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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

Queen Victoria’s handiwork

Updated: Jan 12

Alfred Edward Chalon’s 1838 portrait of Victoria wearing a silk embroidered afternoon apron. These were worn to protect a ladies dress during day time activities such as eating or needlework. © 2024 National Portrait Gallery

Queen Victoria is known for her beautiful watercolours, sketches and paintings but it is lesser known that she also embroidered and crocheted gifts for her family and courtiers.

In the Victorian era every woman and young lady was expected to be an accomplished needle worker. Victoria was instructed, much like many young girls of the time in plain and fancy needlework by her beloved governess Baroness Lehzen. Although Victoria's impatience as a young Princess often made lessons difficult she did produce some beautiful work.

Here is an example of Princess Victoria's embroidery from 1830, this is on display at Kensington Palace. I took this photograph in 2019.

© Queen Victoria Revival all rights reserved

Another example believed to be made by a very young Princess Victoria in the 1820's. This is a collar knitted in white cotton thread, if Victoria really made it I wonder how long it took her... her impatience seemed to get the better of her quite often as a child.

© The Museum Of London

Between the ages of 12 and 14, the young princess famously designed and made costumes with her governess for 132 wooden dolls. The dolls were inspired by historical figures, people she knew or characters she saw at the opera and ballet. Victoria took notes and sketched the outfits of the performers on stage. Several of these dolls are on display at Kensington Palace within the exhibition Victoria: A Royal Childhood. The doll named 'Lady Agathina Arnold' which is believed to have been made by Princess Victoria displays messy and rushed stitches compared to a doll labelled 'Mrs Dudley' which was made by her Governess which features pristine stitches.

© The Museum Of London

Victoria continued with her leisurely pursuits of ornamental needlework projects into adulthood as a monarch and eventually a widow. In the mid-19th century, Queen Victoria began to learn to crochet. During the 1845-52 Great Famine in Ireland Queen Victoria promoted crochet lace which was crafted by Irish women struggling to make a living during the famine. She done the same for those struggling to sell Honition lace in the small town in Devon. she wore a flounce of Honition lace on her wedding dress and as a veil, sales began to boom.

By mid 1860 Victoria became fond of spinning and was taught to do so by Countess Blücher.

Queen Victoria at her spinning wheel 1865 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III 2024

The Queen wrote in her journal in 1865: ‘Css. [Countess] Blucher came to my room & showed me how to spin. I am getting on, in spite of a bad wheel & bad flax’.

Victoria enjoyed spinning at the end of a day. On , Febuary 4th 1877 she ends her journal entry with the line “…& I spinning, which I have done daily, & find so pleasant.” The Queen is known to have spun sufficient linen thread for several damask napkins which went on display at the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition, but have since been lost.

The marble statuette was acquired by Queen Victoria for Osborne House. © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III 2024

In 1869 a small statuette was created of Queen Victoria sat at her spinning wheel by Joseph Edgar Boehm, the statutte can still be seen at Osborne House in a class dome. Three versions were created out of bronze, silver and marble

Queen Victoria records the time she sat for the clay model creation on the 22nd of January 1869 - 'After luncheon sat to Mr Boehm for a little statuette of me spinning. He was so quick working in the clay & kept me only a short while.'

© The Museum Of London

We know Queen Victoria continued crocheting and knitting into her later years. Victoria continued to knit cot covers for her numerous grandchildren when they arrived, such as a cot cover knitted for Princess Alice of Albany, daughter of her son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany and Princess Helen of Waldeck. Her cot covers were little works of art which she was extremely proud of. The pink and white cot cover for Princess Alice of Albany survives at the Museum of London, shows the Queen’s cypher in black wool ‘VRI’ under a crown and the date ‘1883’, which she embroidered on the cover.

Photograph of Queen Victoria crocheting and Princess Beatrice reading a newspaper 21 May 1895 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III 2024

Queen Victoria crocheted eight scarves which were awarded to some members of the British military who had served with distinction in the Boer War in South Africa. I have been very lucky to be in the presence of one of these. This one is held at the Vale and Downland museum.

© Queen Victoria Revival all rights reserved

At Frogmore House, some samples of Queen Victoria’s knitting actually survive. They are kept inside a small, pretty, tasselled straw basket on the table of the Sitting Room of her mother, the Duchess of Kent. The basket dates between 1850 and 1899 and also contains a little ball of pink wool. A tiny handwritten label inside the basket reads: ‘This basket contains the hand work of Queen Victoria’, perhaps Queen Mary’s handwriting. You can see the mentioned basket in the painting below -

Queen Victoria, Princess Helena and Princess Beatrice Knitting Quilts for the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley. Dated 1886 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III 2024

Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice knitted quilts which they presented to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley, for soldiers wounded at Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt in 1882.

Supposedly as much as Victoria liked to knit, she was not all that skilled in the art. There is a story told that on one occasion, Victoria was visiting a Scottish household near Balmoral Castle and presented her hostess with a pair of socks that she had knitted herself. There was an elderly woman also present who was hard of hearing and hadn't grasped the visitor's identity, and who loudly remarked, "If her husband gets no better made socks than that, I pity him' fortunately Queen Victoria found this rather amusing.

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