The names of many of Watts & Co.’s vestment styles and fabrics are inspired by saints, including the Neri chasuble, the St Nicolas damask, and the St John damask, to name but a few. Many of the special designs which decorate items of clerical dress are also directly inspired by saints. These embroidered emblems draw upon motifs which range from medieval Church items to 19th century needlework, reflecting the historical aesthetic vision of the company’s founders, George Frederick Bodley, Thomas Garner, and George Gilbert Scott Jr.
Pictured here are Watts & Co.’s Holy Name vestments. The fabric, St John damask, was developed in 2014 by Watts & Co.’s former creative director, Mr Gazeley, using a Pugin chasuble originally designed in Australia which had been loaned to Watts. Mr. Gazeley reworked the chasuble to emphasise the international nature and appeal of Pugin’s work: the orphrey and IHS embroidery are English in origin, and the floral motif from the antique chasuble has been reworked with the wildflower St John’s wort in mind. The flower was chosen both because of its delicacy, which suited the small pattern of the original Pugin fabric, and in order to dedicate the vestments to St John.
Pictured is a detail from a stole belonging to Watts’ St Thérèse collection which pays tribute to St Thérèse of Lisieux. St Thérèse was a Carmelite nun from Normandy who entered the convent very young and died at 24. During her life, she was a humble and inconsequential religious woman; however, after her death, her short autobiography ‘The Story of a Soul’ attained posthumous acclaim. Owing to the simplicity and practicality of her spiritual way of life, she is now one of the most popular Roman Catholic saints, widely known as ‘The Little Flower’. The delicate floral embroidery on this stole is inspired by this appellation.
Medieval iconography appears in a number of Watts & Co.’s special items. Pictured is an archive embroidery piece from Watts & Co.’s showroom, depicting an angel bearing incense; this motif is also known as thurifer angel. Although this embroidery dates from the early 20th century, the thurifer was an image typically seen in the early medieval period. The image of the Phoenix was relatively common in the High Middle Ages as a symbol of the Resurrection; here, an early 20th century phoenix embroidery is pictured on a recent silk chasuble, after having been restored and remounted.
Pictured here is an embroidered design depicting St George and the Dragon, taken from the green High Altar Frontal of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Legend has it that St George’s face is based upon that of the young Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, who is buried in the Chapel. The main body of the frontal is in Watts’ green Gothic silk damask, and this embroidery is worked onto Japanese or ‘Japonica’ silk, an original Watts fabric with a small, intricate pattern. Though no longer woven, the fabric is a memorable part of Watts’ historical designs.
Bodley, Garner, and Gilbert Scott Jr.’s artistic synthesis of architectural styles continues to be reflected in the company’s work today: many embroidered motifs which were inspired by medieval designs are reworked and applied onto recently developed fabrics. The religious core of the clerical items is heralded both in name and in style.