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Treasuring and Celebrating Historic British Needlework

Treasuring and Celebrating Historic British Needlework

At the Crewel Work Company we share a passion for historic needlework and for enabling others to enjoy historic designs through our kits and retreats.

Our activities in the needlework world bring us into contact with incredible historic textile collections all over Britain. The people responsible for these collections are part of a network of custodians all over the country who work tremendously hard to house, treasure and celebrate historic needlework. 

It's not inevitable that such individuals or their institutions can continue this work indefinitely so we are always looking for ways to support them. We do this by donating directly to them through the sale of our kits and by encouraging patronage of their collections through our needlework tours and retreats.

As our kit repertoire increases we are steadily adding names to the list of institutions we are supporting. But nowhere have we dedicated more energy on this front than at Muncaster Castle, a fortress-like castle just a couple of hours drive from our home town and one of our favourite needlework destinations.

Recently we visited Muncaster to make arrangements for our upcoming Lady Anne's Festival in 2021. At the same time we were able to catch up with the team to see the exciting developments taking place regarding the needlework collection. 

Peter Frost-Pennington and Laura Turnbull at Muncaster CastleLaura with Peter Frost-Pennington in the Great Hall

Overlooking a wide valley on the west coast of Cumbria, Muncaster Castle is a wonderful example of where an increase in patronage and donation over the past few years is resulting in tangible benefits for the needlework collection.

Aerial View of Muncaster

Owned and occupied by the Pennington family since the 12th century, the castle holds important collections of all kinds of fine art, antique and ephemera. Of particular note is the textile collection of which crewel work forms a large part - a feast for the eyes for any needlework enthusiast.

Petit Point miniature oak carved arm chair from Muncaster CastleMiniature 'apprentice piece' arm chair with petit-point seat cushion

Amongst the many textiles on display in the castle are important examples of 16th Century needlepoint, a vast crewel work collection and Balkan textiles collected by the owners' grandfather at the turn of the 20th Century. 

Suzanis collected along the East Mediterranean trade Silk Route adorn the walls and furniture; 16th Century Elizabethan needlepoint (still on the original 16th century chairs they were made for!).

Egyptian Suzanni in the garden at Muncaster CastleEgyptian Suzanis at Muncaster

There are vast crewel work bed hangings, 18th century costume, and 20th century banners made by the Royal School of Needlework. There is even a suit worn by the son of the 12th Duke of Somerset who met his end in India by being mauled by a bear. The list goes on and each item has its unique and fascinating story.

Metal thread embroidery at Muncaster CastleClose up of the above Suzanni

The very low light in the castle has protected the few pieces of needlework on display from the ravages of direct sunlight, minimising fading and thus preserving the original depth of colour, which may now be admired over 300 years after they were created. The many items which are not on display are kept in drawers, trunks and sections of the attic.

The reverse of the Muncaster BedhangingThe reverse side of a bed hanging showing the incredible original colours

Phyllida Gordon-Duff-Pennington, the mother of the current resident Iona Frost-Pennington, brought great energy to the castle during her life-time and inspired others to take an interest in the needlework, which she greatly treasured.

Phyllida Gordon-Duff-PenningtonPortrait of Phyllida

Phyllida's legacy as a needlework enthusiast lives on today in her daughter Iona and it is Iona with her husband Peter who are injecting renewed energy into keeping the needlework collection a relevant part of the castle's future.

Phillipa Turnbull at Muncaster Castle with Peter and Iona frost-Pennington and Jacqui HymanIona and Peter Frost Pennington with Phillipa Turnbull (centre right) and textile conservator Jacqui Hyman (centre left)

Despite the million demands on expenditure and time in the castle, Iona and Peter are actively investing in the needlework collection and educating their team about it in order to place it as a cornerstone of the castle's future.

Children's costume at Muncaster CastleChildren's costume neatly organised at Muncaster

This commitment has been the result of a surge of interest in the needlework from visitors in recent years, which has given Iona and Peter the confidence to focus on it.

We are proud to say that we have helped on this journey too. Over the past decade we have brought needlework enthusiasts from all over the world to study the collection during our Lady Anne's Retreats, as well as volunteers who have donated their time to mend, catalogue and clean the embroideries under the expert guidance of textile restorer Jacqui Hyman of the Textile Restoration Studio.

Phillipa at Muncaster CastlePhillipa at Muncaster in 1998

Phillipa also lectures about the embroideries at Muncaster as much as she can in order to bring international interest to the collection. From our point of view, the more people we can bring and tell, the more such collections will be treasured, celebrated, and thus protected for another generation.

Volunteers at Muncaster CastleJacqui Hyman training new volunteers at Muncaster Castle

The most exciting investment at Muncaster is Kym (pictured below), the castle's very first dedicated in-house needlework specialist. Kym is tasked with looking after the embroideries and supporting Iona and Peter in safeguarding their future. She is young, talented and ambitious and she has chosen needlework. This is a truly amazing and important moment for the embroideries of Muncaster Castle and we wish Kym all the best in her new position.

Kym at Muncaster CastleMuncaster's newest young recruit, Kym

We will be visiting Muncaster to study the needlework and meet Iona, Peter and their team during our Lady Anne's Retreat in September 2020. There will also be a chance to visit Muncaster during our Lady Anne's Festival in July 2021.

We will also soon be releasing a large kit featuring a Muncaster design - The Muncaster Bed Hanging. This will be released on Wednesday 20th November. Pre-ordering will be available to our interest list on Friday 15th November. You can sign up to the list here.

A detail from our new Muncaster Bed Hanging - released in November 2019

A detail from our next large kit, the Muncaster Bed Hanging

We would like thank all of those who have donated in one way or other to Muncaster in the past. You have all created the conditions that have allowed the family to prioritise their needlework and thus ensure it remains at Muncaster, valued, treasured, seen and celebrated. 


Carolyn Skelton

I really enjoyed your information and beautifully clear photos of the treasured embriodery at Muncaster Castle The conservators are so exacting and perhaps one day when we come back to the Lakes District I could do a retreat and send my husband off to walk the Fels which he loved doing! Thank you for sharing such exciting information I love to view it Carolyn🌈✈️💐

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