The collector, Sheila Paine, is a writer whose travelling tales have been told in numerous guidebooks, and newspapers including the Sunday Times and The Independent.
Her hoard of embroideries, running to 216 lots, bears witness to 20 years of journeying through Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, central Asia, eastern Europe, central America and North Africa.
Often, on her travels, Paine would photograph needleworkers at work, and several of the lots are accompanied by fascinating photos of women patiently stitching the ancient patterns.
To Western eyes, these images appear both exotic and anachronistic, but Paine’s writing reveals that such traditional handicrafts are still flourishing, even in areas of the world where we hear of little but tragedy and chaos.
On one trip to Afghanistan, she describes with delight the elegantly embroidered gun covers owned by the Mujahadin who smuggled her into the country (see lot 76).
Paine is a master storyteller
Many lots come with an amusing or faintly alarming anecdote attached. It is well worth getting hold of a copy of the catalogue for the sheer entertainment of discovering how Paine recruited local friends (waving at a random man in Hungary, because he reminded her of Richard Burton) and secured rooms for the night (slapping her bloodied sandals on the counter of a recalcitrant Bulgarian concierge).
Stories aside, many of the pieces, once mounted and framed, will make vibrant artworks, perfect for cheering up the chilly white interior walls Londoners tend to favour. And, with estimates starting at £150, most items fall well within the most modest ‘artworks’ budget.
So what’s on offer?
A small section of pieces from Guatemala and Mexico marking Paine’s 1991 bus trip around central America includes some of the most gorgeous, bold, graphic designs. A huipil (blouse worn by Mayan momen) from San Juan Sacatepequez, a village north of Guatemala City, in purple and yellow striped cotton, embroidered with traditional motifs of birds (lot 8) is expected to fetch £150 to £200.
From Hungary comes a man’s black cotton apron featuring a deep band of silk embroidered flowers in yellow, white, red and green, and a black fringe (lot 34). This will be sold together with another embroidered panel featuring a long blue, red and green silk fringe (est. £200-£300).
Paine brought several beautiful pieces back from trips to Iran; most powerful - from a European woman’s perspective at least - are a small group of face masks of the type worn by married women. There are a few in modest black but others are unexpectedly, flamboyantly colourful: one is in indigo and gold painted fabric; another indigo and gold with green and gold and ties; yet another is a startling crimson (lot 66, £100-£150).
22 April, The Sheila Paine Embroidery Collection , Donnington Priory Salerooms, Donnington, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE; 01635 553553.
If you can’t make it to Newbury, you can leave a commission bid by email at www.dnfa.com.
Paine’s latest book is our now: Embroidered Textiles: A World Guide to Traditional Patterns (Thames & Hudson).