Over the years as a working family home, Harewood House and its inhabitants amassed a significant collection of table and bed linen, used to dress both public and private spaces for occasions of every kind.
Over the past three months, a project to document and re-house this collection, which consists of table cloths, placemats, napkins, bed sheets and pillowcases, from the humble to the highly decorative, has taken place.
Trust volunteers Avril and John have worked methodically to create an inventory that describes in detail the fabric and patterns of the mainly white and ivory linens, measuring each item and highlighting any identifying marks such as the family crest or the Garter Knights coat of arms, some of which date back to the 1930s. Once listed and photographed, each piece was then carefully packed and wrapped in Tyvek (a lightweight, water resistant yet breathable material) to prevent dust or pest infiltration. Finally, each bundle and box was labelled and its storage location recorded.
“We’ve had a fascinating time working on this project,” said Avril, who has been volunteering with Harewood House Trust for many years. “It was interesting to note the patterns and to see that decoration was quite seasonal, maybe with flowers and fruit for one time of the year and other foliage for different times of the year. Some of the tablecloths stretch over fifty metres.”
Rebecca Burton, Assistant Curator and Archivist, added: “During the documentation process, the volunteers discovered beautifully embroidered and hand-finished items that resonate particularly well with our current exhibition Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters, particularly the contemporary work on display in Princess Mary’s Dressing Room by the studio Jenny King Embroidery. Some particularly beautiful placements decorated with Irish embroidery (the technique employed by Jenny King) discovered during the project are currently on display in that room.”
A communication from the 6th Earl to Princess Mary in January 1922 says;
“I hear very privately that N. Ireland is to give us linen [for a wedding present] and have asked whether it should be embroidered or not. They have been told not. I am glad as it is a bore to wake up with a coronet impressed on one’s cheek!”
Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters continues in the House until 1 September 2019.