A Stitch in Time

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The exhibition, A Stitch in Time, offers the visitor the opportunity to explore Bungay through the textiles that have been left as legacies of its past and enjoy admiring textiles that it is hoped will become heirlooms for future generations.

A stitch in Time, Bungay, Suffolk

Many of the older items on show owe their origins to the churches and Benedictine Priory, which was founded in the 12th Century. The nuns, apart from prayer and charitable work, became accomplished needle-women, and adorned their own chapel and St Mary’s church with decorative wallhangings, altar cloths, and other textiles.

Fine embroidered vestments for the clergy were probably also made by the Bungay nuns. Following the Reformation in 1536, the Priory closed, along with all other monastic establishments. Parish accounts and local wills record that some of the church embroideries and vestments were cut up and made into elaborate theatrical costumes for the plays forming part of the annual Ale-Games in the churchyards during the Whitsun period!

In these early periods when middle-class women’s place was firmly ‘in the home’, they were not expected to become educated, or engage in paid employment. Instead they learned ladylike accomplishments, chiefly music, drawing, and most importantly, needlework. This could range from the mundane darning of socks, or the sewing on of buttons, to practising a variety of embroidery stitches to form samplers, until they were proficient enough to create embroidered waistcoats and gowns, fire-screens, and framed pictures to adorn the walls of their homes. Early samplers dating from the late 17th c. made by the female ancestors of the wealthy local gentleman, philanthropist and Town Reeve, John Barber Scott (1792 –
1862) will be on display in the Stitch in Time exhibition.

One of the highlights of the exhibition a display from All Hallows Embroidery School. The Community of All Hallows was founded in 1855. They quickly established a needlework Centre at the Convent (now Emmaus Norwich) and embroidered vestments and altar frontals which were sent all over the world. ‘White work’ was also undertaken in the form of purificators, corporals and cottas.

In recent years, the Friends of St. Mary’s, who organise annual events and activities in the church, decided to commemorate the Priory’s connection with fine needlework by creating regular displays of textiles and embroidery. An Awards For All Lottery grant enabled local textiles artist Mary Walker to organise a team of embroiderers to create a wall-hanging depicting significant events in the church’s history. This is now permanently on display in the south aisle. Since then, a group of embroiderers, the “Sew on Sunday” group, meets monthly in the church, and has produced
embroideries based on the 17th Century carved boss designs in the roof. Members also arrange regular displays of their work. Embroidery and textiles have become a regular attraction for visitors, including exhibitions such as the latest “A Stitch in Time” exhibition.

The exhibition, which will also showcase crafters working on their textile projects, will run from Saturday, 29th April to Wednesday, 3rd May and is open from 10am until 4pm. Entrance is free, but donations to enable future exhibitions to be funded, are welcome.

There is also a Preview Evening on Friday, 28th April at 7.30 pm, when Jane Rowton-Lee, a lace expert, exhibitor and international judge, will give an illustrated talk entitled “Nature’s Inspirations.” The talk will detail how she integrates flowers in her own interpretative work for exhibitions and competitions and will be followed by the opportunity to view the exhibition. The cost of the evening is £10 to include wine and finger food.

Tickets can be reserved in advance from Keith Parker 01 986 893 133 or John Warnes 01 986 892855.

Where: St. Mary’s Priory Church, St. Mary’s Street, Bungay, Suffolk NR35 1AX
When: Saturday 29th April – Wednesday 3rd May 2017