Ever Evolving Stitchery

A tray holding three books relating to Hilary Mantel's Cromwell trilogy, a red pincusion, an index card box with cards visible, and a stitched piece that reads: "A world where Anne can be Queen is a world where Cromwell can be Cromwell".
Project planning

I’ve been working on my Cromwell Trilogy stitching project for nearly two years now. During that time, my approach to the project and the techniques I am using have changed, the format of the piece has altered, and I am in no doubt that these will evolve further. One thing remains constant however: the inspiration I find in the three novels by Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light – which makes me want to stitch my response.

A quilted piece that reads "Quylte" in yellow thread.
Thomas Cromwell owned a ‘quylte of yelow Turqyue Saten’. Photographer: © Michael Wicks

I’m writing this post in April 2022: a time at which I have already completed a large scale quilted piece based on Wolf Hall, presented a paper about both stitching in and stitching the Cromwell trilogy to a conference about Hilary Mantel, held at the Huntington in October 2021, made some smaller standalone pieces, and have started work on stitchery related to The Mirror and the Light.

A quilted cornflower on cream fabric, black fabric with gold crosses in the background.
Photographer: © Michael Wicks

Now that time has passed, I can see that the approach I took to my first Wolf Hall quilt was very specific to the time and conditions in which it was made: it was sewn during the Covid-19 pandemic while I was isolating. I realise that the form of the piece itself is very restricting: a long and narrow quilted strip, giving equal space to all the chapters regardless of length or complexity. I put various rules in place for the project: working in strict order according to the novel, not skipping ahead, deliberately limiting stitch choice. No-one saw the piece in progress until the very final stages, and I was working in a small space, so I couldn’t really see what I had produced until I had it photographed. And it was not what I had expected. I am still not quite sure what I have made.

A long quilted strip with wording, a peacock feather, leaves and berries, birds, folded over itself.
Piles of Wolf Hall quilting, August 2021

That experience has informed the project going forward. I felt a sense of achievement at having completed work on the Wolf Hall quilt, but I soon realised it was a studio piece, an experiment, a trial run. I was happy with individual elements of it, but not the whole thing.

Two birds, quilted on cream fabric. The birds are Cornish Choughs with large feet.
Thomas Cromwell’s Cornish Choughs

So I am currently at a really interesting stage of the project. I have been reflecting on methods, process, and form. When I started preparatory work for my stitchery of Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror and the Light I knew I needed a different format. Maybe a stitched book? Maybe a series of smaller individual pieces? Maybe they didn’t all need to be quilted? And – a big question – should I continue working book by book, chapter by chapter? Or should I work thematically across all three books? I haven’t quite decided yet, but I keep remembering how the River Thames runs through the entire Cromwell Trilogy, and I think there’s a hint there.

3 thoughts on “Ever Evolving Stitchery

  1. It is very useful, as you have found, to put rules in place for a big project; my only comment is to observe that occasionally the thing to do, once the rules are established, is to smash them to smithereens, and enjoy doing so!

    Liked by 2 people

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