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Hood in the Wood Exhibition at the Castle Museum

posted 20 Feb 2011, 11:14 by Erica Thomson   [ updated 20 Feb 2011, 11:28 ]

This autumn, some of our members have been involved in helping to create the textile elements of the recently opened Robin Hood exhibition at the Castle Museum. More images from Hilary appear on the Gallery Page

This happened because some of us who are members of both the Guild and Notts DFAS, were already working on a project at Brewhouse Yard. Notts DFAS is part of the National Association of Fine and Decorative Arts, a charity which is concerned with the arts and heritage. As well as providing monthly lectures on the arts, cultural tours and special events, it has a Heritage Volunteer arm which helps with conservation in museums, libraries and stately homes. 

In September a group of us were just completing a Heritage Volunteer project, to clean and make new covers for the collection of historic military uniforms, which is housed at Brewhouse Yard. We were approached by Adrian Davies, the Design Director of the Nottingham City Museums, to see if we could help him by sewing the extensive textile part of a new exhibition he had to design and construct for the Castle. 

I was able to get this started as a new Heritage Volunteer project with NADFAS, but realised that I did not know of enough sewers in our branch so I asked for volunteers from the Embroiderer’s Guild, and ran it as a joint venture.

Sue Spiller, Francine Wilkins, Linda Bray, Sonia Clayton and Chris Baldwin joined the team, and we embarked on a quite new experience. 

We were asked by Adrian to help construct large cushions, patchwork throws, simple costumes, fabric-covered panels, and fabric leaves, flowers and other decorative items for an exhibition based on Robin Hood, intended for a family-orientated, interactive gallery at the Castle.

We worked mainly at Brewhouse Yard, where the design department is based. Adrian provided us with a design brief, based on a picture from the Castle collection- Daniel Maclise’s painting of Robin Hood and King Richard. All the costumes made, for children and adults, were based on this painting, even when Robin was shown in the picture as being dressed in red! We also had information about the flora and fauna likely to be found in Sherwood Forest at the relevant period and used this to help with our creations. 

We needed to make a range of costumes based on the painting - Linda Bray made patterns based on the picture and some sketches provided, in several sizes, suitable for adults and children and these were made up in assorted fabric by the group. These were tunics, hoods, knitted wool ‘chain-mail’ helmets, belts and pouches and some decorative shields. 

Adrian needed to provide the means for children to be able to build dens, and his idea was to construct light-weight panels by covering stiff but light-weight dense foam with fabric- one side with folded and padded brown cotton to look like tree-trunks, the other quilted and padded (and eventually painted)to resemble large stone shapes to represent castle walls, complete with windows. These, by use of Velcro and a special fabric, could be stuck onto a wooden framework built in one corner of the exhibition space, to allow ‘dens’ of various sorts and sizes to be constructed by children. Leaves (quilted and cut out) were later added to the ‘tree’ side. These were difficult and time-consuming to make, but eventually very successful. 

We made large throws in ‘Rustic’ patchwork -large, variously sized pieces in a variety of furnishing fabrics to cover two sofas and a bench, to provide seating. I can only say that regular, square patchwork is simple in comparison to trying to form irregular squares and rectangles, in various weights of fabric, into a piece large enough to cover a sofa! or two in fact. Adrian later added what he called ‘man-stitching’ to these which we hope nobody thinks that we did. 

For the under-fives area, we sewed large panels of green fabric, appliqued with lighter green fabric cut to look like grass. This was then stretched over wooden panels to form the sides of their area.

Great imagination and ingenuity were needed to make three strings of large, felt, foxgloves. Eventually, we also made assorted large green curtains, to suspend across a ceiling area and muslin window curtains. 

This was all very exciting, different and enormous fun. It was also very interesting to see how an exhibition is put together, and the end result, if not fine needlework, is very effective - do go and see it, take your grandchildren and dress up and become one of Robin Hood’s gang. The exhibition is supposed to go on for five years, so you have plenty of time! 

More images from Hilary appear on the Gallery Page

Hilary Olleson February 2011