National Needlework Archive

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The Old Chapel Textile Centre in Newbury, home of the National Needlework Archive, offer courses, workshops and exhibitions in sewing, haberdashery,  needlecraft, textiles, embroidery, cross stitch, quilting and textile art. Our shop carries an extensive range of all needlework and sewing products including fabric, threads, wool, zips and patterns. We have an archive of historic textiles and patterns and are home to The Country Wife mural.

After almost 60 years, this 4.5m x 5m stumpwork textile picture is in urgent need of conservation work and volunteers are being trained to undertake the required work, under the supervision of consultant textile conservation specialists. It is anticipated that the project will take three to five years to complete.

The mural is an important resource for the textile community, and involvement in the full range of activities required to help the work of saving the mural is welcomed from any interested volunteers. While all qualified textile conservators are welcome to be involved in this prestigious project on any level, training will also be provided for experienced needleworkers and textile students. The NNA is keen to utilise the educational potential of the project with possible apprenticeships and validated training. On a wider front, volunteers are needed for a wide variety of activities apart from work on the mural itself and programmes will be initiated to involve schools and colleges in the social history aspects of the mural and to encourage interest in textile art and conservation. The mural will be open to the public for viewing throughout all stages of the project.

Professional textile conservators Alison Lister from Bristol, and Janie Lightfoot from London are Consultants for the project, and we welcome Wendy Hickson from Winchester as our resident textile conservator thanks to a grant from the Tanner Trust.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the Country Wife project in any way should contact Wendy Hickson at the National Needlework Archive, preferably by email: countrywife@live.co.uk

The project would like to thank Conservation by Design Ltd for the donation of a conservation vacuum cleaner for use on the mural. Volunteers are now in the process of assessing and initial cleaning of the mural.

Project sponsors include:

Greenham Common Trust

Michell Instruments Ltd., Ely

Conservation by Design, Bedford
The Factory Shop, Lancaster

‘The Country Wife’ textile mural was designed by Constance Howard and was made by her, and some of her students at Goldsmiths College, for the Country Pavilion at the Festival of Britain in 1951.  Many of the craftwork features on the mural were made by members of the WI who were experts in such fields as glove making, canework, and embroidery. At the close of the Festival the mural was given to the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and it was housed at Denman College in Oxfordshire until February 2009 when it was transferred to the WI Collection at The National Needlework Archive.

Constance Howard was a giant in her field, innovative in her own work and inspirational to many generations of textile artists during her time as Head of Department at Goldsmith’s College. ‘The Country Wife’ is not only iconic of its time in terms of style and social content, but also a major example of the work of the twentieth century’s most important textile artist. It is essential that ‘The Country Wife’ is preserved and that it is made accessible to the public. 

Volunteers documenting the picture and using the Conservation by Design vacuum cleaner.

Country Wife Mural

Please note The Country Wife is not always open.
If you definitely want to see the Country Wife it is advisable to book.

Talks about The Country Wife and viewings take place at 11am and 2.30pm on most Old Chapel open days. Please call in advance to ensure access is available on the day you wish to visit.