One of the finest textile collections in the UK goes on display at Gawthorpe Hall

Ruth Singer's Emotional Repair exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall, Burnley

Ruth Singer's Emotional Repair exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall, Burnley - Credit: Joanne Withers

A stitch in time can help heal minds, as an exhibition opening this month in Burnley proves. Paul Mackenzie reports

In recent years ‘Wellbeing’ has become a trendy watchword for everything to do with our mental and physical health. Open any newspaper or magazine (yes, even this one) and it won’t be long before you’re reading about happiness, de-stressing and ways to boost your wellness.

In the last few months, grand claims have been made for the improvements that walking, laughing and even colouring-in can make to your state-of-mind. But while this may seem like a recent fad, it’s nothing new – a century ago, a young woman from Burnley was extolling the virtue of craft as a way of enhancing wellbeing.

Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth was just nine years old when she started to amass what is now one of the finest collections of textiles in the country. By the time of her death in 1967, the collection included more than 30,000 items and it is now on display at her ancestral home, Gawthorpe Hall.

Jenny Waterson is the curator with the Gawthorpe Textile Collection and she said: ‘It was her personal vision and she was a real expert maker herself so she knew what she was collecting. She was very concerned that people should not be distanced from making and the benefits it can bring; the wellbeing and happiness that come from making.

‘Wellbeing is a common phrase these days but no-one was thinking like that a century ago and Miss Rachel was very early in thinking that way.

‘The collection was started when she was young but most of the pieces were collected in her later years. It is a very impressive collection, with textiles spanning five centuries, from the 16th century to the present day and from around the world and there have been some additions to the collection since her death.’

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Miss Rachel as she is known, was a friend of the Baden-Powells and lobbied for the Boy Scouts movement to be extended to girls. She was the first County Commissioner for the Girl Guides in Lancashire and a contributor to the movement on a national level, drawing designs for banners, guide badges and samplers. She was also last year voted into second place in our poll to find the greatest ever Lancastrian.

The textile collection she put together has inspired a new exhibition which will open at Gawthorpe Hall this month. Jenny, a former student of the Royal College of Art who has worked with the collection for five years, added: ‘We like to stage contemporary textile exhibitions alongside the two or three hundred historical items from our collection.

‘The Emotional Repair exhibition by Ruth Singer is her response to the collection and to losing a close family member, her aunt. The exhibition is about coming to terms with loss and the act of making, of how slow, meditative stitching can help calm a troubled mind and channel energies into creative means.’

The Emotional Repair exhibition runs from March 28 to June 24. Gawthorpe Textiles Collection at Gawthorpe Hall, Burnley Road, Padiham, BB12 8UA (sat nav BB12 8SD). 01282 773963,, Open Wednesday-Sunday 12-5pm. Hall entry charges apply.