Originating from a collection once seen as the best of its type outside of the V&A in London, the International Textile Collection (ITC) features in a new display at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. On show are some of the most exquisite and colourful items in the collection, celebrating it joining the Leeds University Library’s Special Collections.

The collection has a long history stretching back to the foundation of the University itself in the 1880s. Around this time, professors at the Yorkshire College, later to become the University of Leeds in 1904, began to collect European fabric samples, compiling these into pattern books and folios to use as teaching resources for students of woven textile design.

In 1898 it was described as becoming a collection of “ancient and modern fabrics of a decorative character”. With donations in the early twentieth century from China, India and Egypt, an international theme emerged.

“Fabrics of a Decorative Character”: Introducing the International Textile Collection, exhibition at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. Image credit University of Leeds

One of the most significant benefactors to the ITC was Louisa Frances Pesel (1870-1947), a distinguished scholar, practitioner and educator in the art of embroidery. Born in Bradford, and studying under the Arts and Crafts Movement practitioner Lewis Foreman Day, in 1903 she became the Director of the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens. She was later elected the first president of the Embroiderers Guild of England, and appointed Mistress of Broderers of Winchester Cathedral in 1938.

Pesel’s collection, which she bequeathed to the University of Leeds in 1947, consists of several hundred embroidered items that she both collected and created. Pesel travelled extensively in the early twentieth century and this is reflected in her bequest. The majority of the pieces she collected are of Turkish and Greek island origin, while others are from Morocco, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Western Europe.

The ITC also holds Pesel’s own created works and samples, many produced for teaching purposes, including her ‘models’ for Winchester Cathedral. Her extensive archival collection of notebooks, photographs, articles and designs complement the textiles.

Models created by Louisa Pesel, 1932. Image credit University of Leeds

Earlier this month, the Galleries were joined by international best-selling author Tracy Chevalier, who delivered a fascinating talk giving insight into her latest novel ‘A Single Thread’. The ITC, and Pesel’s archive, provided a huge amount of inspiration for Chevalier, with Louisa Pesel actually starring as a character in the new book.

Louisa Pesel’s collection is just one of many on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, so visit before the 7th December to discover the rich and varied International Textile Collection.

“Fabrics of a Decorative Character”: Introducing the International Textile Collection is on display now at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery and runs until 7 December 2019. Entry is free.

Monday: 1 – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm