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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Lady Evelyn Stewart Murray and Phoebe Anna Traquair

Our morning destination, Blair Castle.was only a 20 minute drive away. In contrast to yesterday, the sun was out this morning as we left our hotel - the Atholl Palace (built as part of the hydropathic 
movement of the 1870s).
As you might guess from the view over the car park as we left, there is a sports car club rally here this weekend.
We had an appointment at 9.30 with Jane Anderson, the Blair Castle archivist and made it in comfortable time.
Jane told us the story of Lady Evelyn Stewart Murray (1868-1940), daughter of the 7th Duke of Atholl and Louisa Moncrieffe. Lady Evelyn suffered illnesses in her teen years, including diphtheria and depression. She was tutored in, and spoke, Perthshire Gaelic, but her parents were apparently unimpressed when she spent her time talking Gaelic to the tenants and gathering their stories into a book instead of 'coming out' and presenting herself as a prospective wife on the court circuit. Her story collection has only recently been published in English and Gaelic.
Eventually, she was sent abroad with a companion to break this undesirable pattern of behaviour, but she got interested in lace and embroidery and stayed away for decades studying, collecting and perfecting her own embroidery skills.

Blair Castle has a phenomenal collection of lace and embroidery - some of it done by Lady Evelyn and some of it collected by her. She was caught in Belgium in WWI and, although safe, suffered some deprivation and continuous illness. She returned to England after the war and lived with her younger brother who ensured the preservation of her needlework after her death in 1940. It was terrific to hear this story from the castle archivist who had so much knowledge of the primary sources and such a depth of expertise.

We were priveledged to see many samples of both her work and her collection. Many of the pieces are almost unimaginably fine. We needed magnifying glasses to see the stitches.  There are also, throughout the house, samplers, fire screens, bedspreads and clothing made, or collected by several generations of women of the family. There is a brief account of her life in print and also a book, now out of print, on her embroidery. The photo on the cover of the latter is of a piece of Lady Evelyn's work on display in the castle.
The house is well organised for visitors. After our time with the embroideries and curator we had plenty of time to tour the house and grounds - and to listen to the piper who played at 11am, 12 noon and 1pm - as our coach was departing. I have not lost my love of pipe music.

Most of us chose to be dropped in Pitlochry on the way back, where we explored the shops and grabbed something for lunch - in my case soup from one of the pubs.
Many of us, myself included, visited the heather jewellery factory. Heather jewellery is made from dried heather, collected in bundles, stripped of its bark, coloured with naturally-occurring local dies, compressed, sliced, cut and set. Some of the results are very beautiful. I have been very restrained about shopping on this trip. I need to be shedding 'stuff', not adding to it, but I did indulge in a piece of heather jewellery. 
In the late afternoon we did another class. I worked with Meredith on the Phoebe Anna Traquair piece. We began the birds, and I did a little more of the leaf crouching. I love the way the coaching settles and flattens the underneath layer.
After dinner, Meredith made a presentation on the work of Phoebe Anna Traquair. I think we are all entranced - and so pleased to have, in a small way, got to know something about the extraordinary woman and artist. It is exciting to discover an artist and a body of work with which I was totally unfamiliar. I really want to talk about her work with the Embroiderers' Guild in Sourh Australia - and also to see if there are other embroiderers whose work could similarly inspire. Learning of such women in one day is mind blowing.

 No visits tomorrow. I'm looking forward to relaxed stitching.


  1. Another mind blowing day! (Just wait while I put my yoghurt down.) Wonderful to hear of these women. Glad you treated yourself to some heather jewelry . Vivienne

  2. Wow. How beautiful the scenery and castle. I am looking to hear more of these women when you return.

  3. What a lovely purchase! It will be a great talking piece when you wear it out.