CREWEL AND SILK BED HANGING FROM THE LENNOXLOVE SET
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the bedchamber in stately homes served as a locus for both private, intimate moments and public receptions. The bed itself was a formal piece of furniture with a boxlike structure of four posts draped with elaborate hangings. The lady of the household was typically involved in the creation of textile furnishings for all interior spaces; perhaps the most significant contribution she could make—for both comfort and beauty’s sake—was a complete set of embroidered bed curtains. This superb crewelwork hanging, part of a suite of which four curtains and a valance survive, was worked by a skilled aristocratic woman of the Lennox love house, an imposing fourteenth-century estate near Edinburgh in East Lothian, Scotland.
Considerable talent and devotion were necessary to embroider an entire set of bed hangings. The diarist Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) writes of women who were industriously absorbed in making new “furniture” for beds, including “
my poor wife, who works all day like a horse, at the making of her hangings for our chamber and bed.” For much of the seventeenth century, and well into the eighteenth, crewel embroidered bed sets were very fashionable. Though laborious, the work could proceed relatively fast since the embroidery did not cover the entire surface of the ground fabric. By the second quarter of the eighteenth century, the dense, overtly exotic Baroque crewel patterns so popular in the previous century gave way to lighter, less crowded compositions, as exemplified here. Using a colorful palette of rich burgundy and cranberry red, rust, bark brown, deep greens and blues offset by delicate shades of mauve and sage, the embroiderer conjured a floral fantasy out of twisted wool thread. Silk floss in shades of golden yellow, pink, cream, pale blue, and bronze was used to heighten the motifs and impart lustrous highlights throughout. Textural contrasts between wool and silk as well as the ribbed dimity ground add depth to the embroidery.
The exuberant motifs are arranged in two tiers: the bottom row has three small mounds supporting a jardinière,
a handled vase and a footed bowl, each issuing
flowering vines with feathery, languidly curling
fronds and various blossoms. Lush tulips, spindly
chrysanthemums and distinctive pinwheels with
wedge-shaped petals are among the recognizable and imaginary blooms. Placed above is a similar row of straw baskets abundantly filled in the same manner. Birds perch amongst the delicate branches and flit to catch dragonflies and other insects in flight—these lively motifs are worked in silk floss couched with wool to emphasize plumage and tracery on the gossamer wings. It is interesting to note that the discrete design elements along the bottom row are nearly identical to each other in layout, just as the flowering baskets in the top row are also copies of a single design. All were probably drawn from a pattern source, or by a professional draftsman. Choices that fell into the purview of the embroiderer, such as color selection and minor details like the tiny snail and caterpillar underneath the jardinière, add whimsy and diversity to the composition. An undulating vine sprouting iris, carnations, daffodils, lilies, roses, and acorns borders the curtain.