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The Eye of the Needle

English embroideries from the Feller collection go on public display for the first time from 1 August to 12 October 2014 at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. The exhibition will also include seventeenth century virtuoso examples from the venues own holdings.


The Temptation of Adam and Eve, mid 17th century, 57 x 59 cm, metal thread and silk thread on linen, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Dr. Mary Brooks of the University of Durham curated the exhibition that she describes as ‘a rare opportunity to explore historic needlework in the context of seventeenth-century religion, politics, trade and culture through a feminine perspective.’ The era in which these textiles were created was one of the most turbulent in English history with social fractures caused by differing political and religious beliefs. The role, status and education of women was also a topic of contention triggering periodic and often raucous pamphlet wars at a time when girls school curriculum prioritised the attainment of socially acceptable skills and moral worth over intellectual achievement.

In 1688, school mistress and author Hannah Woolley described needlework as “Both needful and pleasant, and commendable in any woman… it is time well spent for both profit and delight.”

Themes and concerns that would have occupied the minds of the makers are recorded within the complex surfaces of samplers, pictorial panels, clothing and household items on display. Imagery from classical myths and biblical tales, rife with religious controversy are juxtaposed with idyllic country scenes and imaginary animals. The skilful, imaginative and artistic responses to life in an increasingly urbanised England relay the attitudes of women in the seventeenth century via the stitches they have sewn.


Box with scenes from the life of Abraham, pre 1665, 30 x 27 x 19 cm, silk thread with padded applique silk satin and wire wrapped thread


Needlepoint lace panel showing the judgement of Soloman, mid 17th century, 13 x 18 cm, linen, glass beads and pearls


Sampler: Susanna and the Elders, mid to late 17th century, 37 x 25 cm, linen threads, wrapped metal threads, silk, pearls, glass beads, coral beads on linen, M & E Feller, photography by R. Holdsworth FRPS


Lady’s cap, early 17th century, linen, metal wrapped thread, silk, sequins, M & E Feller, photography by R. Holdsworth FRPS


Panel: Esther and Ahasuerus, mid to late 17th century, 30 x 44 cm, silk on linen, M & E Feller, photography by R. Holdsworth FRPS


Panel: The Judgement of Soloman, early to mid 17th century, 17 x 23 cm, silk, feather filament thread, linen thread, M & E Feller, photography by R. Holdsworth FRPS


Panel: The Judgement of Paris, mid to late 17th century, 45 x 54 cm, glass beads, silk satin, metal threads, mica, padding, parchment, pearls, silk and wire, M & E Feller, photography by R. Holdsworth FRPS


Panel: The Sacriice of Isaac, 1663, 28 x 37 cm, glass beads, linen threads, mica, silk covered coiled metal thread, silk threads, M & E Feller, photography by R. Holdsworth FRPS


Gloves, early 17th century, 29cm in length, suede leather, wrapped purl metal thread, padding, silk floss, silk lining, metal thread fringe, M & E Feller, photography by R. Holdsworth FRPS


Frog purse, 17th century, 6 x 8 x 2 cm, leather, silk, metal thread, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford


Stomacher, late 17th century, 28 x 21 cm, wrapped metal threads, silk floss, silk binding ribbon, linen, M & E Feller, photography by R. Holdsworth FRPS


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