Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Life and Work of Margaret G Nicholson - Anthea Godfrey - 28 May 2015

When I saw the programme for the year this is the talk that I most looked forward to. While doing my City and Guilds I was completely captivated by Margaret Nicholson’s work and recall standing mesmerised looking at exhibits of hers at a Knitting and Stitching show. I also spoke to Margaret and found out more about her methods and ideas. I tried some goldwork and soon realised how time consuming it was and how intricate her designs were.

Anthea is Margaret’s Nicholson’s daughter and is well qualified in embroidery and fashion.  She has been principal lecturer at the London college of Fashion, Chairman of the EG, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Arts and graduate of London University.
At our meeting Anthea brought dozens of examples of her mother’s work and illustrated her talk with slides. Margaret was brought up in Yorkshire and went to the Sheffield College of Art before beginning work as a dress designer. In fact she made the first quilted dressing gowns and designed for Marks and Spencers.
This was interrupted by the war and afterwards she began to teach and followed a path in education; becoming an examiner in embroidery. She met her husband in Sheffield and moved to the Cotswolds, where Anthea was born.
In 1965 she joined the staff of the London College of Fashion and was instrumental in changing the methods of teaching. She met people such as Laura Ashley, Beryl Dean and Norman Hartnell and design became her forté. She was able to travel and research extensively and in 1991 her trip to Japan gave her a particular fascination for the female face.

However, it was only after she moved to Muswell Hill in 1992 that her work really blossomed. She lived with Anthea and was able to devote her days to stitching and gradually assembled a huge portfolio. Her basic method is Or Nué and she uses a gold basis couched in coloured silk threads. Many of her pieces are densely stitched but a few have spaces where coloured fabric may show through. The work is also varied with curves and diagonals.
Although most of her work is in the form of pictures she has made some unusual boxes, rolls and beaded necklaces.

Anthea gave us a few glimpses of her busy life including making her own wedding dress, which she had on display, travelling to countries such as Finland, New Zealand and Kenya to examine or judge and working in the fields of costume, fashion, miniatures, sewing techniques and lingerie.

What talent and how grateful we were to Anthea for sparing the time to talk to us.

Rachel Haver

Once upon a time....fairy inspired dresses and accessories - Vicki Lafford - April 23rd 2015

With a title, “Once upon a time…….Fairy tale inspired dresses and accessories”, we did not realise just quite what a treat was in store for our branch from the speaker Vikki Lafford Garside at our April 2015 meeting. Having myself seen some examples of Vikki’s work from photographs on her website little did I realise there were some big surprises yet to be revealed.

 A dress inspired by ‘Wuthering Heights’

Vikki started her talk by telling us where her interest in fairies began.  As a child she lived in rural Oxfordshire and her description of this setting, I am sure reminded many of us about the kind of freedom we too had as children to imagine and dream. Primary school gave Vikki the opportunity as a pupil to meet and be part of an experience with an artist in residence who happened to be Sue Rangeley. Vikki’s interest in textiles and colour developed further in secondary school with Art Nouveau, The Pre Raphaelites and Mythical themes as inspiration for her creative work.

The varied program of the foundation course at Cheltenham helped Vikki to make the decision that textiles and embroidery was the path she wanted to follow and so she went on to Manchester for her Degree course where she returned to the theme of nature and the subject of fairies producing ideas for delicate and ethereal textiles and dress.

Her first employment after university was as a computerized embroidery designer, an extremely technical role. We were able to appreciate the demands and complexities of combining design work, the nature of the fabrics with the workings of a computerized sewing machine from her description, and to see some examples of the finished work.

With the need to get back to more creative work the next step was Chelsea College of Art where the fairy tale dresses were made. We were shown first the beautiful sleeping beauty dress which with its delicate leaves as decoration but it was gradually revealed to have a darker side as in the original story with green representing the jealousy of the queen, the leaves becoming spidery hands and the under layers with beetles, insects and skulls.
The second dress represented Cinderella, a cautionary fairy tale contrasting the soft and light feel of the fabric with the imagery, pattern and colour used to represent the much darker side of the tale. The moral of the story was revealed written on the under layer lining.

After the masters course at Chelsea, Vikki started making and selling accessories.

A dress entitled the ‘Enchanted Woodland Dress’ designed by Vikki for a competition for “Spellbinding Textiles” came second and it was the publicity from the competition that led to new commissions for wedding dresses and accessories and the setting up of her company. Flowers and butterflies used for the dresses were developed further into delicate accessories with the dragonflies, leaves and jewelry ranges. 

The Enchanted Woodland Dress

We were delighted to be able to see so many lovely examples of Vikki’s work and to learn about her methods of making and developing such delicate work and the balance between the technical and the creative skills. An inspiration to us all and no doubt those members with computerised sewing machines will come to think of them in a new light.

A few examples of the flower accessories Vikki makes.

I feel it is important to acknowledge that it was the late Betty Laker who brought Vikki and her lovely work to the attention of the program planning committee during the Spring of 2013.

Report by Rosemary Davison

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Art of Stitch - Arleen Wild - 26 February 2015

Arleen describes herself as a self taught mixed media textile artist who really enjoys what she does.

Her interest in textiles began around the age of 16 and at 18 she was working in the fashion industry. At 19 she moved to the UK and soon realised that she didn't like making clothes.
She saw a creative embroidery course at Richmond Adult College and completed the course in the evenings over 6 years.

Arleen loves nature and she never uses sketches or photographs for her work. She prefers to observe, feel, and 'enjoy the moment' which she then interprets into a piece a work. She also describes herself as influenced by the Impressionists. She is always looking at new things.

Although she has used watercolours she now uses acrylic. 

Her passion for her work was very evident and she had brought a large number of canvas' of various sizes with her. She has us on our feet and we had a tour of all the pieces with explanations on her techniques for each one.

She first primes her canvas with gesso then uses a layering system. Sizes of canvas vary and with drying time usually takes about 4-6 weeks to complete. Her studio will have a number of pieces at various stages of work.

She doesn't use any glues or adhesives but uses free motions embroidery and craps of fabric and different threads to add depth, shade etc. He loves batik fabric as well as silk. 

Once completed her husband then stretches the canvas onto frame. He is a key part of her business as he also does all the bookings and travel arrangements for her leaving her free to work.

She gave a short demonstration on her machine on how she free motions shapes and adds fabric, she made it look so easy!

Her enthusiasm was infectious, it was so obvious that she loves her work, for me a truly memorable afternoon.

Here are some of the pieces she brought with her.

José Hopkins

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.