Louisa Frances Pesel (1870-1947)
From 1870* to 1900: Born in Bradford, the eldest of five daughter of Quakers Frederick Robert (an oil merchant) and his wife Isabella, Louisa Frances Pesel was educated at Bradford Girls’ Grammar School, and went on to study design at the Royal College of Art (London) under Lewis Foreman Day. In 1900 she won a silver medal at the Women’s Exhibition, Earls Court for the design of an embroidered panel. *census record for 1881 states 1871
From 1901 to 1910: On Lewis Day’s recommendation, Pesel was appointed Designer (and subsequently Director) at the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Lace in Athens (1903-1907). Whilst in Greece she attended an International Archaeological Congress (1905) and visited relatives in India (1906-07), and also Egypt. In 1907 she was received by the King and Queen of Greece. After returning to England in 1908 to look after her parents, she became a member of the Guild of Embroiderers and Inspector in Art Needlework for the Board of Education. In 1910 she was commissioned by the Victoria and Albert Museum to produce a series of samples of historic English embroidery stitches.
From 1911 to 1920: In 1912 and 1913 Pesel had three portfolio publications commissioned by the V&A Museum: ‘Stitches from Old English Embroidery’ (based on the original samplers), ‘Stitches in Eastern Embroideries’ and ‘Stitches in Western Embroideries’. She also gave lectures on embroidery stitches at the V&A, and at other institutions such as the West Riding Needlecraft Association, the Colour Council and the Egyptian Exploration Fund. During World War One she worked with Belgian refugees in Bradford, and after she formed the Bradford Khaki Club for shell-shocked soldiers, teaching embroidery as occupational therapy.
In 1914 Pesel was given an award of honour by the Worshipful Company of Broiderers (a gold chatelaine), and was, in 1920, elected President of the Guild of Embroiderers. She moved to Weymouth, Dorset.
From 1921 to 1930: In the 1920s and 1930s Pesel published several article series on stitching, for example in The Morning Post ‘Some hints on embroidery’ and The Queen ‘Needlework carpets’. In 1929 she published ‘Practical Canvas Embroidery’. She moved to Twyford, Hampshire, continuing to teach embroidery, including to the wives of the unemployed through a scheme called ‘Yew Tree Industries’.
From 1931 to 1940: In 1931 Pesel published two books on ‘English Embroidery’ and founded the Winchester Cathedral Broiderers. The Cathedral Dean and Chapter gave her the title Mistress of Embroiderers in 1938. She worked with Sybil Blunt on designs for the kneelers. Pesel moved to The White House in Winchester in 1934, where she resided for the rest of her life. Here she grew Irises, her other great love, and co-published ‘Iris growing for amateurs’ in 1937 (she won a RHS award in 1942 for her contribution to the genus). Another publication followed in 1938: ‘Leaves from my Embroidery Book’.
From 1941 to 1947: Pesel was involved in sending craft kits out to POWS in Red Cross parcels. She also taught sewing to evacuated school girls in Winchester.
April 1947: Louisa Pesel dies aged 77.
1948 to 1949: Louisa Pesel first gave her publications to Leeds University Library (no doubt based on the University’s high standing in textiles education), and later bequeathed her collections to the University. After her death the University first exhibited her books (1948), then held an exhibition in the Textiles Department of her textiles in 1949.
March 1962: The Embroiderers’ Guild held an exhibition of her work in London, and published a biography in their Embroidery journal.
From June 1976: The Collection was offered from the Library to the Department of Textiles, and since 2004 has been part of the ULITA Collections (now International Textile Collection). The Archive exhibited her collection in 2005/06.
2012: ULITA won the Textile Society Conservation Award to repackage the Louisa Pesel manuscript and photographic Archive to prevent further damage and make it easier to access. A working handlist of the archive is available on request.
- Archive collection of Louisa Pesel, including published articles.
- Embroidery Magazine 1963 Vol.13 No.1 pp18-20.
- Marsh, G. (2011) Early 20th Century Embroidery Techniques. Guild of Master Craftsman Publications. pp92-94.
There are several Pesel publications available in Leeds University Library.
Greensted, M. (2011) Greek craft workshops and their links with the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain. in The Decorative Arts Society Journal, Vol.35.
French, A. (2012) But what can the museum do to encourage embroidery? Museums, collectors and embroidery. in Kettle, A. & McKeating, J. (2012) Hand stitch perspectives. London: Bloomsbury. pp164-175.
Telegraph & Argus, Bradford. (1 July 2006) Bradford woman who stitched her way into Queen’s heart.
For The Winchester Cathedral Broderers see
Edwards, J. (1975) ‘A St Swithun’s Day Enterprise’ in Crewel Embroidery in England. London, Batsford.
Carbonell, D. & Carey, H. (1982) Winchester Cathedral Embroideries. The Friends of Winchester Cathedral.