Helen Cresswell

History of Design

Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth, Bedspread (detail), 1937–67

Crewel line stitch embroidery on linen

202 x 244 cm

Title of Dissertation: The Craft House – Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth and feminine textile initiatives, 1912–1967

This thesis explores how women create cultural networks through textiles, in an examination of the collecting and craft activities of Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth (1886–1967). Her ‘Craft House’ was conceived as a place of practice that would provide creative and spiritual nourishment to her local neighbourhood of Padiham and Burnley in Lancashire. In 1953 this lifetime project was finally realised through the installation of her craft collections within the Shuttleworth family home. Collecting mainly textiles, her collections demonstrated centuries of female domestic making; dismissed as ‘tat’ by the collector’s father, the Craft House transformed these objects into working tools, intended to inspire, instruct and improve potential craft practice. Examples of Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth’s own making, like the bedspread pictured, were displayed and handled within this feminine textile initiative. Acting as a self-appointed cultural conduit of the craft ideology promoted by W R Lethaby and the Arts and Crafts Movement, Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth validated the worth of women’s work and encouraged feminine empowerment through textile craft.

Using extensive research conducted at this little-known collection and archive, this dissertation examines the reasons for this woman’s absence from histories of craft and collecting. My research demonstrates how Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth fashioned a matriarchal role through her textile collecting and making, and reveals how this figure positioned herself and her craft initiative within a multiplicity of feminine networks.

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© The Gawthorp Textiles Collection, Trustees of the Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth Collections



BA (Hons), Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Oxford, 2006


Student representative, The Textile Society, 2011 to present; Column editor, Unmaking Things: A Design History Studio, 2011 to present; Cataloger and researcher, The Contemporary Embroidery Collection of Diana Springall, 2011 to present


'Handmade Tales: Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth as Collector, Maker and Performer of Textiles and her Craft House Vision for Gawthorpe Hall', CHORD Workshop on 'Dress, Textiles and Heritage', University of Wolverhampton, 2012; 'Navigation Tools? Negotiating the 1862 International Exhibition Through Guides and Ground-Plans', Ruth Mason and Christy Woody, Internationality on Display: Revisiting the 1862 International Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2012