Lynn Hulse explores the early history of the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) through the lens of its founder, Lady Victoria Welby (1837-1912). Welby is better known today as a philosopher of language, but during her lifetime she was credited with reviving the art of embroidery, brought into disrepute by the ‘uselessness and ugliness’ of Berlin work, the most popular type of fancy work in the early Victorian period. Founded in 1872, the RSN, or School of Art Needlework as it was originally named, set about restoring embroidery for house decoration to the level of the other decorative arts, and through its revival, provided suitable employment for distressed gentlewomen in reduced circumstances. Within a decade, the School was hailed by the press as ‘the headquarters of decorative stitchery in Great Britain’ and had established its reputation on the international stage through its ground-breaking display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (1876). Lynn will discuss some of the highlights of the School’s early history under Welby’s stewardship.
Dr Lynn Hulse is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Royal Historical Society. She is also co-founder of Ornamental Embroidery, which specialises in the teaching and designing of historic needlework, and runs workshops and lecture programmes in museums, art galleries and historic houses across the UK, including the Ashmolean Museum since 2011. She has published widely on the history of needlework from the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries and is the editor of May Morris: Art and Life (2017) and The Needle’s Excellency: English raised embroidery (2108). Her most recent book, Reviving the Art of Embroidery: Lady Victoria Welby and the Founding of the Royal School of Needlework, 1872-1881, will be published later this year.
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