Plots & Spangles

Exhibitions Historical textiles shows and workshops

'The single most important body of work by a named Englishwoman in early modern times.' Mistress Helena Wintour was only six years old when her father, Robert and uncle, Thomas were hung, drawn and quartered in 1606 for their involvement in the gunpowder plot. Her life was subsequently dedicated to Catholicism with embroidery as her daily act of devotion. hh Through her lavishly embroidered priest’s vestments Helena Wintour was able to communicate her religious, social and political agency. Although it is known that Helena did take some quite serious physical and active measures in the name of Catholicism ­– she harboured priests at her home; a crime punishable by death – arguably her embroidered work was her greatest weapon. AC_PlotsandSpangles_1 In signing each of her embroidered pieces with her initials or family crest, Helena was again risking her personal security in honour of her faith. By literally connecting herself with these tremendous works, Helena was registering their formal and activist values whilst also, inadvertently leading the way in terms of women as individuals being credited with works such as these. AC_PlotsandSpangles_11 These embroidered liturgical vestments by Helena Wintour in the 17th century will be on display for the first time in over 340 years at Auckland Castle in County Durham. The show will also include a number of extremely significant contextual objects, such as Shakespeare’s first folio, the relic of a Catholic eye ball and the lantern carried by Guy Fawkes. Plots & Spangles: The Embroidered Vestments of Helena Wintour 16th October - 11 April 2016 Read more about the roles of religion, politics and gender in the evolution of Northern European textile traditions in the upcoming Migration issue of Selvedge.


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  • Christine Bell on

    Thanks so much for sharing this information about embroiderer Helena Wintour. She was a brave and talented woman from whom we can all learn.

  • Terry White on

    It is wonderful to see such powerful work by such a committed needle artist. I am inspired. Thank you for sharing this amazing work with us.

  • Gail Harker on

    Thank you for the tremendous photographs of Gold Work by Helena Wintour

  • Audrey Winkler on

    Such beauty created with needle and thread.Obviously a labour of love, and yet defiant about her faith, risking all by signing it.

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