Edinburgh Research Explorer

REVIVAL and RE-INVENTION, embroidery heritage in the 21st century

Project: Other ProjectResearch Collaboration with external organisation

Period14/01/1324/04/13

Description

Funded by The University of Edinburgh's Innovative Initiative Grant
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

Edinburgh College of Art owns a beautiful collection of antique textile samples, once part of the ambitious Needlework Development Scheme (NDS) that aimed to “encourage interest in embroidery and raise the standard of design and technique.” This collection has been lying inert in boxes, hidden in the ECA board room wine cellar, only rediscovered in 2011, exactly fifty years since the Scheme ended in 1961.

The Needlework Development Scheme is an important and overlooked part of Scotland’s textile history. Founded by Scottish thread manufactures J&P Coats in 1934 with the specific intention of educating through study and practice, the full collection of over 3,500 embroideries was distributed when the scheme disbanded in 1961, between Edinburgh College of Art, Glasgow School of Art, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Grays School of Art, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Embroiders Guild and The Royal Scottish Museum.
The main objective of this project is to re-establish connections between these institutions, re-linking the collection and scoping focal points to ensure an exciting future for the collection with relevance for education in the 21st century.
It does not seem that the NDS has been widely researched in recent years. The full story will give the collection deeper integrity. It is our intention to seek out individuals who were involved in the scheme, many of whom may now be between 60 and 90. This will be done through local embroiders guilds, the Scottish women’s rural, and alumni of the Scottish art schools.

Initially we will visit the establishments who hold parts of the NDS collection. Most have recently had their collections professionally conserved and we hope to learn how their collections are currently being accessed and used. From these visits we will also begin to gather more of the history of the NDS and uncover future plans any of the other institutions may already have for their collections.


This initial scoping phase will culminate in an event hosted by ECA with invited representatives from each NDS institution alongside students, practitioners, industry experts and local embroidery enthusiasts. The purpose of this colloquium will be to discuss the past and present state of the NDS collections, encouraging attendees to discuss the future of the collections. Interaction with and discussion focussed on the embroideries themselves is key and we will display part of the collection, as well as inviting others to bring key pieces from their own collections.
We will initiate discussion around key issues we believe to be vital to the future of our collections;
■ the role of the collection in embroidery education
■practical access to the collections
■conservation
■using modern technology to enhance access to the collection, e.g. haptic technology, accessible databases
■connections and collaborative partnerships.

All information from the day will be collated and used to drive the future of our project for further funding applications.

This colloquium event is planned to coincide with the ECA fashion show. We hope that representatives will accept our invitations to both events, and the day will become a celebration of textiles in Edinburgh.




POTENTIAL BENEFITS OR SIGNIFICANT RESULTS

A direct result of the project will be a focus on embroidery: technique, tradition, new technologies, education and history


EDUCATION One of the main purposes of the Needlework Development Scheme was that domestic science and training colleges, women’s institutes, schools and other art schools could access the embroidery collection. With modern technology we hope for our collection can be used again for educational purposed without damaging the textiles through handling and moving them around.

PRESERVATION We have already had this collection surveyed for conservation which may become part of a larger application for all of the ECA collections. This project will help put each of the smaller NDS collections in context as part of a whole collection.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT It is an intention to continue to develop our collection. This may be done through mutual apprenticeships with embroidery explored by partners across generational divides. This will then become accessible to any educational establishments, groups, local embroidery enthusiasts or students who wish to use it. There also exists the possibly for future publications either analogue or virtual.

The scope for research, education, inspiration and development around the collection are endless. Using the collection as a starting point we intend to promote collaboration and discussion between many different disciplines not exclusively textiles.

Each invited establishment that already holds just one part of NDS collection will benefit. We can all learn from each other about care of our collections, share best practice and exchange knowledge about the history of the NDS and about how the collections can be used in the future.
The 4 major Scottish art schools can better utilise this key resource promoting Scotland’s embroidery heritage, and reinvigorating the collections again as rich educational tools. There has been a surge of renewed interest in embroidery as a dying art/craft, however there are few practitioners left with this type of expertise. Textiles students from ECA are extremely interested in the project, and we hope to involve as many as possible at this stage of the project. Our project will also provide a great opportunity to focus particularly on traditional Scottish techniques, which are strongly represented in our collection. With involvement of experts in the field our Scottish heritage in textile techniques can be passed on to future generations on a practical level.

Eventually through future projects, we believe there will be both an international and national impact on embroidery education through the widening access to the collections and the promotion of craft and tradition in textiles using modern technology e.g. haptics and VL environments.



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ANYTHING INOVATIVE OR UNIQUE ABOUT PROJECT

There has been little work done on the NDS, and it seems an appropriate time to revive interest in the scheme. 2014 will mark the 80th anniversary of its beginnings. While the other institutions involved have to varying degrees restored, archived and exhibited their collections, we do not know of any previous attempt to reunite the institutions and re-establish connections across collections.
In this project connections will be the key unique development. We intend to interact with six other important and hugely respected institutions. On each visit we will take items from the ECA collection with us to promote discussion and make new connections across the collections.
These visits and the colloquium will form a unique web of connected parties. The feedback we collect will therefore come from a group of people who have not necessarily been united before. We intend to mix academics, practitioners, university staff, curators, students and enthusiasts with the central focus of embroidery and education to encourage discussions and sharing of information. We will also collect memories and information relating to the NDS, from people who remembered the scheme from their own experience. Recording these memories are timely, as there will be less and less people around who remember the scheme as time go by.

Online repository.
For students, researchers, amateur embroidery enthusiasts.
Updates on state of the collection and progress with projects and funding
News bulletins of events and information

The purpose of this project is to establish an exciting future for an important collection of textiles that has been sat inert in boxes for fifty years

We have identified other institutions who we wish to involve in the project.



FEASIBILITY OF PROJECT

The purposes of this project are outlined and we will need no longer than the given time period in which to complete this project. We have planned that the four key visits out-with Edinburgh should take place within the first two months of the project (January and February), and after that point the rest of the research and meetings will be Edinburgh based.
The colloquium will be the climax of the project on 24th April, to coincide with the ECA fashion show. The agenda for the colloquium will be generated by thorough analysis of the information gathered over the initial visits to fellow institutions and
Proposed agenda
■Brief illustrated history to The Needlework Development scheme
■Keynote speaker, possibly from the V and A, or Embroiderers Guild
■Discussion groups rotating around tables with specific focus on topics initially determined through the results from visits. Feedback will be gathered on acetates and projected with overheads, with groups rotating around the tables to add to previous group’s discussions and findings.
■Invited speaker Tula Pardoe, textile conservator. An illustrated talk using the collection as a practical focus for presentation and discussion about conservation.

After the colloquium the information generated will be processed and collated as a report and blog (we need a web presence for this too with a discussion board for all parties involved) in order to establish a clear conclusion for the project. At this point collaborative partnerships will already have been established for future funding applications to fully develop ideas and a strong future for the collections.

This project compliments the recent reviews of the ECA special collections projects, however it does not compromise any plans which the University may have to apply for further funding to conserve and develop the ECA collections which also include painting, glass, jewellery and silversmithing.

Key findings

DIVISION of The NDS.
Research determined that this collection of antique needlework was a portion of the original Needlework Development Scheme initiated by J and P Coats, Paisley in 1934. When the scheme was disbanded in 1961 the division of the samples was made by a committee consisting of members of each of the recipient institutions. Records of the ensuing bickering between ECA and GSA over certain prized samples, is captured in the letters held in The University of Edinburgh archive centre. Using archival materials at The Royal Scottish Museum, Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and Glasgow University archival services to explore Coats minute books also helped put the scheme in context and tracked the dispersal of the collection more closely.

Having determined the current curator, the grant enabled visits to the other main institutions holding parts of the collection. That is GSA, Duncan of Jordanstone, Grays School of Art in Aberdeen(Grays) , The Victoria and Albert Museum( V&A), The Embroiderers Guild (EG), The Royal Scottish Museum (RSM) and Paisley Museum. The personality and taste of each of the collection is remarkable, particularly in terms of colour and technique. Whilst ECA’s collection includes many white on white samples and possibly more pre 20th century examples, Dundee hold a vibrant and larger scale body of work with a greater number of 20th century examples of embroidery.

CONSERVATION.
Current state of conservation are mixed. GSA received lottery funding to conserve much of their collections to a high standard. Several of the pieces have been prepared as handling collections with purpose built boxes made for each piece. Dundee’s collection is well cared for in purpose made bags and boxes stored in a room excusively for The NDS collection. Grays have all examples stored in archival standard conservation boxes, however the samples are cramped and some poorly stored within the boxes. The V&A are currently re-housing their textiles collections and we were therefore unable to access their part of The NDS collection. The Embroiderers Guild (EG) have their collection stored at their headquarters in Walton on Thames. In 1962 on receipt of the 453 NDS embroideries the EG accessioned all of the pieces and placed them within the larger Guild collection. All pieces were re-labelled but have NDS inscribed on EG labels. We were unable to view the collection currently held by The Royal Scottish Museum due to staff retirement and sabbaticals. Paisley Museum has kept their part of the collection in their storage facility all packed in the original NDS packing boxes. We believe that these were originally photographic boxes used to post the samples around the country safely. Paisleys part of the collection is mainly focussed around needlework education, particularly for primary school age. With the inclusion of samples made as visual aids for needlework classes this sub collection is an excellent example of teaching aids for 20th century education.

MEETING the current CURATORS
The main objective of this project was to re-establish connections between these institutions, re-linking the collection and scoping focal points to ensure an exciting future for the collection with relevance for education in the 21st century. Face to face contact with each individual currently responsible for part of the NDS archive was essential in order to make progress. All staff in institutions we visited were enthusiastic to assist in the research and expressed sincere interest in collaborating on future projects around the scheme. This contributed to wider networks and strengthened links both for the scheme itself and for embroidery and textile education.

GATHERING the NDS PUBLICATIONS
In addition to the samples themselves, the NDS produced a series of publications chiefly in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Gathering these through generous gifts from the EG and through purchases on Ebay helped us gain a better insight of the aims of the scheme. This material helps put the collection in context and will remain as part of The ECA’s NDS collection. Some of the original embroidered artworks for the bulletins also exist as part of the Paisley Museum collection.

THE COLLOQUIUM
With the larger part of the research completed through the visits around the country the colloquium focussed on bringing relevant individuals all together at an event hosted at ECA and The University of Edinburgh. With 25 delegates from 7 institutions and organisations, an extremely enjoyable and fruitful day was held in April 2013. 4 areas for further collaborative research have now been identified. Collaborating partners include GSA, Grays School of Art, Duncan of Jordanstone, The V&A, Royal Scottish Museum and Paisley Museum.

Plain English Description


Edinburgh College of Art owns a beautiful collection of antique textile samples, once part of the ambitious Needlework Development Scheme (NDS) that aimed to “encourage interest in embroidery and raise the standard of design and technique.” This collection has been lying inert in boxes, hidden in the ECA board room wine cellar, only rediscovered in 2011, exactly fifty years since the Scheme ended in 1961.

The Needlework Development Scheme is an important and overlooked part of Scotland’s textile history. Founded by Scottish thread manufactures J&P Coats in 1934 with the specific intention of educating through study and practice, the full collection of over 3,500 embroideries was distributed when the scheme disbanded in 1961, between Edinburgh College of Art, Glasgow School of Art, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Grays School of Art, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Embroiders Guild and The Royal Scottish Museum.
The main objective of this project is to re-establish connections between these institutions, re-linking the collection and scoping focal points to ensure an exciting future for the collection with relevance for education in the 21st century.