Tiny treasures woven into the fabric of Selby Abbey  

Selby artist examines artwork in 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 from early April until at least the end of the year as her work evolves.  

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.  

Serena has 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 will be 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.  

Serena commented:  “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.”  

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 will be available at: www.exploreheartofyorkshire.co.uk/things-to-do/selby-stories/    


Serena Partridge is a textile artist based in Malton. Other recent exhibitions include at the Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate, Crescent Arts in Scarborough and at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth. More information can be found www.serenapartridge.co.uk  and www.instagram.com/serenapartridge  

Serena has a wealth of experience as a textile artist and artist in residence and specialises in creating tiny handcrafted accessories inspired by histories and storytelling. She has previously undertaken a number of residencies throughout Yorkshire, the UK and Internationally. These include with The Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate, the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection in Lancashire and the Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, Canada.    
Selby Stories is the cultural programme for Selby High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ). It is funded by Historic England and Selby District Council. Find out more about Selby’s zone at https://www.selby.gov.uk/selby-high-street-heritage-action-zone-0
Selby Stories is a 3-year programme, running until December 2023.    

About High Streets Heritage Action Zones.

The High Streets Heritage Action Zones is a £95 million government-funded programme led by Historic England, designed to secure lasting improvements and help breathe new life into our historic high streets for the communities and businesses that use them. Historic England is working with local people and partners to unlock the rich heritage on these high streets, through repair and improvement works as well as arts and cultural programmes, making them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors. https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/heritage-action-zones/reg...  

About Historic England.

Historic England is the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops. We protect, champion and save the places that define who we are and where we’ve come from as a nation. We care passionately about the stories these places tell, the ideas they represent and the people who live, work and play among them. Working with communities and specialists we share our passion, knowledge and skills to inspire interest, care and conservation, so everyone can keep enjoying and looking after the history that surrounds us all.   

Selby Stories is supported by the Selby Cultural Consortium – local arts and cultural organisations led by Selby Abbey with Performing Arts etc, Selby Big Local, Selby Civic Society, Selby & District Disability Forum, Selby Library, Selby District Council and Selby Town Council.