Embroideries that Record History
Queen Mary’s Carpet

This interesting embroidery does not record history;

it is history

The photo shows you the content and the size of the embroidery.

The Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth are looking at it. You will see a colour photo later.

Queen Mary’s Carpet is included here because, timewise, it is the next embroidery of note to be stitched after the Bayeux Tapestry. Before you tell me that there are other large embroideries created in the intervening centuries please note that these are ecclesiastical embroideries such as the Syon Cope, other copes and Altar Frontals. This was the glorious age of Opus Anglicanan and that is another subject. Also not included here are the Elizabethan tablecloths and bed hangings. Though all are amazing, we will never reach our destination if I sidetrack to everything larger than a pillowcase. I will admit to being category selective but I have found no large domestic or historical embroideries until World War II and subsequent years.

Queen Mary was the mother of King George VI and grandmother to our present Queen Elizabeth. She lived through two world wars supporting her husband and the nation through the first war and her son, his family and the nation through the second.

Queen Mary moved out of London to the western part of England for the duration of the second war. She stayed at the home of relatives and stitched the war away. At the end of the war, Britain had an enormous monetary debt to the USA. To raise money to help pay off the debt, Queen Mary donated her completed embroidery to be auctioned.

I believe that the 12 panels in the carpet were all designed to be firescreens. Their size would seem to be appropriate for this. They are stitched in gros point (large petit point) on canvas. Queen Mary purchased her embroidery supplies at the Royal School of Needlework. My guess would be that the staff prepared the canvases and supplied the wool. Another guess would be that on completion, the staff blocked the pieces and joined them together to make the carpet. It would appear from photos, that Queen Mary stitched with the canvas loose in her hands and not on a frame. This would make blocking essential. Can you imagine wearing a formal hat to sit in the garden and stitch.

See more photos in the blog entry on Hands Across the Sea Samplers.

One afternoon, while I was a student at RSN, we were called to come quickly and be totally quiet. Queen Mary had been visiting the store on the ground floor. We hung over the balcony railing overlooking the front entrance hall. Queen Mary walked slowly across the hall to the front door. She was wearing her trademark maroon coat and formal hat and was using a cane, or perhaps it was a long umbrella. The staff were standing around the hall with their backs pressed firmly to the wall thus leaving her lots of space. Her accompanying ‘lady’ was several paces behind her. She said something that I could not hear or do not remember. It struck me forcefully how lonely it was to be in her situation. Had it been any one of us, we would have been chatting about what we had seen, our purchase, our plans and would be looking forward to a cup of tea. None of that was available to her except, perhaps, the tea.

It is said that Queen Mary stitched the designs, and that her ladies stitched the backgrounds. I have also heard that she stitched both herself. Either way, one panel would have been a lot of work; twelve panels overwhelms my mind. The fact that she donated all her work for auction to help pay the National Debt was wonderful. The debt was not paid off until the 1990s.

Bravo for Queen Mary.

What is a firescreen you ask? Before the days of central heating, houses were warmed by coal burning fireplaces. When not in use during the morning hours, or warmer weather, the fireplaces were not a pretty sight. An ornamental piece was placed in front of the empty fireplace and the lady of the house made sure that it enhanced her living room. The size of each of the twelve panels in the carpet would have been approximately 26” x 20” which would be an appropriate size for a firescreen. The completed embroidery was mounted onto a piece of sturdy wood and framed. Feet, set at right angles to the frame, were mounted on the lower edge.

Not even a palace needs twelve firescreens. Combining them into a carpet was a great solution and helped pay off a piece of that monstrous debt.

There is a website that gives excellent information about Queen Mary and the carpet at the following: Hands Across the Sea Samplers. The information here is incomplete but adds to their record.

Are you wondering who purchased it and where it is right now? Nicole and Sandra’s website will answer those questions. It also includes good photos.

This is a brief video of Queen Mary.

If you would like read more on what it was like to be a student at RSN I have a few older blog posts.

Tags: embroidery, Queen Mary, stitching

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  1. Reply

    I thoughly enjoy reading your blog posts Ann. Queen Mary has fascinated me since I was a little girl. Blame my Great Grandmother :). She was an amazing lady and the more I hear about her, makes the fascination stronger. Sandra from Hands Across the Sea Samplers.

    1. Reply

      Sandra, thank you for your comment.
      I have always admired Queen Mary and really do appreciate that being a member of the Royal Family is not one that I would enjoy. Your blog post on her carpet contained a lot information and photos which I tried not to duplicate.
      I hope that readers also read your information.
      The carpet is yet another example of a historic embroidery being kept in storage. Like the Hastings embroideries, most people are not even aware of its existence.
      All good wishes, Ann B.

  2. Reply

    What a lovely story Ann! Thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences and a lot of history.

    1. Reply

      Jessica, Good to hear from you and glad you liked the story. Queen Mary was an amazing old lady. I would describe her as ‘indominitable’ though I know that I have spelled that wrong.

    • Pam Wallis
    • March 20, 2018

    Thank you Ann. I really enjoyed seeing the photograph with the then queen and princess Margaret gazing at the completed work. Pam

    1. Reply

      Hello Pam, Glad that you liked the article. I did not realize that the younger lady was Princess Margaret and thank you for the correction. You have told me that you saw the carpet when it was first made. I would love to hear any extra comment about this or information that you would like to share with those who have never seen it.

    • Pam Wallis
    • March 20, 2018

    Thank you Ann for an interesting insight. I loved the photograph of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret looking at the carpet. Pam

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