UK-based needlework designer Emily Peacock discusses how the work of the Pre-Raphaelites influences her own craft.

  • William Morris Three Fold Screen (Detail)

    William Morris Three Fold Screen (Detail)

William Morris’s three-fold screen The Legend of Good Women depicts three figures - Lucretia, Hippolyte and Helen of Troy - inspired by Chaucer’s poem of the same name. Each figure is hand embroidered and then cut and stitched onto a background of silk velvet. The medieval revival plays large in many Pre-Raphaelite works and typically, each female figure has a quality of strength, power and sensuality.

Gazing at the screen I bring to mind questions over what it means to be productive and what is ‘useful’ production. As a needleworker, it is pure pleasure to appreciate the choice of colour and texture created through the stitches. It is both exciting and comforting to imagine the making that is so familiar to me.

I am often asked how long my needlepoint kits take to make up and it’s a question that makes me uncomfortable. In today’s society the focus is heavily on time usefully spent, often translated as the acquisition of wealth or ‘stuff’. Needlework has been a life-long passion for me. I love to create an object, a physical artefact in the world, from my own imagination and my own labour. My motivations are curiosity and passion and it is now my life’s work to explore this subject and then pass on what I learn to others.

When we view a beautiful piece of art and craftsmanship such as this screen, what stirs inside of us? We enter a place of the soul, above the daily grind and necessity of life, a world of the imagination to create what has not been seen or done before, where we can let our innate creative instincts take the reins. I understand this. To witness the passion and devotion in such a stunning work of embroidery is affirmation that this type of production has great longevity and value. In light of that, lovers and makers of needlework are united, both historically and temporally, by a common thread.

Emily Peacock is a UK-based needlework designer working primarily in wool and canvas. You can see her work at Late at Tate Britain on Friday 7 December 2012.

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