Goldwork embroidery sampler

Gold work embroidery sampler (Mary Addison)

Gold work embroidery sampler (Mary Addison)

 A few years ago when we first came to Oxfordshire I spent one day a week with the Cathedral Embroiderers in Christ Church. The Cathedral is unique amongst English cathedrals in also being a college chapel and this, along with it being comparatively small as cathedrals go, mean that it is always bustling and busy. The embroiderers meet above the Verger’s Office in the South Transept, a rather truncated structure whose furthest end is limited in extent by the adjacent cloister. A balustrade hides the seamstresses bent over their work from the visitors below who would be surprised at the spread of people and materials tucked away, 15 feet above their heads, almost in the middle of the building. On a Wednesday, when we met (and where they still meet), there is a constant bubble of sound which is augmented by practising organ scholars, rehearsals by visiting choirs or by the day chaplains (sometimes my husband) who say intercessions on the hour every hour from the pulpit and take a service of Holy Communion (1662, east facing) in the Memorial Chapel at 1pm. So enveloping is the sound when the organ is playing that you could tear fabric to shreds and no scream of tortured silk would be heard below. The occasional expletive has apparently been heard from time to time as the pricking of an already over stabbed finger coincided with the organist abruptly bringing his practice to an end. Cosy and intimate, in a slightly ramshackle way, the gallery even has its very own ghost, which in keeping with a certain homeliness, manifests itself as bacon frying. Anecdote relates that a past verger had his stove somewhere nearby and when the wind is in a particular direction it infiltrates the body of the ancient stones, finds an olfactory memory of that most tantalisingly saliva-inducing of cured meats and spreads it around the gallery. To assuage potential hunger among the seamstresses – brought about by the ghost among other things – there always seemed to be a plentiful supply of biscuits, chocolates or some other delicacies brought back from holidays or day trips out.

Gold work sampler: detail of embroidery (Mary Addison)

Gold work sampler: detail of embroidery (Mary Addison)

Everyone who comes to sew first has to do a sampler in gold work embroidery. I am not especially fond of this type of embroidery but mastering the techniques involved is vital both for new furnishings and for repair work. When I first joined the group, several women were working on restoring a Bodley altar frontal in gold thread and silks. (A digression: George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907) was a leading exponent of church furnishing for the Oxford Movement and should not be confused with Sir Thomas Bodley (1545-1613) who founded the library named after him in Oxford.) Well, I never graduated to work on the Bodley frontal as I was still working on the sampler when I was offered a full time post in a college library. You can see from the photo what poor progress I had made in my apprenticeship. I still hold out hope that I shall pick it up again and learn some more stitches, but I don’t really expect it will be soon. I did, however, really enjoy my time with the cathedral embroiderers – the chat, the bits of fascinating local information I picked up and the delightful setting.

I am reminded of ecclesiastical sewing because tomorrow there is an afternoon devoted to exploring textiles and stitching in Dorchester Abbey. Suellen Pedley who is Christ Church Cathedral’s leading light will be giving a talk at 3pm which I hope to catch the end of after a wedding and before a prolonged kitchen session preparing cottage pies and desserts for Sunday’s Harvest Supper.

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  1. Posted September 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful sampler! I am about to learn goldwork, I have signed up for a beginner’s day class at the RSN next week, I am really looking forward to it.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for being so kind about my attempt at gold work. It’s not my favourite type of embroidery but is much used to great effect in church furnishings. I should really have done the gold scrollwork on my Elizabethan jacket – (see here: ) on a frame as it is now an example of what happens when you don’t – my only excuses are that I was only 18 when I made it and knew no better and that I was so full of enthusiasm that I just wanted to dive in and get sewing. Enjoy your course.

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  • By Goldwork Sampler - Addison Embroidery at the Vicarage on November 24, 2015 at 11:24 am

    […] embroiderers in Oxford and hope to be able to make regular appearances every Wednesday. The sampler I started about 6 years ago has been rescued from its neglect at the back of the wardrobe, undergone a bit of a redesign and is […]

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