Armagh County Museum salutes master embroidery in Through the eye of a Needle

By Culture24 Reporter | 16 September 2011
A photo of an old stitching machine
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Exhibition: Through the eye of a Needle, Armagh County Museum, Armagh, until April 2012

“This is a wonderful exhibition which examines how a tiny tool has played a huge role in our history,” says Valerie Wilson, the curator behind this celebration of the humble sewing needle and the impact it had on a city production line with recipients included Marks and Spencer and Harrods.

“Essentially, the exhibition takes the visitor on a journey which explains the textile skills and products all made possible because of the needle. It’s an exhibition which I’m sure will fill people with a new appreciation for this staple household tool.”

The star attractions on display might just be from the old factory of Mercer and Brown, a Lurgan textile firm which spent more than 60 years manufacturing Swiss embroidered handkerchiefs for retailers between 1899 and 1960.

As well as keeping well-to-do Londoners free of sniffles, local workers also made hats, hat pins, beaded bags and pin cushions, appearing here alongside hand-drawn designs and a perforating machine which once transferred their designs onto cloth.

“It was fascinating to discover just how many items could not have been made without the invention of the needle,” admits fellow curator Greer Ramsey.

“The Museum received a donation of hundreds of beautifully hand drawn illustrations from Mercer and Brown which show the work that went into their products.

“Workers were paid per 100 stitches and in the early 1930s a single pattern might have included several thousand – it’s a world away from the paper hankies we use today.”

An embroidered smoking cap for a Victorian gentleman and a beautifully made silk corset, tightly laced to give the wearer a miniscule 20-inch waist, are also on show.

“We begin with the story of needle-making in the 19th century and examine the link with industrial history, applied art and contemporary development of traditional needlework skills,” adds Wilson.

“Our exhibits range from 1760 to 2009, from a single needle to a superbly beaded 1920s dress.”

  • Open 10am-5pm (except Sunday, 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm Saturday). Admission free.
More pictures from the show:
A photo of an old stitching machine next to parcels
Sewing machines from the region's industrial past© National Museums Northern Ireland
A photo of an intricate blue cloth embroidery
Chinese designs© National Museums Northern Ireland
A photo of an intricately patterned brown shoe
Shoes, hats, bags and cushions are among the fashionable highlights© National Museums Northern Ireland
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