Phoebe Hart needlework, tapestry, needlepoint

The remarkable stitching of Phoebe Hart


Remarkable Rugs, The Inspirational Art of Phoebe Hart 

I buy a lot of needlework books but it has been a long time since one inspired me like this one about the remarkable stitcher Phoebe Hart.

Who was Phoebe Hart?

Born in America in 1917 Phoebe was brought up in England. In 1929 she attended the newly established Stage Decoration and Design course at the Slade School of Art London. Under the influence of the artist Vladamir Polunin who previously worked on the original productions of Ballet Russes Phoebe developed her artistic talent. PhoebeA

The war years

Soon after the declaration of war in 1939 Phoebe’s husband a naval officer, was killed in action however she remained in England until peace was declared when she moved back to America. On the sea voyage back to the US she met a new friend who invited her to visit Jamaica in the summer, an invitation Phoebe declared “was an encounter that was to change my life”.
She flew to Jamaica in 1946 to stay with her friend and it was there that she met her second husband Herbert Hart.PhoebeB

Jamaica Oh how I love this wonderful country! – Phoebe Hart

The startling beauty of the Caribbean had a profound affect on all aspects of Phoebe’s life. It was here in her new life with Herbert she was first introduced to needlework. Phoebe attended Carawak Crafts a rehabilitation centre for post-tubercular patients who were being taught to embroider domestic linen. Phoebe taught herself embroidery and was soon designing articles for the patients. The design were inspired by the beauty that was all around them, the coral reefs, birds, flowers, fruits and insects of the Caribbean.PhoebeHart6

Her efforts were a great success with a number of the products she designed were sold at Liberty’s of London and given as gifts to the Queen on her visits to Jamaica.

Making rugsIMG_3060

While still based in Jamaica, Phoebe often returned to England to see family and friends. One important friend was Irene Andrews a designer and maker of rugs. Phoebe was inspired by Irene’s work. Back home in Jamaica she started her first project referencing American primitive art. PhoebeHart4The project was a stair carpet! As you do for your first project! She was obviously hooked because a bedroom carpet was her next project.

She soon had buyers for her rugs who were interested in early Americana and over time commissions became more rewarding and fulfilling artistically.

A gifted artist

This book is filled with luscious photos of Phoebe’s extraordinary needlework rugs and wall hangings.

The designs are full of glorious colours and observations of the natural world. It is soon obvious that Phoebe is a gifted artist as well as an innovative stitcher.PhoebeC

Inspiring stitching technique

Perhaps it was that she was self taught that resulted in Phoebe’s unique sewing technique.

There are lots of marvellous close-ups in the book which allow you to see the astonishing details of the techniques she used.

  • Phoebe used acanvas 8 holes to the inch
  • Carpet wool was used for the background and main body with crewel wool for more subtle colours
  • Her technique was to draw onto white sheets of paper
  • Once she was happy with the design she would lay the canvas on top then draw onto the canvas with a permanent pen
  • Photographs were an important aid for Phoebe’s designs especially for commissions of  people’s homes, gardens and portraits of people and animalsPhoebeF
  • Background colours were left to last so she could get the best fit for the colour
  • She used needlepoint with the addition of a Bargello, short and long stitches and a variety of crewel stitching techniques
  • Phoebe worked without a frame as her up/down short and long stitch kept the canvas in shape.

PhoebeEThis all helped the flow of the design and allowed for the delightful details in the rugs.

I encourage those of you interested in any kind of needlework to get a hold of this beautiful book. I’m sure like me, you will be inspired not to make a rug necessarily but perhaps to add a few different stitches to your needlepoint, or it may encourage you to start drawing and begin to stitch your own designs.

Whatever you decide to stitch, enjoy! Phoebe certainly did.

Remarkable Rugs, The Inspirational Art of Phoebe HartPhoebeD by Harriet Hart, available on a variety of online sites and good bookshops.

Double-Barrelled Books 2013

ISBN 978-0-9571500-4-1



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