Arts and crafts textiles celebration to showcase magnificent Cape of Clouds at Marchmont House

Artist Hazel Smith with her cloak, pictured in Marchmont House with Hugo Burge, Director of Marchmont Ventures.'(Photo: Colin Hattersley)
Artist Hazel Smith with her cloak, pictured in Marchmont House with Hugo Burge, Director of Marchmont Ventures.'(Photo: Colin Hattersley)

The Cape of Clouds – covered with embroidered messages from women around the world – will be at the heart of a special event celebrating Arts and Crafts textiles from 1850 to the present.

Arts & Crafts Textiles Celebration – nature, beauty and community, from 1850 to the present day, takes place at the magnificent Marchmont House in the Borders on Saturday, February 1.

It brings together a remarkable mix of speakers from art experts and curators to contemporary artists and makers – alongside a social enterprise founder who trains women in textile use and design.

The accompanying display of work will feature not only Louise Gardiner’s cape but an Arts & Crafts kimono, mixing modern and upcycled 19th-century material, created by Dumfries and Galloway textile designer Morag McPherson.

There will be two contemporary quilts by the internationally renowned designer and maker Pauline Burbidge whose work is in major museum and gallery collections worldwide.

The display also includes pieces by Naomi Robertson, Master Weaver at Dovecot in Edinburgh, and antique textiles by Ernest Gimson and now belonging to Barley Roscoe.

The event – which connects to the landmark exhibition May Morris: Art & Life currently open at Dovecot Studios – is part of Marchmont House director Hugo Burge’s drive to help nurture a new Arts & Crafts Movement, promoting hand-crafted work, a sense of community and an appreciation of nature.

He said: “The original Arts & Crafts Movement embodied a purpose that could not be more important for today – celebrating nature, craftsmanship, community and a sense of purpose.

“Arts & Crafts textiles are at the centre of this crucible of interests, replete with hidden stories, inspiration and raw beauty. It couldn’t be more timely to dive into this field, seeking a new sense of purpose in craftsmanship.”

These ideas are deeply embedded in the work of speakers such as the contemporary embroiderer Louise Gardiner, from Bristol, whose Cape of Clouds will be displayed in public for the first time.

Louise invited women from around the world to stitch “story clouds” reflecting their hopes and dreams for a peaceful world of equality and love. Contributions have come in from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong.

She said: “I was overwhelmed by the response, with clouds arriving by post from places far afield and often accompanied by poems, moving letters and photographs.

“The project resonated with so many women and became a collective voice from an international community of women exploring a traditional craft and connecting with each other with hopes for peace and equality. Even if you can’t see your fellow stitchers, you’re connected by an invisible thread.”

Another speaker, Hazel Smith (2019 Social Entrepreneur of the Year), hopes to include the cape in a graduation ceremony for women who have attended textiles courses run by her organisation ReTweed. The organisation trains women facing barriers in their lives and careers, teaching them new skills they can use to find jobs, set up their own businesses or enjoy as a hobby.

She said: “ReTweed is founded on a philosophy very much aligned to the Arts & Crafts Movement. It brings people together into a community of makers, through an arts and crafts industry, giving them a sense of self-esteem and achievement and creating new opportunities for them.

“It has been the catalyst for 11 women setting up their own businesses and has helped 33 to secure jobs – contributing to efforts to revive the great tradition of fashion and textiles in the Borders. ReTweed members are also contributing to the Great Tapestry of Scotland whose designer, Paul Crummy, is also delivering a talk at the event.”

Looking to the original Arts & Crafts Movement, there will be a special focus on the contribution of May Morris (daughter of William) who was responsible for some of Morris & Co’s most iconic designs. Dr Margaretta Frederick, Chief Curator of Delaware Art Museum will speak about May Morris, Her Passion & Her Legacy.

Kate Grenyer, curator at Dovecot Studios, who will be talking about Dovecot as A Living Arts & Crafts tradition, said: “Dovecot Studios are currently celebrating the life and work of May Morris in our exhibition, and this extraordinary event at Marchmont House continues to a long tradition of which May would have been proud. Dovecot grew out of the passion for reviving traditional skills that also inspired the Arts & Crafts movement and we continue to champion textile craft to this day.”

The event is sponsored by Edinburgh fine art auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull.

John Mackie, head of Decorative Arts & Design at Lyon & Turnbull, said: “We are delighted to sponsor the Arts & Crafts Textiles Celebration at Marchmont and look forward to an exploration of stitching and textiles, which had such an important part to play in the Arts & Crafts Movement, and its relevance to our lives today.”

Among the other speakers is Paul Reeves a collector and dealer renowned for his knowledge of Arts & Crafts textiles. Earlier in his career Paul was an interior designer whose clients included Elton John, Freddie Mercury and members of Led Zeppelin and Wings.

Tickets are available here