The Story of the Savernake Embroidery

An approach was made to Marlborough and District Embroiderers’ Guild in 2015 to make a piece of embroidery to hang in the new building of the Prospect Hospice Outreach Centre at Savernake Hospital Marlborough.

The choice of poem (see below) was made by the original committee of three who recognised its connection to the Savernake Forest.  Its title is ‘All These I Learnt’ by Robert Byron 1905-1941, poet and traveller, who sometimes lived at Savernake Lodge in the Forest.  His memorial is in the churchyard of Christ Church, Cadley as he was lost at sea during the Second World War off northern Scotland and has no grave.  The poem was read by Prince Charles for National Poetry Day on BBC Radio 4 in 2006.  As it celebrates Spring, Summer and Autumn most particularly these are the seasons that were chosen for the design and a purely figurative style of illustration was chosen to create a sense of peace, serenity and reflection.

The base is painted calico. The silk fabrics are Crepeline, Habotai, and Dupion.  The fabrics were all hand dyed or painted. The hand stitching was done in mostly Coats Anchor threads.  The machine stitching was mostly done with Mettler threads.  The silk threads were Mulberry silks and Devere Yarns.  The pieces were individually drawn and painted by Margaret Heath and the silk fabrics added.  The choice of threads were made and then they were handed out to members with instructions for stitches to be used.  A narrow choice of stitches was used, stem long and short, running, seed, chain, French knot and fly stitch, for hand stitching. Free machining in straight and zig zag stitch.

By late spring the first individual pieces were ready to be taken home to be worked. There are over 70 individual pieces, two large trees, three butterflies and the stitched background.
Once the individual pieces were all returned they were appliquéd on to the background and blended together. The stitching started in late spring 2016. 

Over 30 members took part. Work also took place at Stitch Days in Kennet Valley Hall, Lockeridge and latterly in member’s houses.  It took just over 4 years from first plans to last stitch.  Framing was done by Steven Hible at Right Angle Framing, Corsham.

The Embroidery was unveiled on the afternoon of Monday 20 January 2020 by the Hospice President, HRH Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at the Prospect Hospice, Wroughton.   Yvonne Miles read the poem, ‘All These I Learnt’ and a group of branch members were presented to the Duchess. Margaret Heath explained the story behind the project and the techniques used.

All These I Learnt – Robert Bryon

​If I have a son, he shall salute the lords and ladies who unfurl green hoods to the March rains, and shall know them afterwards by their scarlet fruit. He shall know the celandine, and the frigid, sightless flowers of the woods, spurge and spurge laurel, dogs’ mercury, wood-sorrel and queer four-leaved herb-paris fit to trim a bonnet with its purple dot. He shall see the marshes gold with flags and kingcups and find shepherd’s purse on a slag-heap. He shall know the tree-flowers, scented lime-tassels, blood-pink larch-tufts, white strands of the Spanish chestnut and tattered oak-plumes. He shall know orchids, mauve-winged bees and claret-coloured flies climbing up from mottled leaves. He shall see June red and white with ragged robin and cow parsley and the two campions. He shall tell a dandelion from sow thistle or goat’s beard. He shall know the field flowers, lady’s bedstraw and lady’s slipper, purple mallow, blue chicory and the cranesbills – dusky, bloody, and blue as heaven. In the cool summer wind he shall listen to the rattle of harebells against the whistle of a distant train, shall watch clover blush and scabious nod, pinch the ample veitches, and savour the virgin turf. He shall know grasses, timothy and wag-wanton, and dust his finger-tips in Yorkshire fog. By the river he shall know pink willow-herb and purple spikes of loosestrife, and the sweetshop smell of water-mint where the rat dives silently from its hole. He shall know the velvet leaves and yellow spike of the old dowager, mullein, recognise the whole company of thistles, and greet the relatives of the nettle, wound-wort and hore-hound, yellow rattle, betony, bugle and archangel. In autumn, he shall know the hedge lanterns, hips and haws and bryony. At Christmas he shall climb an old apple-tree for mistletoe, and know whom to kiss and how.

He shall know the butterflies that suck the brambles, common whites and marbled white, orange-tip, brimstone, and the carnivorous clouded yellows. He shall watch fritillaries, pearl-bordered and silver-washed, flit like fireballs across the sunlit rides. He shall see that family of capitalists, peacock, painted lady, red admiral and the tortoiseshells, uncurl their trunks to suck blood from bruised plums, while the purple emperor and white admiral glut themselves on the bowels of a rabbit. He shall know the jagged comma, printed with a white c, the manx-tailed iridescent hair-streaks, and the skippers demure as charwomen on Monday morning. He shall run to the glint of silver on a chalk-hill blue – glint of a breeze on water beneath an open sky – and shall follow the brown explorers, meadow brown, brown argus, speckled wood and ringlet. He shall see death and revolution in the burnet moth, black and red, crawling from a house of yellow talc tied half-way up a tall grass. He shall know more rational moths, who like the night, the gaudy tigers, cream-spot and scarlet, and the red and yellow underwings. He shall hear the humming-bird hawk moth arrive like an air-raid on the garden at dusk, and know the other hawks, pink sleek-bodied elephant, poplar, lime, and death’s head. He shall count the pinions of the plume moths, and find the large emerald waiting in the rain-dewed grass.

All these I learnt when I was a child and each recalls a place or occasion that might otherwise be lost. They were my own discoveries. They taught me to look at the world with my own eyes and with attention. They gave me a first content with the universe. Town-dwellers lack this intimate content, but my son shall have it!

Members of Marlborough & District Embroiderers Guild who were involved with the creation of the Savernake Embroidery
​Margaret Heath (designer and manager)
Claire Allott
Jackie Bagg
Barbara Barr
Deena Beverley
Julie Burchett
Maureen Bull
Vernice Church
Chris Cook
Gwen Earl
Susan Ford
Maria Fraser
Jean Freakley
Margaret Gow
Stella Hall
Ann Hastie
Rosemary Hawes
Christine Hill
Sally James
Ann Johnson
Judy Joiner
Diana King
Ann Kingdon
Lorrain Lockwood
Ros Lomas
Yvonne Miles
Hazel Morris
Stephanie Nichols
Hazel Partridge
Audrey Peck
Cathy Pollard
Clare Russell
Lindsay Sherwood
Ann Smith
Jane Smith
Susanne Stedman
Linda Wells
Sarah Wicks