Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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The Eye of the Needle Exhibit – and Why Frogs?


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If you’re traveling this summer and you happen to make it to London – or, more accurately, to Oxford – after the first of August, and if you’re a 17th century embroidery fan, you’ll not want to miss The Eye of the Needle exhibit at the Ashmolean!

Eye of the Needle at the Ashmolean

The photos used herein are of items that will be part of the exhibit – the photos are from the Ahsmolean’s press release, and should only be used with attribution.

The Eye of the Needle displays, for the first time in public, a selection of eye-catching, virtuoso seventeenth-century embroideries from the internationally renowned Feller Collection, together with outstanding examples from the Ashmolean’s own holdings. The exhibition explores the context in which these technically exacting works were made by girls and young women at home or school, and what they reveal of the society, economy, and culture of seventeenth-century England.

Eye of the Needle at the Ashmolean

Needless to say, for the 17th-century-embroidery enthusiast, this exhibition promises to be a tremendous treat!

The Eye of the Needle displays embroideries which include colourful raised and flat work pictorial panels, fine white and polychrome samples, household items such as boxes and cushions, and dress accessories including caps, coifs, and gloves. This highly feminine embroidery shows visual delight in complex surfaces created through individual use of stitches, colourful silks, metal threads, pearls and semi-precious stones. The use of expensive, luxury materials connects the embroideries with trade, with some pieces depicting symbolic figures of a wider world.

Eye of the Needle at the Ashmolean

If I could, I’d go – just to see this fellow! This 17th century frog purse, barely three inches in length, was made from leather, silk, and metal threads on silk.

For some reason, frog purses were a Big Thing in 17th century England. I don’t know why they were All the Reptile Rage, but perhaps someone else out there does and can educate us?

I’m sure there’s some sort of reason behind the fad – something beyond the fact that frogs are sort of cute, in a green-and-brown-and-slimy sort of way.

I would imagine these little purses were more for ornament than anything else. Something this small and amphibious would make a delightful, whimsical little accessory floating about on a farthingale.

Hmmm… Frog on a Farthingale…Someone should write a poem!

(Between you and me, I’ve always had a secret little desire to make one…)

Eye of the Needle at the Ashmolean

The Eye of the Needle: English Embroideries from the Feller Collection will be on exhibit at the Ashmolean from August 1 through October 12 this year.

And if you can make a little space for me in your luggage, you can even take me with you…


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(21) Comments

  1. Mary,
    Frogs aren’t slimy, toads are slimy. These are amazing works. I have a sampler made by my husbands great-grandmother while she was on the boat coming here from Germany. This is further back than you might think. My husband was a surprise child with 12 years between him and his siblings. His Grandparents were married in 1904 and his mother is 95 while we are still youngsters in our 50’s. The sampler is beautiful and had to have taken a lot of time of which I am sure she had plenty. I am still trying to get my granddaughter to stay still long enough for me to teach her how to knot her thread for a waist knot. She’s 7 and wants to be entertained. Not entertain herself.

    1. I am the same. I want to teach my daughter and friends to let me teach them my knowledge. I do ALL crafts. It’s a gift I thank god for. I try to keep the needlework exciting..no one understands the love in any needlework.

  2. Yeah! I can’t wait! I will be going several times ­čÖé

    If someone does smuggle you over here, I can offer you a bed and board for as many nights as you like and a lift to the exhibition. We can stitch together while you are here, wouldn’t that be grand!

    1. They’re really taking their time, but unfortunately their labyrinthine administration system seems to be beyond Jude’s control. I’d advise emailing Jude Barrett in adult education and registering interest so she can get back to you.

  3. I’m hoping I actaully get time to look at the exhibits, I’m there to do an associated workshop on opus anglicanum. hope theres a good catalogue

  4. Dear Mary

    The exhibition looks really interesting. I have a friend who lives in Oxford and I know she will put me up for a night, so I’m seriously considering visiting Ashmolean for the exhibition. I’ve just been on their website and the tickets are very reasonable only ┬ú6 so it would be worth visiting to view those lovely 17 century embroideries. Thanks for informing us of the exhibition and all it’s lovely delights.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  5. Such beautiful work! Thank you so much for sharing the news and for including the website information for the exhibit.

    I too would like to hide away in someone’s luggage, but since that is unlikely I feel blessed that the internet can bring some of their eye candy right to me. And there is no jet lag!

  6. Thanks for telling us about this exhibit. Hopefully the museum will create a picture-intensive catalog to go with it. One small correction though: frog are amphibians, not reptiles. Not that it wouldn’t be cool to have a frog purse. You could make a lizard purse large enough to swallow the frog purse. Wouldn’t that be a pair of project!

  7. Marie,
    I do not know anything about this museum, Oxford is a city known for its beautiful architecture and more. Their website is well done and I always see the store as yet show I would not mind, thank you Marie for sharing with us this marvel. Also thank you to Coral-seas for the invitation.
    A word I learned with you in English is Marie SHARING
    Thank you also for that.

  8. What a pity I’m so very far away. Thank you for sharing this glimpse.

    By the way, frogs are amphibians, not reptiles.

  9. Oh WOW! I wish I could make a summer trip to the UK. What a great looking exhibit. Do you know if they are planning to write an exhibit catalog?

    1. The Ashmolean did a beautiful catalogue to go with their Threads of Silk and Gold Catalogue so I am hopeful they will do one for this exhibition also.

      There are already two books about the Feller Collection:

      The Micheál & Elizabeth Feller Needlework Collection Volume I and

      The Micheál & Elizabeth Feller Needlework Collection Volume II

      Both are full of beautiful pictures.


  10. Hi Mary, Frog purses have been around since the timeof Elizabeth 1st. Originally they were hung from the neck and contained either scented sachets or herbs, to protect you from the plague.At that time many medicines were made from dried and powdered frogs, so maybe that was considered to be extra protection. In the 17th century they were more often used for sweetmeats.They then evolved to be worn from the waist of fashionable ladies, and contained coins to give alms to the poor. They were a rather ostentatious way of saying ‘Look, I’m rich,and charitable’ I suppose if a young lady were desperate she could always kiss the frog and hope it would turn into a prince. (About as much chance of that happening as protection from the plague)

  11. I have been wondering why frogs as well and an English friend pointed out that frogs were considered good luck, so perhaps frogs purses were seen as good luck charms. They are adorable, either way! I’m actually making one right now, not a copy, but at least based on the one you show here.

  12. Beautiful. Pity I am so far away as well, and unable to travel into the bargain, not to mention not cashed up enough! But still, I can dream.

    I will be looking for a catalogue too – I have been looking at the Feller collection on line for quite a while.

    I hope you can get there Mary, obviously accommodation costs will be minimal and there are lots of cheap airfares around (I think), so why not go for it?

  13. Mary, thanks for posting this information. I just returned from England and made a point to go to Oxford to see this exhibit (wow did it rain that day!). It was stunning. Besides the beauty and age of the pieces, I was amazed at the most minute detail in the stitches – I would need a super powered magnifier to do that kind of work. Wish I could have taken pictures. There were two books on the works, but they were huge and weighed probably 5 lbs each and I was already over the luggage limit so couldn’t buy them. What a wonderful experience to see these beautiful works. I hope my projects hold up for 400 years!

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