'Unbind the Wing' at Bodnant Garden: Gilding the lily

Textile banners depicting the women of Bodnant Garden created by North Wales Embroiderers' Guild

The members of North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild have put their heart, soul and talent into an array of textile artwork for ‘Unbind the Wing’, our centenary celebration of suffrage at Bodnant Garden.

During the Great Pilgrimage of June and July 1913 women from all corners of Britain marched to London in a peaceful demonstration of suffrage solidarity. The march culminated in a rally of 50,000 people in Hyde Park; picture women dressed in red, green and white suffrage colours, with brightly decorated  banners proclaiming their villages and towns, their trades and professions, as well as their united cry for the vote. What an incredible sight and sound that must have been.

The protest banner became a powerful means of communication for the suffragists. In a dawning age of mass production women made their banners by hand sewing and embroidering, crafting elaborate textile placards which celebrated their creativity as well as carried their political message. Their banners became an iconic emblem of the movement

More than a century on, the talented members of North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild have done their sisters proud with a stunning display of banners and other artwork for ‘Unbind the Wing’.

Open air exhibition

You might have been lucky enough to see the work of the guild previously at the garden. Two years ago they staged an open air exhibition here to celebrate the work of landscape designer Capability Brown, adorning the garden with fabulous fabric plants, wildlife and hangings; or you might have met members at our National Day of Stitch summer embroidery workshops.

So when we started thinking about making our own protest banners to mark the centenary of Votes for Women, we naturally turned to our friends in the embroiderers’ guild. They have risen to the challenge and produced a display above and beyond our expectations and we’re delighted to be able to share them with you during our autumn celebration of suffrage. 

Guild chairman Pamela Headon says: “The story of the McLaren family and the suffragist movement is so inspiring and relevant to our locality. We were delighted to be asked to take part in an event to mark the centenary of women gaining the vote.

“We have worked as individuals and in small groups to produce pieces of work for ‘Unbind the Wing’ producing banners to commemorate and thank these early pioneers of the suffragist movement. The pieces incorporate a variety of techniques - applique, free machine embroidery and photographs embedded into the textile. Some have chosen to create woven pieces of work.

“Members have also produced banners which focus on an issue which they feel strongly about. For example, environmental issues, the need to  vote, child poverty, equality for women and the importance of teaching creativity in the curriculum.”

Modern day causes

There are also group projects which highlight modern day causes including dementia, equal pay, the environment – look out for the giant fish near the Old Mill and the amazing textile tree at Visitor Welcome Centre.

The North Wales guild is the largest in the region and one of the largest in the UK, with around 120 members. In the past members have contributed to a Post Card exhibition of countries that took part in the 2012 Olympics which toured the UK.  Currently they are currently working on Remembrance Hearts to commemorate the end of the First World War to go on display in Liverpool Cathedral, and their latest exhibition has been on tour to textile fairs across Britain.

The guild’s banners created for ‘Unbind the Wing’ are not just beautifully crafted but diverse, surprising, moving and inspiring - perfectly in the spirit of suffragists - and we can’t wait for you to see them. Here's a sample in our video (below). If it insires you to find out more check out North Wales Embroiderers' Guild on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/northwalesembroiderersguild/