitching and the ink is quite lovely.

    I’m always amazed at how craftswomen like Rachel could maintain the standard of work as they got older. I can’t do anything requiring close study in the evenings these days. Light, I need more light!


  8. It’s fitting that Rachel chose feathers to honour her lineage; they symbolize the virtues, and have been used as a spirit symbol by many different cultures over many millennium as a bridge to invoke a higher power.
    Can wait to see your new design that honours, links, and promotes a great heritage.


  9. And hearty thanks to you, Kate, for sharing your visit. Once again we understand history, heritage, and talent through your beautifully written words. Thanks so much for your gift of Rachel!


  10. Very enjoyable research. I love textiles and I am too from Lancashire. I think stitching and knitting is definitely in our blood.!


  11. A wonderful post! And the pictures are very inspiring.
    I recently met your knitting designs and am just about to rework your wonderful hats. I find it soooo beautiful! At best, the “Caller Herrin” and “Neep Heid”. Thank you for the wonderful inspiration!
    Greetings from Dresden


  12. Thank you, Kate, for this lovely article and photos! I used to embroider and I loved how the designs would come together with just a couple of stitches and various colors. Could be why I love knitting so much! I keep thinking that one day I will once again pick up needle and thread but it seems the only needles I pick up are knitting and the only thread happens to be wool! I can’t wait to see what project you will come up with and share with us.


  13. always delighted to accompany you when you go out and grok works of art. devotion with your needle; i am going to have to go back and read some more roszika parker.
    meanwhile, what a beautiful work this is, writerly, gestural, with the luscious pop of ink on paper. thank you for introducing it and its predecessors and foremothers to us. merry Christmas and thanks for so much inspiration for all these years. xxx


  14. As a member of the Embroiderers Guild of American – I am so excited to read todays post about the coverlet. It is a fantastic work and what a great tribute you did to Rachel. Seeing the photo of her was a great glimpse into the past. I love that you took the time and made the effort to share this with your followers. It’s something I will likely never see in my life but I just relish hearing about Gawthorpe and your project. Thanks and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.


  15. Thanks for showing the process – it’s a rare thing. Doris Lessing always used to say that writers are more interested in the process/journey of their work, and not just the finished thing as per the public. That’s what makes one an artist!


  16. Very interesting post on the coverlet’s history. Can’t wait to see the design you are inspired to create from this beautiful piece. Thanks, Kate, for sharing your creative process with us.


  17. Fun and flamboyant is the embroidery of Rachel’s and I can actually sense a similarity of your work and hers. Something feathery forthcoming ~~~ I very much anticipate a big surprise at the unveiling !


  18. Your wonderful, historical post is making me want to get out my old crewel work sampler which I started as a child (probably 5+ decades ago) and have kept all this time, thinking, and hoping, that I may someday want to work on it again. I think that day has arrived…. Thank you, Kate!


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