2011 Annual Review
The 2011 record of Girton College.
The College 2011 important set of crewel work furnishings, stitched by Lady Julia Carew (1863‒1922) in the antique Jacobean style, or the circumstances that led to their installation at a Cambridge college in the early 1920s. Married to the Anglo-Irish peer, Robert Shapland Carew, third Baron Carew (1857‒ 1923), Lady Carew was regarded in her own lifetime as ‘the best embroideress and needle tapestry-worker in Society…famed for her exquisite skill’.1 Her work featured regularly in needlework exhibitions and in the British press, but in recent years her contribution to the development of art embroidery, particularly her connection with the Royal School of Art Needlework (RSAN) which supplied the designs for her furnishings, has largely been ignored by textile historians. The first part of this article examines Lady Carew’s lifelong passion for embroidery and the motivation that prompted her to create such a large body of work. The second part explores the origins of her designs and the relationship between the Girton College panels and the development of art embroidery during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lady Carew claimed to have inherited her aptitude for the needle either from her mother, who had cross-stitched her own stair carpet – a task her daughter believed every young bride should undertake – or from her great aunt, Mrs Duncan, who worked exclusively in petit point.2 Together with her younger sister, Lady Carew was taught to embroider at the RSAN in South Kensington,3 founded in 1872 by the philosopher and writer Lady Victoria Welby. As a keen needlewoman and patron of Ireland’s cottage industries,4 Lady Carew shared the artistic and philanthropic principles on which the RSAN was founded, namely to restore ornamental embroidery to the position it once held among the decorative arts and, in the process, to provide employment for distressed gentlewomen in reduced circumstances. In addition to transferring, repairing and copying antique needlework, the RSAN fostered a contemporary school of art embroidery, acquiring designs from leading figures in the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Walter Crane.5 In the late 19th century the RSAN was regarded as ‘the headquarters of decorative stitchery in Great Britain’, the key to its success lying in its thorough and systematic training in which ‘the whole grammar of embroidery is taught from the very rudiments upwards’.6 In addition to training professional staff for employment in the various workrooms, amateur needlewomen like Lady Carew received tuition at the RSAN in hand or frame embroidery at a cost of 6s 6d per hour or £1 13s for a course of six lessons. Pupils were also taught in their own home at 8s per hour, providing the property was within easy distance of the School, as was the case with Lady Carew’s London mansion at 28 Belgrave Square.7 In an interview that she gave to the magazine Needlecraft in December 1906, Lady Carew professed to spending several hours each day at her embroidery frame. She strongly recommended needlework to women of all classes of society as a panacea for ‘the bustle and fatigue’ of everyday life. Plying her needle was for Lady Carew a cathartic experience which soothed the mind, dulled mental anxieties, absorbed the worries of the day and brought a good healthy rest at night.8 The greater part of Lady Carew’s embroidered furnishings was made for Castleboro 25