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Friday, 19 June 2015

Phoebe Anna Traquair and Embroidery Tour begins

At breakfast this morning I met Philippa Turnbull (, the leader of our embroidery tour as well as Lisa, a fellow Australian participant. The tour began at 2 pm, and in the morning we were asked to visit the Scottish National Gallery to view 4 embroidered panels by Phoebe Anne Traquair (1852-1930). A section of one of these forms the basis of one of the projects we will be working on over the next 10 days with Meredith Willett ( our tutor from Virginia.

I got a taxi to the gallery and enjoyed the lengthy discussion with the young driver as we were stuck in traffic. 

The Scottish section of the gallery had some great pieces - especially those reflecting the Arts and Crafts Movement, like David Gauld's St Agnes 
And William Bell Scott's Una and the Lion 
The panels I had come to look at, however, were literally breathtaking. 
Phoebe Anna Traquair was born, and educated, Phoebe Anna Moss in Dublin. She met her husband, Scottish Paleontologist, Dr Ramsay Heatley Traquair, Professor of Zoology at the Royal College of Science in Dublin when he was looking for an illustrator for his scientific papers, a task she performed for the next thirty years. They married in 1873 and moved to Edinburgh in 1874 when he was appointed to what is now the Royal Museum. She was a prolific, respected and much sought-after artist, working in murals, embroidery, painting, jewellery and bookbinding. 

The embroidered panels represent the Progress of a Soul in four stages, The Entrance (above) , The Stress,
and the Victory.
They are each about 2 metres high, densely embroidered and rich in symbolism.
The detail and technique is wonderful.

We are going to work on a piece based on the branch of birds at the top left of 'The Despair'.
I met up with three others from the tour at the Gallery and we had a coffee together.
At out 2pm meeting we met everyone - 13 students as well as Phillipa, Meredith. and Richard who will be with us part of the time, managing hotel bookings and IT. We had an overview of the places we are visiting and a clarifying of etiquette and rules associated with access to private homes and collections -all pleasant and useful.

We also collected our goodie bags, including midge-repellant, scissors (and a bag to keep them in), notebook, pencil and rubber, a needle book made by one of the students and a bag for carrying our purse and phone into the castles to minimise risk to the embroideries,from bulky bags.
It began to feel real!

In the evening we had a talk on Scottish Textiles by Rebecca Quinton, Curator of European Textiles and Costume at the Glasgow Museum, followed by dinner. I learned a great deal, took a lot of notes and enjoyed the company and food. 

Tomorrow we begin with a trip to the Roslyn Chapel.

It is my intention to keep this blog, over the next 10 days, focused on my own learning with some background about places, collections and general observations. For privacy and Intellectual Property reasons I intend to steer clear of details about other participants and of private collections where there are restrictions. I hope to sustain a narrative of interest without encroaching on private territory.

I may also be more limited in the time I have to spend blogging!


  1. This looks amazing. I was going to ask if you'd got to the Gallery with its unsung treasures. Looking forward to the next ten days

  2. Wow Mum this looks amazing. Those panels and the colours - and they most lose some of their vividness through a photo. How awesome!

  3. What a wonderful experience. Those panels are so beautiful. I know it's silly, but I was taen by the detail of the little folds of skin between the toes onthe close up of the foot. I'm quite envious of your next ten days, though I think it will be very intense. Have fun.

    1. Yes, it's that level of detail that marks off the artist, I think. She is really an artist who takes up stitching and stitches with an artist's eye.

  4. Midge repellant! Yikes. Did you need it?

    Did I miss photos of the birds on the branch that you worked on? Maybe they will be on your other blog. I love the Arts & Crafts period, I am sorry your photos were so restricted, but I understand why.

    What was your overall impression of the tour & course? (You can email me if you'd rather.) It all feels very serious, maybe it would not be a good fit for my personality? I can only sit still so long, lol.

  5. I didn't really need the repellant although I used it a few times. Others were bothered by midges.

    There is a photo of beginning the birds in the June 28 post
    I guess the tour was pretty serious - certainly purposeful. There was more touring and visiting castles and houses than there was sitting still. Classes were about 2 hours in length. Given a choice I'd go for a retreat based in one place rather than so much time in castles - but most participants really loved the castles and touring them. The group was fabulous - so varied and interesting. There is nothing like a shared interest seen from multiple perspectives.