Grinlin Gibbons in stitches

Crewelwork embroidery inspired by the master carver

How an opportunity to handle original Grinling Gibbons carvings inspired my crewelwork embroidery.


As a volunteer at Historic Royal Palaces for several years, I was delighted to be invited to work as part of a small group on a project in the handling collection at Kensington Palace. With my background in design, I soon found my ‘niche’ as a plastizote cutter. The disparate historic objects; clothes, china, pottery and everyday objects such as telephones and vanity sets, were lovingly repackaged and catalogued. This has given them new lease of life and made them available as handling objects for visitors and special groups.

I thoroughly enjoy being presented with an object, and working out how and where to cut the plastizote shapes, and creating supporting structures. Word got around, and I was asked to help out at the other Palaces too. I’ve mounted coins at the Tower, and packaged some of the handling collection at Hampton Court. The most fiddly plastizote job was mounting a “Buddha’s Fingers” plant, and the tiny skulls of shrews from an owl pellet. Both can be seen in the Shepherd’s hut display in the grounds of Hampton Court.

Earlier this year, I was asked if I could employ my plastizote cutting and packing skills to help with a Grinling Gibbons loan to Fairfax House, York . The fragments of wood carvings rescued from fire, some blackened and sooty, were yet extraordinarily beautiful. I carefully cut mounts for the pieces so they could be transported safely, and had the privilege of examining them at leisure. The flower heads, swirls and daisies were entrancing; it was incredible to know they were hundreds of years old, and yet looked almost contemporary in design. I started thinking they really lent themselves to an embroidery project in Jacobean crewelwork. Traditionally, this style chooses a Tree of Life with flowers and tendrils as a subject, so the Gibbons carving matched well with the technique.

In the following weeks, I completed a crewelwork version of the Gibbons fragment. It is stitched on linen twill fabric, and worked ‘mono’ in nine shades of Appleton orange-red 2-ply wools. The many stitches include satin, long & short, whipped wheel, french knots, couching and trellis. It’s my homage to the greatest craftsman in wood the nation has ever seen, and a reminder I was honoured to care for some of his work.

From Journeyman to King’s Carver: The Genius of Grinling Gibbons. Exhibition opens 14 April 2018, on the 370th anniversary of Grinling Gibbons’ birth, this exhibition also marks the 350th year of his arrival in York.

If you'd like to volunteer at Historic Royal Palaces (and I can't recommend it highly enough!), you'll find more information here

My Jacobean Crewelwork interpretation of a Grinling Gibbons wood carving. By Kate Pankhurst

Grinling Gibbons wood carving fragment rescued from fire at Hampton Court Palace. Copyright Historic Royal Palaces

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© Copyright Art of Stitch, hand embroidery by Kate Pankhurst