Northampton has many claims to fame but perhaps not everyone will realise it was once home to a woman who is said to have revolutionised the world of embroidery.
At a time when many people were using this form of needlework solely to create napkins and tablecloths, Northampton-born Constance Howard began to use embroidery as a form of art.
A dynamic personality with bright green hair, she established the Department of Embroidery at Goldsmith’s College, London, in 1948. She died in 2000, at the age of 89, leaving a legacy of vibrant work.
Thanks to the Northamptonshire Branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild, some of Constance’s pieces are now on display at the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery as part of a new exhibition, entitled The Seduction of Stitchery.
The Howard work on display includes a huge elaborate piece which occupies almost one entire wall. Originally commissioned by the museum in 1968, it now forms part of its collection and features such landmarks as Rushton Triangular Lodge and All Saints Church, Earls Barton.
The new branch chairman, Mary Willars, from Rothwell, said: “It was Constance who turned embroidery away from crinoline and tablecloths into something more artistic.
“Some of her work on display dates back to the early 1960s although there is one piece from 1933. She is really the one everyone talks about.”
Alongside the Howard pieces is a selection of work by members of the local branch too, ranging in subject from a puffin with a mouthful of sand eels to a line of bare bottoms.
Mary said there are many different types of embroidery and she enjoys using a machine to ‘draw out’ images. Among the work on display is her embroidered scene from the book, Cold Comfort Farm.
One of the branch’s 24 members is Gill Lindsay, who lives near the Racecourse, in Northampton. She created a series of ambitious embroidery panels which pay tribute to her late mother-in-law, Isobel Lindsay, and the family’s links with the Orkney isle of Rousay. The whole piece took Gill two years to complete.
She said: “I was never tempted to give up. My mother-in-law died when we were on holiday and my husband went to her funeral and I stayed with the children. But I never felt that I had said goodbye properly.”
The exhibition continues until January 27. The Guild meets at 2.30pm on the first Saturday of every month at Weston Favell Parish Hall in Booth Lane, Northampton.