Pesel, Louisa (1870-1947)

Louisa Pesel, 1870-1947, photographed in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. Louisa Pesel, 1870-1947, photographed in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent.

Louisa Frances Pesel (1870-1947) was born in Bradford (W. Yorkshire, England), the daughter of Bradford merchant Frederick Robert Pesel and his wife, Isabella. She was educated at Bradford Girls’ Grammar School. Louisa Pesel was a distinguished scholar, practitioner and teacher of the art of embroidery.

She studied art and design at the Royal College of Art (London), specialising in decorative stitchery, under the Arts and Crafts Movement practitioner, Lewis Foreman Day. In 1900 her work won a silver medal at the Women’s Exhibition, Earl’s Court (London), for an embroidered panel design

Shortly afterwards, Day recommended her for the post of designer at the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces, in Athens, Greece. During her time at the school she worked closely with Lady Olga Egerton, who had helped to set up the institute. In 1903 she was appointed Director of the School. According to a contemporary report in The Times (London), the school was considered important enough for the British royal family to visit during their stay in Greece for the 1906 Athens Interim Olympic Games. Pesel returned to England in 1907 and became an inspector with the Board of Education. In 1908 she helped to set up the West Riding branch of the Needlework Association (which became the Embroiderers’ Guild in 1920).

In 1910 she was commissioned by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) to produce a series of samples of historic English embroidery stitches. This commission led to three portfolio publications: Stitches from Old English Embroidery, Stitches in Eastern Embroideries and Stitches in Western Embroideries.

In 1914 Pesel was given an award of honour by the Worshipful Company of Broiderers for all her work. During the First World War (1914-1918) Pesel worked, among other things, with the Bradford Khaki Handicrafts Club, Bradford, for shell-shocked soldiers. She was later involved in assembling embroidery kits for prisoners of war during the Second World War (1939-1945). These were sent to the POW’s in Europe via the Red Cross.

In 1920 Pesel was elected the first President of the Embroiderers’ Guild of England. She moved to Winchester, Hampshire, in 1932 where she started work at Winchester Cathedral. She was responsible for training a team to produce the Winchester cathedral embroideries, which included 360 kneelers, 62 stall cushions and 96 alms bags. In 1934, Queen Mary went to Winchester Cathedral for a personal viewing of the embroideries. Four years later Pesel was appointed Mistress of Broiderers of Winchester Cathedral. Her work at the Cathedral is regarded as a lasting testimony to her considerable influence on cathedral and church embroideries. The collection was still in use at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Pesel published numerous books and articles on embroidery history, design and stitching. Even today her books, especially those of foreign stitch construction, are sought after by anyone studying embroidery. She travelled extensively in many countries, including Egypt and India, collecting textiles and recording designs and techniques; and was associated with other textile academics and practitioners, including the Egyptologist Professor P.E. Newberry and the archaeologist and textile collector, A.J.B. Wace. She died in 1947 and her publications and textile collections were bequeathed to the University of Leeds with the wish that they would provide future study material for students of embroidery. These items are now held at ULITA Archive of International Textiles.


Digital source of illustration (retrieved 1 July 2016).


Last modified on Sunday, 20 November 2016 19:05