The Needle’s Art, 2021

‘Once, there was a young woodsman with a fine cap upon his head…’

As part of The Needle’s Art exhibition taking place at the Bodleian Libraries (20/11/21 – 30/01/22), we have performed and filmed six stories (three short etymological stories and three full-length narrative stories). The exhibition is a display of contemporary embroidery produced by the students of Ornamental Embroidery and inspired by the 16th century Tudor pattern book, MS. Ashmole 1504, containing stylized pictures of trees, plants and animals.

Much like the contemporary embroideries featured in the exhibition, each of our six stories has been devised by using MS. Ashmole 1504. We’ve scoured the manuscript for our favourite settings and characters and then used those as the building blocks to create our very own, Tudor-style stories. We’ve got foolish wishes, ferocious beasts, folklore remedies and fearless heroes!

The three shorter stories (>1 minute) are traditional etymologies of flora and fauna featured in the manuscript.

Foxgloves (told by Howard Horner)

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Swan Song (told by Will Mead)

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Belladonna (told by Louise Farnall)

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The Woodsman and the Wishes (told by Howard Horner) – Granted three wishes, a woodsman soon learns to be careful what he wishes for. Inspired by the fairy-tale Les Souhaits Ridicules, first recorded by Charles Perrault in the 17th Century.

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Orsa in the Forest (told by Will Mead) – Orsa has never felt comfortable among the villagers of the Grove; her true home is the forest that surrounds it. But an atrocity soon forces her to pick a side, once and for all.

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The Beast of the Bounds (told by Louise Farnall) – It is young Jack’s first time beating the bounds, an ancient ritual to mark and memorise each villager’s land. But he soon finds that more than men and women walk those boundaries.

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Each of the three longer stories (5-7 minutes) is accompanied by a bespoke colouring-book page designed by Nicola Jarvis Studio:

Now it’s your turn – explore the manuscript, choose your favourite illustrations, and use them to create something yourself, whether that’s stitching, drawing or storytelling!

Cast and Creatives:

Director: Hayley Russell

Producer: Andrew Hulse

Composer & Musician: David Denyer

Storytellers: Howard Horner, Louise Farnall, Will Mead

Cinematography: Andrew Hulse & Hayley Russell

Animation and Design: Hayley Russell

Etymology Text: Andrew Hulse

Colouring Book Pages: Nicola Jarvis (Nicola Jarvis Studio)

With thanks to the Bodleian Library, Ornamental Embroidery and the Helen Hamlyn Trust.