Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Embroidery Design Work by Fairfax B Wade

Illustration: Fairfax B Wade. Buttercup embroidered border, 1880.

Fairfax B Wade was a British architect who produced a prodigious amount of architectural pieces both domestic and public, during the latter part of the nineteenth century. However, perhaps less well known was his embroidery design work, some of which from the year 1880, is reproduced in this article.

Although by no means unusual for an architect of the period to be involved in a number of disciplines, many architects designed furniture for example, it was perhaps more unusual to be involved not necessarily with the subject of textiles itself, but more certainly with that of textile crafts.

Illustration: Fairfax B Wade. Design for applique, 1880.

The images of Wade's embroidery design work come from an 1880 publication by L Higgin called Handbook of Embroidery. The book gave not only short lessons in how to start and achieve results through the embroidery craft including materials, tools and stitches, but also that of pattern work by some of the most popular designers of the period, including Edward Burne Jones, Walter Crane, George Aitchison, William Morris, Selwyn Image, Gertrude Jekyll, and indeed Fairfax B Wade.

To be fair the book was only intended as an introductory example of what could be achieved through contemporary embroidery. It was expected that for the novice practical lessons would have been sought before attempting any of the design work reproduced by the likes of Morris and Crane. Interestingly the book itself was edited by Lady Marian Alford a gifted and accomplished artist as well as a generous patron of the arts. Perhaps more relevant still was the fact that she was the founder of the Royal School of Art Needlework, which had also given its full backing to the 1880 publication. In some ways this book was meant as both an introduction too and an advertiser for the work of the Royal School.

Illustration: Fairfax B Wade. Design for wall panelling or curtains, 1880.

As to the design work itself, there were a range of styles from figurative to floral. The more complex tended to be the work supplied by both William Morris and Fairfax Wade. Wade supplied decorative panels to be used within borders and as all over pattern work. The third illustration in this article, which was meant for either detailing on a curtain or a wall panel, was probably the most complex of all. It shows at least an element of both the amount of work that could go into a single piece of craft embroidery, but also the level of skill that was often thought at the time as being relatively achievable by many women.

It is the level of hand skill that was deemed normal during the latter part of the nineteenth century, which we would find extraordinary in our own contemporary era. It perhaps makes us aware of how much has been lost due to some extent the distractions of the media. However, perhaps more importantly still is the disinterest, at least as far as the UK is concerned, that has been shown by successive governments in integrating art and craft into the state educational curriculum. Craft in particular has been repeatedly sidelined and downgraded, so much so that many often see it now as extra-curricular, rather than part of the wider educational makeup.

Illustration: Fairfax B Wade. Design for a quilt or couvre-pied, 1880.

To deny an individual even the chance to express their creative ability, something which everyone shares no matter at what level they personally believe themselves capable, is to deny an individual the chance to grow as a person. To be able to develop beyond the constricting remit of creating revenue for the state and endlessly consuming for the profit of others, is a right that we should all be encouraged to partake in. Craft and the larger creative world of the arts can change an individuals perspective on a number of intriguing levels including themselves and perhaps more importantly world they see around them, a perspective not actively encouraged by our peers. The art of embroidery may be a small and fairly insignificant step to many, but it is a creatively empowering step nonetheless.

Reference links:
Handbook of Embroidery
Royal School of Needlework Embroidery Techniques
The Royal School of Needlework - Book Of Needlework and Embroidery
Royal School of Needlework Handbook of Embroidery (1880)
Art in Needlework: A Book About Embroidery
The Art of Embroidery: Inspirational Stitches, Textures, and Surfaces
Machine Embroidery & Textile Art
Freestyle Machine Embroidery: Techniques and Inspiration for Fiber Art
Doodle Stitching: Fresh & Fun Embroidery for Beginners
The Development of Embroidery in America

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