Tuesday, 23 June 2015

January 2015 - ''Moving Forward'' - Ruby Lever

The title of Ruby's talk was 'Moving Forward', which turned out to be very apt as, after problems with the quality of sound, we all moved our seats forward by several strides in order to hear better, and to see the impressive body of work she had brought to show us.

Using slides, Ruby illustrated how her work had developed from a flowery machine- embroidered screen to the more thoughtful and technically competent work of more recent years. It was quite by coincidence that her themes were either inspired by growing things or used as a format that would translate perfectly for the theme of our 2015 Competition, ''Gardens''. Much of her work, apart from Clarice Cliff inspired teapots, a corset hanging, a set of ecclesiastical vestments for Wells Cathedral and another altar-frontal, was based on the theme of flowers, even the sumptuous tassels with flower headed embellishments. Many of these pieces were constructed as multi-element hangings attached to each other by rings or other devices that formed long vertical pieces. I thought this was a very attractive method of adding more elements.

Another interesting fact of ruby's work is the way in which she has been taught to make a paper-and-paint mock-up of the embroidery as part of the planning process, rather than leaving constructional problems to chance, as many of us tend to do. her tutor in this was Valerie Campbell-Harding with whom Ruby worked on Part II of her Diploma. The results can easily be appreciated; there is no substitute for detailed preparation. Ruby showed us the petal of one stitched iris of chiffon made up of no less that 86 pieces. It was stunning.

On the other hand, she introduced us to the idea of using a knitted dishcloth (the bought variety) bonded to Bondaweb, then cut out and applied by machine to a background to create a very interesting texture. But I was particularly interested to hear of her fascination, like me, for the shapes, curving lines, fastening and embellishments on corsets especially early ones. Nothing to do with the connotations of constraint or eroticism, you understand, just interlocking shapes and aesthetically pleasing designs, the delicate fabrics strengthened by stitching and stiffening into robust garments. Ruby's examples were perfectly executed.

Particularly interesting was a commission to make 5 sets of vestments for Wells Cathedral, a mammoth task for which paper mock-ups were an essential part, for the approval of the client. We were left with the distinct impression that Ruby is as far from the ''hit-or-miss'' brigade of embroiderers as it is possible to be. She was truly an inspirational lady.



Jan Messent

27 November 2014 - 'a'Preserving the Pst and Creating the Future, The Work of the Professional Embroiderer'' - Jennie Adin-Christie

As a former apprentice and a current embroiderer of the Royal School of Needlework (RSN), Jennie gave us a fascinating talk. She navigated us through her own life from a gifted seven year old creating her own stitch sampler, on to a talented school girl whose passion was to study textiles and stitching, and then on to her 3 year apprenticeship (passing with distinctions) with the Royal School of Needlework. She emphasised how important it was to her that she had such supportive parents and schools giving her the basic skills to spark her enthusiasm to pursue her chosen career.
She then gave us a brief history of the RSN, founded in 1872 by the philanthropist Lady Victoria Welby who wished to revive good art and design, in the wake of the industrial revolution. After early criticism that the school had no ‘house style’ only producing copies of old design pieces, the school eventually grew in size and reputation, using designers such as William Morris and Gertrude Jekyll. Even now emphasis is still placed on traditional and extremely high quality embroidery skills. Over the years the RSN has undertaken many prestigious commissions, such as the gold-work on the Queen’s coronation train. Jennie herself had been involved with a great variety of commissions including gloves for the Mayor of London, the ceremonial Woolsack for the Royal Hospital Chelsea Mace, Canterbury Cathedral altar cloth, the Jubilee banner at Buckingham Palace and even an embroidered monogram used on an album front cover for Paul McCartney. The most difficult piece in recent years was the wedding dress for Kate Middleton. Kate wanted it to have Carrikmacros lace, and to achieve this finish proved to be a very time consuming and skillful undertaking. Jennie’s latest commissions have included another altar cloth, a 1920’s decorated head for an exhibition, the decoration of a black basque-like dress in PVC for Alexander McQueen and a monogram ‘G’ affixed to a baby jacket and baby-grow for little Prince George. A truly eclectic mixture of commissions.
She described that much work is now undertaken using conservation methods, so ensuring the pieces lasts as long as possible in good condition.
She finished her talk with a verse from an old English folk song, which beautifully summed up her work.

'Isn’t it true
What small can do
With a thread
And a thought
And a stitch or two'.

She brought along a lot of her pieces which we all thought were absolutely stunning in their detail and delicacy of execution. We realised her quality of work was a world away from what many of us could achieve, but was certainly inspiring to look at.

Val Simmons Bequest of a Course at Denman College – October 2014 by Sue Pettifor

At one of the meetings earlier this year my name was picked out of the hat and I became the very fortunate beneficiary of an embroidery course at Denman College. This wonderful opportunity was provided by a bequest of the former and longtime member Val Simmons, who wanted others to learn and enjoy their craft on one of the Denman courses. Well I could not believe my luck and I was so excited looking through the college prospectus at the variety of courses available.
 I joined  the Basingstoke branch about 2 years ago, never having done a scrap of embroidery in my life but really wanting to know where to start. I have had a sewing machine for years (you know the rest, children’s clothes, mending, curtains etc), but having seen some examples of machine embroidery displayed on one of the Guild’s stands I was more than keen to have a go myself, but had no idea where to start. Hence my choice of course was machine embroidery for beginners, tutored by Marilyn Pipe. I had to wait until October for the course, but a wait well worth making as it was the most enjoyable few days I have spent in a long time.

The first evening we learnt the basics of how to set the machine up, recognise when it wasn’t stitching correctly and rectifying, and then feeling the effects of free machining on different materials with and without a hoop. We tested our control by trying to stitch circles and writing our names, (1). After that we were off and running.

Our little projects over the next couple of days included;
o Decorating calico with painted bondaweb and free machine around resulting shapes creating a contour effect. This was all on a felt backing and without the use of a hoop. This exercise tested our skill at following a complicated shape.(2)
o Using a zig-zag stitch to embroider a Christmas tree onto velvet fabric overlaid with a sheer, again without the use of a hoop.(3)
o Making a bowl out of sheer off-cuts and soluble fabric.(4)
o Making a fancy cord by machining along sisal.
o Making flowers on soluble fabric, then attaching them to decorated cord.(5)
o Decorating ribbons and ribbon edges.(5)
o Practicing filler free machining patterns, like knot stitch, vermicelli and signature stitch.

Overall it was a very enjoyable course, with lots of laughter and plenty of hard work with our tutor Marilyn. It has given me a lot more confidence to have a go at free machine embroidery.


Thank you Val for your wonderful bequest.









Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Art of Living Dangerously - Penny Burnfield - 24 July 2014

Our talk on the scorching afternoon of July 24th was delivered by Penny Burnfield who trained initially in medicine but then abandoned that career for domestic reasons and discovered embroidery. Her interest in medicine , however, has inspired many of her works since attaining her City & Guilds certificate and a further intensive course at Urchfont Manor. As a member of the 62 Group, Penny is now an established embroiderer who regularly exhibits with the group thoroughout the UK.

In a series of pieces for her final C & G exam, Penny took the story of  "The Alchemist" by Ben Johnson as the basis on which to create a set of panels with pointed arches, several exotic and highly decorated vessels, and a marvelous gown and hat, modelled by her husband. Continuing the medical theme, she made a set of specimen-type 3D objects kept in labelled Kilner jars, ingenious for their similarity to weird plant-shapes preserved in pickling fluid for study by students. She developed this theme to make larger 3D pieces, such as a boxed set, with labels, of strange shaped "things", a not-too-serious take on biological samples with Latin names. None of these were recognisable as anything in particular, but what fun!


Containers appeared to be a favourite thing with Penny, as one of her pieces takes the form of boxes shaped like cross-sections of metal pillars complete with bolts, containing giant sized grains of wheat, plus the dreaded corn-cockle ( a plant which makes corn rot). Her ways of "thinking outside the box" takes on a new meaning here, as illustrated by her 3D fabric floor installation of 562 endangered seeds,


Words appear to figure largely in Penny's work too, as when she uses a computer to print out pattern-pieces for a wedding dress on plain fabric, with an accompanying text. Some would question how close this is to what we think of as embroidery, but that particular project was the result of a PSG exhibition based on the costumes in Platt Hall, Manchester. Several other pieces have moved quite some way from actual embroidery by making use of printed images and text on fabric. One of these was based on the euphemisms used for death, e.g. late, departed, gone from us, passed over, etc.. Her grandmother's sampler was another, and three towers made for exhibition in Japan were covered with printed words in many languages to represent the Tower of Babel. There was no embroidery in this piece either, though one can understand the concept here. Although Penny's 3D pieces are clever and often funny, the leture was more lateral thinking than embroidery as we know it.,


On this note, I personally think we often opt for the easiest and most straight-forward way of depicting an idea rather than stretching it into something more meaningful. But a valid point was made at the end of Penny's talk, that with more in-depth research, we can come up with something that more closely expresses our feelings, or opinions in the way we see things.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

In House Meeting - 26 June 2014


As we are having a stall at the ‘Threads’ Event at Farnham Maltings on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th September today was all about ideas for items to sell with some members demonstrating easy low cost things that could be sold to make money for our funds.


Items such as Sock Monkeys (from a pair of ankle socks), Xmas decorations using thread, various pin cushion designs using bottle tops, cloth baskets from fabric and cardboard. We set out several tables and members were encouraged to look out and try as many of the ideas as they wished. Patterns were available with instructions for them to take away.


A ‘show and tell’ of items already made and other ideas from members was very encouraging and will hopefully mean enough items for sale at the ‘Threads Event.’


All items for sale to be brought to the September meeting. Finished projects for display at Farnham to also be brought along.

Midsummer Night's Dream Fairies - Anna Nowicki - 22 May 2014


it began for Anna began as a spare time hobby.  In 1992 Anna took her first course.

The talk is of her latest course which was 18th century summer coats.

Each coat was inspired by and named after Mid Summer Night’s Dream fairies.

Every stage of the work has been photographed with notes and there were three volumes on the costumes for us to look through.

1.         Moth – This was made from four blouses that were shredded, burnt, cheese grated and grilled.  The base was boned and the blouse reversed.  It was two months work.





2.         Cobweb – This was an extra large white tshirt.  It took her seven and a half months to shred it.





3.          Titania – This coat was an Elizabethan, 18c and Victorian mixture.  It was painted fabric covered in cord.  There were 50 metres of cord on the bodice alone.  Anna made the cord by using a machine zigzag stitch over thread and/or fabric strips.

The ruff was originally a white net curtain and the Victorian bussel was a tablecloth.  The stomacher was a chiffon and velvet sandwich.






4.         Oberon – This costume took 17 months to make.  Anna used the rusting method of wrapping strip of cotton around baked bean tins.  These were rusted by soaking in vinegar where the rust transfers to the fabric.  Fabric treated with this process eventually disintegrates.  The whole costume was then covered in 204 metres of hand made cord. 





5.         1st Fairy – This fairy was not named in the Play leaving Anna to her own imagination.  The fabric was colour transfer printed net curtain which was wired,  heavily machine embroidered and then burnt back with a soldering iron.




6.         Mustard seeds – This costume was roving wet felted into scrim.  The fitted bodice was boned inside.  The very effective mustard pods were rolled felt with seeds inside.  This was a 9 month project.






7.         Peace blossom – This costume took 8 months and is a reverse tutu with the longest layers being underneath.  It was built from 283 leaves, 25 large flowers and 59 small ans 16 peapods.



These coats were purely art but the course required something wearable.  Anna made a beautiful Klimt inspired coat which Val highjacked and modelled all around the room – wonder if she gave it back?








The Art of Embroidered Butterflies – Jane E Hall – 24 April


(These butterflies are real ones, but you cannot tell the difference).


Most people will have seen the beautiful butterflies created in fabric and stitch by Jane, but what they may not realise is that she is passionate about butterflies and their conservation.




Jane has published 2 books:

The Art of Embroidered Butterflies

Art and Embroidery of Jane E Hall


As a child she played fairy tea parties with acorn cups etc. and sewed together leaves. She attributes her love of embroidery to an inspiring needlework teacher, though she also studied pottery at A level, later studying at Bournemouth and Poole, then Loughborough.

She very generously shared with us the materials she uses and a number of the techniques. Thread (silk) is 20 denier and she self plies it by teasing out the filaments, then twists them. Habotai, organza and chiffon were all passed round, as was “angels hair” (silk tops). Her technique is to paint the background onto silk (silk dyes applied with mini brushes). She stabilises fabrics before dyeing to prevent “creep” of the colours.It was suggested that the dyes be left to evaporate a little before being used.  She uses a very fine handmade needle from Kyoto. Wire is from the Scientific Wire Co and was very fine.


Having worked on the kitchen table in the past, also the bottom of her bed, Jane now has a studio set in her garden.  She says that “The best place to work is in your head”.  Her studio is a veritable treasure trove with lots of boxes and a fabulous chest previously owned by Constance Howard.


Jane writes notes in her sketch book and encouraged us to do the same. Also, not to rub out any sketches which “go wrong”.  She made some scales for her mermaid by holding the iron close to some organza until it bubbled.  Blue bells were made from “Model Magic” a type of clay available from Art Van Go. Delicate structures have heavier stitching around the edge and she sews then cuts to shape.  She works using an oblong frame on a stand and with a magnifier.


Interest in butterflies has led to detailed studies in the garden, but now she and her husband have gone one step further: they are building a butterfly conservation area. Not the odd patch of nettles and buddleia that we all have (and she encourages us to continue along those lines) but they have re-landscaped several acres of their garden to provide butterfly friendly wild flowers. She had a butterfly nursery and feeds caterpillars with nettles.