The Twelve Days of Christmas at Clothworkers’: The Musicians

It’s time of the full rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”!

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten Lords a-leaping,
Nine Ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

I’m going to take a bit of poetic licence with this one, so that I can call attention to this enchanting embroidered panel entitled The Musicians, as well as a number of other textiles and fashion pieces connected to music, as opposed to drums specifically.

Panel hanging of embroidered linen with wools. With a linen ground embroidered in wool in shades of light brown in outline, chain, stem and satin stitches and French knots. With a design within a narrow floral border of four female figures and a winged boy playing musical instruments among trees and birds.

The Musicians panel T.121-1953, given to the Museum by P. J. Schryver, Esq., in memory of Miss R. M. Schryver, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The design was previously attributed to Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. British artist and designer Burne-Jones was thought to have created the figures, while Morris was said to have been responsible for the decorative details. But Selwyn Image, an Englishman most famous for his stained glass windows, is now known to have designed this panel, which was embroidered at the School of Art Needlework around 1879. All three men, as well as the School of Art Needlework, were connected to the Arts and Crafts movement, which I discussed in the second blog of this series, and this panel is a classic, as well as especially lovely, example of the work produced by this movement.

The Musicians would have taken contemporaries back in time, and away from the industrial centres hated by men and women part of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the associated Pre-Raphaelite and aesthetic movements. And the scene has an otherworldly feel. The women’s dresses are a cross between Greek chitons and contemporary aesthetic dress—a retaliation against mainstream Victorian womenswear inspired largely by Pre-Raphaelite and aesthetic art, itself inspired by the past, ancient Greece included. Image’s panel can be seen to promote this dress reform, which was becoming increasingly popular in artistic circles by the late 1870s. Further, Image has chosen to depict instruments, including a harp and pan flute, which originated in ancient or pre-Victorian times. And the woodland setting has a sense of timelessness, while the figures, women and an angel, seem mythological and heavenly respectively.

In terms of colour, the shades used are subtle, like those deployed by other Arts and Crafts designers including Morris, and importantly the linen panel has been embroidered by hand, using various wools and an impressive range of techniques. The French knots used to form the tops of the acorns and the centres of the flowers along the border are particularly striking.

Partly because of all the techniques used on this panel, this is one of those objects which has a very different impact when it’s seen firsthand. It was a real wow moment when I opened the drawer in which this panel is stored. I hope that I’ve been able to capture something of this experience in the photographs below, which were taken close up and from an angle in order to highlight the variety of colours, materials, and techniques used. The Musicians is roughly one by one and a half metres.

Close up of bird, leaves, acorn, and floral border in various brown wools

Part of T.121-1953, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Close up of a hand holding a musical score in various brown wools

Part of T.121-1953, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The musical theme, particularly Image’s choice of gentle instruments like the harp, adds to the sense of enchantment too, I think. Music has inspired many textiles and fashion designers over the years, whether because of its ability to sooth and provoke a range of emotion, its flowing quality, or its ties to popular culture, or for other reasons altogether. Below are a number of our objects connected to this theme. All of them apart from the casket and pattern book (which are at the Museum) are currently here at Clothworkers’, and we have numerous other caskets and pattern books available to be viewed during appointments.

 

Embroidered casket T.432-1990, produced by Martha Edlin in 1671

Part of an embroidered casket. The flat lid is embroidered outside with the figure of Music dressed as a fashionable lady playing a lute, with representations of the four elements - air, fire, earth and water - in the four corners. There are areas of raised work and applied pearls. The edge of the lid is embroidered with a small geometric pattern in laid floss silks.

Part of casket T.432-1990, purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and The Art Fund, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Pattern book T.219-1992, manufactured by Bianchini-Férier, 1920-1921

Sample shows figures playing musical instruments on board gondolas with the buildings of Venice in the background.

Sample designed by Georges Barbier for pattern book T.219-1992, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Rhythm furnishing fabric T.1035-2000, made by Warner and Sons in 1967

Screen printed cotton with a dark green wave pattern on light green ground.

Part of fabric T.1035-2000, bequeathed to the Museum by Eddie Squires, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Jumper T.171-1984, designed by Corgi for Mr Freedom, 1968-1970

Long-sleeved jumper in machine-knitted wool, and stocking-stitch with a ribbed collar, cuffs and hem. With a design of musical notes in flat areas of colour and with Pop Art imagery. Shown with other jumpers.

Jumper T.171-1984 with other jumpers, T.171-1984 given to the Museum by F. E. Deleurme, Baron de Louville, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Chuck Berry dress fabric CIRC.443-1974, designed by Christopher Snow for Slick Brands  Ltd. in 1974

Dress fabric of screen-printed cotton satin with orange, blue, green, red and black photographic images of rhythm-and-blues pop singer and songwriter Chuck Berry, his autograph, and piano and vocal sheet music scores of his songs on a pink ground.

Fabric CIRC.443-1974,
given to the Museum by Christopher Snow, Esq., © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Looking for a musical instrument – wearing a paradox ensemble T.272 to G-1989, designed by Lun-na Menoh in 1989

Close up of part of this ensemble. This layered net overdress uses appliqué to create a forest. The wood is suggested by applied strips of felt with pinked edges topstitched in white cotton and overlapping lengths of green, blue and white rick-rack braid. Additional braid and yellow ribbon inscribed with instructions are visible through the net haze.

Close up of part of the ensemble T.272 to G-1989, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Top and skirt T.109:1,2-2016, designed by James Jean for Prada in 2008

White silk short-sleeved top. The silk printed with a painterly design of fairies playing musical instruments.

Top from T.109:1,2-2016, given to the Museum by Alice Rawsthorn, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

If you’re interested in making an appointment to view textiles and fashion objects at the Clothworkers’ Centre, please email clothworkers@vam.ac.uk.

 

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