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THE Royal School of Needlework made the coronation robes for Her Majesty the Queen and the Queen Mother and for those interested in detail, Her Majesty’s robes for the 1953 coronation were completed in three months, from March to May 1953, with 12 embroidresses working in shifts seven days a week. When staff left their seats for meal breaks, a reserve team took over and before the robe left the School every member of staff including the oddjob man had added a stitch. That was handy.

This splendidly regal book by the splendidly named Lanto Synge, chief executive of Malletts, a member of the Royal School of Needlework’s council and author of the long out of date Antique Needlework, is a wide study of the history of fabrics and textiles, of great beds, of copes, chasubles, costumes and exquisite caskets, of table carpets, needle painting, secular embroidery, charter bags and the William Morris-inspired art needlework.

All set within their political and social context, the 12 chapters include Early Needlework – “Arachne first invented working with the needle, which the mayd of Lydia learnd from the spiders”; Medieval – “One of England’s greatest cultural achievements to world art has been her production of superb ecclesiastical vestments”; while the post-medieval chapter – “rayed with golde and ryght well cled in fyne black sattyn doutremere” – offers some superb examples of state beds and their lustrous hangings and a cushion “most curiously wrought by Elizabeth’s own hand” seen in 1598 at Windsor Castle.

There is a chapter on heraldry and one on costume, and China and India’s contributions to the decorative arts in Europe and America are featured.

From imperial neoclassicism and the furnishing excesses of the Prince Regent through the 19th century’s improving samplers embroidered by small girls offering verses of the MacGonagall variety: “Charlotte of England Is no more”, to the 20th century’s re-emergence of the Embroiderers’ Guild in 1908 and to Alice Kettle’s jolly 1989 Haymakers embroidery. The book flows seamlessly on. In his final paragraph Mr Synge says: “That modern works are often charmless may be justified as reflecting circumstances of the times, but that they are frequently soulless is indefensible.”

No lack of soul here, with chapter notes, a glossary and a comprehensive bibliography, while the page of picture acknowledgements attests to the book’s fine photography sources of some very fine rags.

NOTE: Now at Hampton Court, the Royal School of Needlework hold monthly Open Days throughout the year. To pre-book phone 020 8943 1432 or check the Website on www.royal-needlework.co.uk
Malletts in Bond Street have a summer-long exhibition of 100 pieces of needlework and embroidery, the highlight of which is a woolwork picture embroidered by an unknown British sailor of the naval review in 1854 by Queen Victoria of the Baltic Fleet at Portsmouth.