Tiny treasures woven into the fabric of Selby Abbey

Yorkshire-based artist, Serena Partridge, is busy creating miniscule embroideries destined to adorn the hidden nooks and crannies of the 900 year old Selby Abbey.


This is no traditional art exhibition and the intricate pieces will gradually appear in the Abbey until at least the end of the year as her work evolves. The first piece, a little swan, is already in situ in a tiny hole.



The award-winning mixed media artist is currently the Artist in Residence for Selby Stories, which is the cultural programme for the Selby High Street Heritage Action Zone. Running until late 2023, special events will celebrate the town, its history and what makes it unique.


The HSHAZ is part of a government-funded initiative led by Historic England. It aims to breathe new life into local high streets, from regenerating historic buildings to engaging local communities through art and cultural projects.Selby is one of more than 60 high streets in the country to receive a share of funding from Historic England, along with funding from Selby District Council.



erena spent the Winter gaining inspiration from almost a thousand years of history, craftsmanship and stories that surround the Abbey and the generations of people who have worked, volunteered, worshipped and visited.



The tiny hand-stitched embroideries are being lodged in discreet places that visitors might not normally look, encouraging them to slow down and discover small details and stories that often go unnoticed in a building of such scale.



The work has been inspired by the Abbey’s needlepoint and cross-stitch kneelers, which have been lovingly embroidered by volunteers over many years. Needlepoint is a new technique for Serena, who is working on a miniature scale under a magnifying lens, stitching single strand embroidery threads into fine pieces of silk gauze.


Although glorious today, the Abbey has a fragmented past. It has suffered disastrous fires, fallen into disrepair, been empty and almost derelict and used by Cromwell’s soldiers in the Civil War. It has also been re-loved, re-built and restored.



erena comments:


“It’s such a privilege to be invited to work with and exhibit in the majestic surroundings of Selby Abbey. I’m hugely inspired by the stories I’ve heard and the intricate details all over the building, even the seemingly insignificant holes in the walls, where the limestone has suffered natural damage or where something once hung.



I’m particularly fascinated by the carvings of Thomas Strudwick, who helped restore the Abbey after the 1908 fire. If you look closely at his work on the pillars you’ll see an array of charming animals nestled among appropriate foliage. Or shine a light into one and discover a hidden carving of the King’s head.


I’m thinking of my tiny fabrications, installed in the holes and crevices of the Abbey, as if they are visible ‘mends’, similar to the darnings of a well loved jumper. It’s a nod to the ongoing restoration project and to how the building has been altered and restored over time, creating layer upon layer of unique history.



Selby District Council’s Director of Economic Regeneration and Place, Dave Caulfield commented: 



“I’m delighted that funding from Selby District Council and Historic England, through the Heritage Action Zone, is delivering projects in the heart of Selby that are really innovative and unusual. I’d urge residents and visitors alike to take this opportunity to enjoy these artistic creations on their doorstep. This is just one element of our ambitious, wider work to both engage with local communities through art and cultural projects and revitalise our high streets at the same time.”



Jane Jackson, from Historic England, said:


This is a beautiful, imaginative way to highlight the craftsmanship and intricate beauty of the Abbey, alongside its impressive scale and grandeur. Visitors will have the excitement of a treasure hunt, discovering more about the building and its history as they seek Serena’s tiny hand-stitched embroideries.  It’s also a great example of the innovative way that the High Street Heritage Action Zones are helping to revitalize town centres, celebrating their rich history and making them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors.”



Serena will run a series of workshops and talks later in the year focusing on the inspiration and stories behind her miniature creations.



The Selby Stories programme is available at: https://exploreheartofyorkshire.co.uk/selbystories/