Ann Macbeth’s Embroideries

Ann Macbeth’s Embroideries

Iconic Glasgow Style

This rare surviving example of a collar by Ann Macbeth, very likely worn by her for a portrait taken in 1900, captures the organic essence and vibrancy of the Glasgow style. It is a highlight in our 12 October Design Since 1860 auction.

An inspiring artist, teacher and women’s rights activist, Ann Macbeth’s embroideries continue to charm and captivate those who set their eyes upon them. Skilfully executed, her work typically features young female figures encased within an array of stylised roundels and openwork banding. However, as a teacher at the School of Art, she continued to uphold Jessie Newbery’s views and encouraged students to explore women’s fashion and artistic dress. This rare surviving example of a collar, very likely worn by her for a portrait taken in 1900, captures the organic essence and vibrancy of the Glasgow style.

In an age of rapid change and industrialisation, Glasgow was transforming into a prosperous city; a model of pioneering design and manufacturing, especially within the shipbuilding and textile industries. Whilst the School of Art’s main focus was to foster fresh young designers to strengthen city’s key trades, the director Fra Newbery equally believed in the importance of nurturing individuality amongst his students. A hub of exciting creative experimentation, Ann Macbeth enrolled at the School in 1897 and immersed herself in this stimulating and progressive environment; a space in which women could actively pursue an artistic career and financial independence.


ANN MACBETH (1875-1948) GLASGOW SCHOOL COLLAR, CIRCA 1900LOT 248 | ANN MACBETH (1875-1948) | GLASGOW SCHOOL COLLAR, CIRCA 1900 | £3,000 - £5,000 + fees


View Lot 248 ⇒


By the late nineteenth century, embroidery was enjoying somewhat of a revival, however, the country’s contribution to the medium was largely machine-made. Handcrafted embroideries were limited to Berlin wool work: sold as ready-made printed designs for the consumer to stitch onto with coloured wools. Unimaginative, laborious and completely lacking in originality, embroidery was reduced to a stereotypical domestic craft of no real artistic merit. With Jessie Newbery at the helm of the School’s Embroidery department, she sought to transform such ideas and teach embroidery as a design subject in a variety of forms, including artistic dress.

Arguably Jessie Newbery’s most talented student, Ann Macbeth’s striking embroideries were a regular feature in The Studio and the present lot was no exception. Well-received and much admired, it was illustrated in the Magazine’s 1908 edition on page 291. The design of this collar illustrates both Newbery and Macbeth’s interest in producing non-restrictive womenswear of an artistic aesthetic. Far removed from the tight-corseted dresses which shaped bodies into the desired aesthetic under a male gaze, Macbeth advocated designs for free-flowing garments that gave way to a natural waistline. Belts, collars and cuffs were a particular focus for the pair since they offered women several options to accessorise a variety of outfits; a highly economical approach to emerging fashions of the day.

As a teacher, taking inspiration from William Morris’ Arts & Crafts ideals, Macbeth encouraged students to be inspired by nature as a source of ideas, a view which is clearly demonstrated in the design of this collar. Filled with friezes of intertwined leaves, petals and stylised rosebuds, Macbeth looks to traditional stitching methods of the past in a bid to achieve an expressive, yet elegant garment; the design of which is entirely original. Whilst Newbery’s earlier pieces take inspiration from the simple and delicate designs of the Renaissance, Macbeth tended to embellish her pieces with elaborate metal clasps and other decorative fastenings. Richly embroidered in brightly coloured threads, her pieces became popular for their practicality as well as their beautiful designs.


LOT 248 | ANN MACBETH (1875-1948) | GLASGOW SCHOOL COLLAR, CIRCA 1900 | £3,000 - £5,000 + fees


In 1908, Macbeth succeeded Newbery as Head of the Needlework and Embroidery Department at the School; she also taught bookbinding and ceramic decoration in the years that followed. Both women designers held strong views that art embroidery should be accessible to all classes and often encouraged the use of cheaper materials in their designs, such as hessian and less expensive silk threads. A champion of honest and original designs, executed with a good level of craftsmanship, her students’ work was both stylistically distinctive and of very high quality.

It must be said that whilst this design of this collar may appear simple to the eye it is deceptively so, as it demands a remarkable level of skill and creativity from the embroiderer. The arrangement of abstracted plant forms and expressive linear patterns come together in perfect symmetry and sit in harmony with the pastel-coloured silk threads chosen. The complexity of the stitching techniques employed also speak to the unique skills and knowledge of the embroiderer. Each component in the design has been worked with a great deal of silk threads and yet every rose bud and petal appears entirely uniform: the expressive stitching no doubt helps the design achieve a certain feeling of weight and energy which brings the piece to life. A careful balance of practicality and beautiful decoration, this rare collar showcases the enchanting designs of Ann Macbeth which were a significant contribution in the evolution of the iconic Glasgow style.



Auction Information



Wednesday 12 October at 10am
Live Online | Edinburgh


View the auction catalogue ⇒




Decorative Arts & Design 


Lyon & Turnbull’s Decorative Arts & Design specialists are renowned for both their knowledge and their sales of artworks conducted from London and Edinburgh and via our live online auctions. Our specialists are experts not only on design from 1860 to the present, but also on current market conditions, an essential combination to any successful auction.


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John Mackie



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