Sew Engaging

Summer Lancaster, Manager, RIverside Inn, LechadaleWhilst the Museum is closed for redevelopment, a £5,000 grant from The Ashley Family Foundation is being used to employ a textile artist to reach out to members of the public through a community sewing project, ‘Sew Engaging'.

The Project Leader and MERL Fellow, Jane McCutchan, seeks to find out the public’s perception of the countryside, their ‘loves and hates’, by identifying and stitching rural icons.

Community groups will be invited to up-cycle unfinished needlepoint ‘tapestry’ kits with their own designs. Participants will be able to see the wall hangings, and test their perceptions when MERL reopens in 2016.

To follow the progress of the project, read Jane's updates on the MERL blog In her first post she describes how Summer Lancaster (above), Manager of the Riverside Inn in Lechlade, made the first stitch to launch the project.


Sew engaging watermillPerceptions of the Countryside
Our ideas about the countryside are often influenced by how rural people and places are represented in the arts, entertainment and popular culture. Some images can make the countryside seem ‘other-worldly’. Sometimes we are given a nostalgic sense of a golden rural past, idealising the countryside way of life. These themes are particularly evident in the early post-war years, as well as in modern environmental movements.

In contrast, the countryside is also represented as a remote and frightening wilderness removed from the rest of society. Film makers portrayed it as a harsh, brutal place, where ‘quietness’ is deemed sinister, rather than peaceful. Other somewhat negative representations of rural England are found in humorous stereotypes in cartoons. Everyday objects with strong rural associations have crossed into urban and mainstream culture. The Land Rover - farm vehicle in the 1940s, became an up-market style icon in towns by the end of the twentieth century and became known as the ‘Chelsea tractor’. Barbour jackets and wellington boots do not look out of place in towns and cities today.


wall hangingTextiles at MERL
The textile project is inspired by Michael O'Connell's wall hangings at the Museum. The Great Exhibition of 1851, held during the reign of Queen Victoria was a huge success and lifted the spirits of the nation and so at the end of WW2 it seemed a good idea to stage another exhibition, a Festival of Britain – 1951, to raise morale and to show the strengths and greatness of the country. Michael O'Connell, (1898 to 1976) a Textile Artist who spent 17 years working in Australia, made a textile for the Festival of Britain, showing scenes of farming life from around the British Isles. The textile has been restored and one of the (3 x 5m) panels will be on display when the Museum re-opens.


Sloughroots quilt projectSloughroots Quilt project
Sloughroots, ‘Remedies-Remembered’ participants, funded by the Heritage Lottery, got involved in a quilt project, when they visited MERL in 2014. The women worked with Jane McCutchan to produce 20 art panels that reflect their feelings, colours, cultures, interests and values.




Jane MJane McCutchan 
Textile Artist Jane McCutchan holds a Barnett Bequest Fellowship at MERL and uses our collections to investigate ‘distance selling’, a comparative study of the marketing strategies of Singer sewing machines and Fowler ploughing engines. She has a doctorate from the University of Reading specialising in agricultural steam mechanisation.




Ashley Family Foundation logoThe Ashley Family Foundation
We would like to thank the The Ashley Family Foundation for supporting this project. The Foundation promotes the family’s passion for strengthening rural and particularly Welsh communities, in both social and environmental aspects. It seeks to support and promote traditional values that helped the family develop the Laura Ashley brand into an international success.


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