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18 September 2020

Louisa Pesel (1870-1947), one of the most influential women in the history of embroidery, was another Bradford Girls' Grammar School alumna. She then studied textile design at the National Art Training School (later the Royal College of Art) and worked in Athens, at the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Lace, becoming Director in 1903. During this period she travelled widely, including to India, where she collected textiles and embroidery techniques. In 1907 she returned to Bradford (to keep house for her parents (as was the way) and helped set up the West Riding branch of the Needlework Association. In 1910 the V & A commissioned her to produce a series of samples of historic English embroidery stitches. During the First World War she taught embroidery to Belgian refugees in Bradford and to wounded soldiers as a form of occupational therapy. In 1922 she left Bradford and moved to Hampshire where she continued to teach embroidery to the unemployed. She also oversaw the embroidery of cushions and kneelers at Winchester Cathedral: hundreds of volunteers worked on this from 1932-6  producing 360 kneelers, 62 stall cushions, 34 bench cushions and 96 alms bags. In 1938 Louise Pesel was appointed Mistress of Broderers at the Cathedral and remained in Winchester for the rest of her life. Now she has been immortalised as 'Violet Speedwell' in Tracy Chevalier's 2019 novel A Single Thread, a fascinating tribute to a fascinating woman. Our information about Louisa comes from Colin Neville's Lesser-Known Artists of the Bradford District but the best evocation of her life and career is in the novel and on Tracy Chevalier's excellent website, from which this picture is taken: the novel is a superb portrait of just one of the path-breaking daughters of Bradford.

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