Embroidery Resurgent at Red House

Embroidered belt detail from Aphrodite, Red House

In partnership with 'Ornamental Embroidery' Red House will be hosting a series of lectures and workshops to re-introduce the craft of needlework to Red House.

Saturday’s will host a mix of expert led lectures and workshops enabling you to delve further into the stories and art of Morrisian embroidery.  Sunday’s  will be free for all visitors to try their hand at some samples taken from the original dining room scheme.

" Oh how happy we were, Janey and I, busy in the morning with needlework"
- Georgiana Burne-Jones

William Morris’s ambitious decorative scheme for the Dining Room was for twelve embroideries of female figures, inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s late 14th century poem The Legend of Good Women and classical and religious sources. It was also proposed to place an embroidered tree between each figure and add a background pattern of flowers.

Although Morris’s intention was for the embroideries to adorn the walls of his Dining Room, because the scheme was incomplete when he sold the house in 1866 it is not known how the finished figures were displayed or whether they were even hung in this room.

There are surviving designs for ten figures but only seven embroidered figures are known and until Aphrodite reappeared in 2007, Aphrodite was also thought to be lost.

Red House, Bexleyheath
Detail of Aphrodite embroidery at Red House, Bexleyheath
Red House, Bexleyheath

The other surviving embroideries are: St Catherine, Iseult (Guinevere) and Penelope, which are at Kelmscott Manor, Morris’s Oxfordshire home from 1871, and Lucretia, Hippolyte and Helen of Troy, which form the panels of a three-fold screen at Castle Howard, North Yorkshire.

Morris and his embroiderers (chiefly his wife Janey, her sister Bessie and Georgiana Burne-Jones) employed traditional medieval techniques.

The striking figure of Aphrodite returned to Red House in February 2009 for the first time in 143 years. It was acquired at auction in Edinburgh in 2007 and has recently been conserved and framed to enable it to be put on display. Aphrodite was designed by William Morris for his newly built home in the early 1860s and is believed to have been worked by his sister-in-law, Bessie Burden.