Feast for the eyes

This month’s wonderful talk by Michelle Carragher gave us a fascinating insight into the world of embroidery and costume design for stage and film. The samples of work that Michelle brought with her were a feast for the eyes, and were a wonderful inspiration to us all. Michelle kindly let us photograph some of her work to show on our website. The ‘oohs and ahs’ round Michelle’s sample table after the talk said it all, as well as the length of time that people spent gazing at the work.

Michelle talked us through her early introduction to embroidery, from making childhood dolls clothes to a Fashion Design course and then textiles restoration. Restoration work gave her the experience of working quickly and sourcing specialist fabrics and threads. Quite often the piece was too frail to put into an embroidery hoop, so she developed skills in working on un-stretched backgrounds, which was invaluable later on when she worked on fine net and muslin, like the stitch sample on the left.

Initially her work on costume embroidery was on amateur productions and then as an intern on bigger films. Her first breakthrough came when she worked for Costume Designer Mike O’Neill, who spotted her talent as an embroiderer and gave her scope for stitched details. She graduated from washing the actor’s socks, to being an integral member of the costume design and making teams.

Michelle gave us a fascinating insight into how the costume designer and embroiderer and director work together on an initial concept, through designs and samples to finished item. Anyone who has done City and Guilds Embroidery courses will appreciate the detailed sketches and samples that Michelle brings with her to talks. The samples here were for an elegant Edwardian dress for the film about Gertrude Bell.

The delicate bird designs on the left show Michelle’s artistic talents, and how an initial idea starts to take shape.

The samples below that were initial ideas for a dress made for Queen Elizabeth I, played by Helen Mirren, which was inspired by traditional embroidery of the time. We learned about the painstaking historical research and attention to detail. It is a labour of love; for example, one dress had 350 hand-stitched embroidered roses stitched onto the train. We learned about how roughly these delicate embroideries may be treated, for example if they are in scenes of violence they may get torn or covered in blood. For this reason, some costumes require duplicate sets – sometimes as many as eight. This brought home the importance of the sampling process, and documenting each stage. We also heard about unpredictable aspects of this work; we saw a photo of exquisite embroidery on the neck of a dress for a historical drama, and then we saw the only shot in which it appears – shot from behind, with the actress fleeing away from the camera on a horse, with no sign of the embroidery.

Of course, Michelle is now infamous for the amazing embroidery that she created on the costumes designed with Michelle Clacton for Game of Thrones. She showed us many samples, together with photos of the finished garments ‘in action’. We were in awe of the creative designs, and the interpretations of fantasy ideas, and the inspired use of beads, gemstones, sequins, metal threads, stumpwork, ribbon work etc. Due to the high speed of production on a series like this, many embroideries were created as ‘slips’ on a separate piece of material and then applied to the garment later on, much like the embroidered embellishment of earlier centuries.

Michelle runs workshops, and anyone who got to see the exhibition this week by Dorking Embroiderers Guild will have seen their collection of fantasy beetles created on a workshop with Michelle recently. This photo doesn’t do Michelle’s creature justice, but wouldn’t a workshop be wonderful! Thanks to Michelle for a really inspiring talk. We learned that she is working on a book – what a treat that will be when it comes out. I already know in June what I’d like for Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The month of leaves and roses’

It often strikes me what a lovely overlap there is between gardening and embroidery. It’s the month for wandering round beautiful gardens, smelling the roses and soaking up inspiration for our stitching.

 

‘It is the month of June,

The month of leaves and roses,

When pleasant sights salute the eyes

And pleasant scents the noses’.

(Nathanial Parker Willis)

If you read this in time, there are still 4 days when you can catch the lovely exhibition of embroidery at Nymans Gardens by Dorking EG Branch, in which all the work is based on the flowers and plants of Nymans. It’s open until Friday 14th; if you read this in time, it’s well worth the trip so do try to go. It’s the perfect month to visit the Nymans rose garden too.

Our most recent meeting was our ‘Members Day’ when we spent the whole day together chatting and stitching, and sharing lunch. We had a wonderful talk by Eileen Blaney on the history of the branch. Eileen has very kindly agreed to write up the notes for her talk so that it can be added properly to the website, together with photos, so I won’t try to summarise her talk here. ‘Watch this space’ as they say! Many thanks Eileen for a very interesting and entertaining talk.

 

The challenge of colour

In her talk to WTEG this month, Jae Maries focussed on the use of colour in textile art. This was very timely, as members had recently started to think about the Branch Challenge, ‘Take Two’, which is to make a piece of work using just two colours. Jae emphasised how personal our response to colour is, and how it reflects the mood of the maker and has an impact on the viewer.

Jae spoke about how colour can create drama in a piece, with the use of contrast, and how this can affect mood. Jae said that she sometimes highlights some quite ‘dark’ issues in her work, for example knife crime and homelessness. She questions the assumption that embroidery has to be ‘pretty’. This piece shows how Jae sometimes uses a very restricted range of colour, emphasising dark and light. This can add to the sense of closeness and distance of the subject, as does the use of cool colours to recede and warm colours to move forward.

Jae uses interesting and unusual textures in her work, derived from her painterly background. She uses calico, which she sizes, then primes white; she then paints on top of that and adds textures and more paint. Sometimes stitch is quite dense, and sometimes it is minimal. This piece shows seeding in a contrasting colour, next to areas where the stitch has been painted over to leave a trace behind in the texture. The photo below is from the same piece, based on roads and rice fields in Vietnam. It shows the impact of an individual splash of a contrasting colour: the tiny splash of pink provides a focal point for the whole piece. Jae acknowledged that many embroiderers want to create work that is figurative and restful, and based on more traditional techniques. Whilst not criticising that approach, she did encourage her audience to think about playing with colour in a different way and taking some risks. After the talk quite a few people were talking about the ‘Take Two’  branch challenge, so Jae had clearly got people thinking.

(Jae’s work is photographed and shared here with kind permission from Jae).

 

Slow Felting

We had a very inspiring and relaxing day workshop on nuno-felting with Clare Bullock recently. This was based on Clare’s individual method of bonding wool and light fabrics together. It is a much gentler way of felting compared to the normal way of endlessly rolling and bashing the wool into submission – and you don’t end up with a piece of felt that’s the same thickness and weight as a dinner plate. What you end up with is a blended, textured piece that lends itself to embellishing with stitch. Although Clare doesn’t particularly talk about Mindfulness in her teaching, nevertheless the day had a Mindful feel to it. The day was lighthearted and productive. There are a couple of photos below that show how we were gently absorbed all day. Scroll down below that to see some of the work that was produced. Many thanks to Clare for a lovely day.

Clare tries to predict what colours people will choose to work with, based on what they are wearing. Here’s a good example!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here are some examples of the work that was produced during the day, with two photos at the end of all the work together. It will be interesting to see what people do with their nuno-felted pieces once they are stitched.

 

Twidding and Fiddling

At the beginning, most of us thought we were about to hear a ‘normal’ textile talk.
Not your usual textile talk!

Jennie Rayment gave us an afternoon of real belly-laughs this month during her talk ‘Twiddling and Fiddling’.

Jennie is well-known as a manipulator of fabric and a prolific quilt-maker, as well as an author and quilt judge. She could also have had a career as a stand-up comedian!

Jennie arrived wearing her own creations, which she had designed for a fashion-show at a quilting festival. One thing led to another, and through a series of hilarious anecdotes that I couldn’t possibly try to replicate, Jennie gradually shed each layer of clothing during her talk, to reveal increasingly salacious stitched under-garments, until she was down to this layer, together with ‘Kinky Boots’. There was another hilarious anecdote of how her husband’s luggage was searched when he brought the boots back to the UK for her – and having failed to explain it to the customs official he just said ‘they’re for my evening job’. Even the Union Jack stitched on the posterior gave us a laugh (it was for an American audience); it was accidentally stitched upside-down, i.e. the international signal ‘I am in distress’.

Another belly-laugh was her moment of realisation, during a talk to hundreds of people, that the name she had given a particular quilt might not have been wise: ‘Totally tucked-up fan’ (think about it).

There were lots of lovely quilts to look at, like this beautiful one that was place over Jennie’s mother’s coffin during the funeral service, but was only just rescued in time when the undertaker mistakenly thought it was supposed to go into the grave.

Jennie gave out some really useful stitching advice, for example ‘red wine is OK when you’re stitching dark colours, but stick to white wine when you’re stitching white’.

A great afternoon Jennie, thanks.

 

 

Machine Embroidery Magic

We had a wonderful machine embroidery workshop with Lara Sparks this month. Like the rest of the group I was very happily absorbed all day, and I would describe the day as one of the best workshops I’ve been to for a long time.

An introduction to the day.

Lara had brought pre-printed designs as well as stencils and cut-outs, so for those who don’t like drawing it was possible to get immediately into stitching without worrying about design. Lara also encouraged people to use their own designs if they wanted to, and helped with the details. Many people used some of Lara’s stencils but added their own interpretation, which meant that each one came out completely different.

Demonstrating some details.

There are a few photos showing our concentration during the day. There was a positive response to using the Maybridge Centre for this workshop; people commented on how nice it is to work somewhere with plenty of space and good light – it makes so much difference to how the day feels. Scroll further down to see some examples of the work that was produced.

 

Here’s some of our work below (bear in mind that these are unfinished and un-ironed). Do send me a photo if I missed photographing your work and if you’d like to include it here; and it would be good to see some photos of any finished pieces as we’d love to see how they turned out.

And here are two finished ones, both from Lesley Payne.

Lesley Payne

Lesley Payne 

 

Creative Stitch, Applique and cut-work

November’s meeting was a delightful change for us. We heard a talk by Isabelle Lewis; she has an interest in stitch and applique, but her training is in graphic design and she has found her own niche in cut-card silhouettes. This was something new for us as a group, and members were intrigued by her work.

Cut-work card, with colour added behind through the cut-outs.
Isabelle showing one of her applique and embroidery pieces.
Cut card, with colour added from behind.

There are so many potential cross-overs between Isabelle’s cut-work, and our own work in stitch and applique. The talk reminded us that although our common-ground as a group is stitch, there is also a wide range of other interests amongst the group. There was lively interest from the many members present, and a good stream of questions.

Cut-work card combined with stitch.

Isabelle was introduced to us by member Alison Crosthwaite, who has known Isabelle for many years. Alison explained that Isabelle did the graphic design for her book Fibrefrenzi Artweave, (with marvellous results – on sale directly from Alison).

Applique and stitch

To see more of Isabelle’s work, go to her website at http://artizaza.com/

Apologies for the reflection in this photo, but it shows Isabelle’s interest in architecture and markets, and her French heritage.
Applique and stitch
Padded and raised picture based on a sketch of Isabelle’s living room, with a ‘fantasy’ view through the window. Couldn’t you just sink into that chair!

 

AGM, and a talk on historic embroideries

Work by the monthly Workshop and Traditional groups

In many organisations, the AGM is often a time when people discover some other pressing engagement that prevents them from attending; and when it comes to committee nominations people are seen intently studying the floor and pretending they’re not there. So it feels very positive that our branch had an excellent turnout for this year’s AGM, and that there is no shortage of people willing to serve on the committee. As well as the current committee all being willing to be re-elected, there were new nominations too, so we are all set for another healthy year ahead. Gay has been busy working on the new programme and there are some exciting things coming in the new year (this will all be added to the website, and your printed programme will be given out soon.)

Work by the monthly Workshop and Traditional groups

Members of the  monthly Workshop Group and the  monthly Traditional Group put on an exhibition of work that has been completed during the year. There was a lovely show of zippy bags, tuffets and boxes, and there were several of the wonderful ‘necessaires’ that were stitched from a traditional design introduced to the group by Cobi. One of the strengths of our branch is the sharing of skills and interests.

No doubt one reason for the good turnout for the AGM was a talk by Viviane Proyer on the history of the Embroiders Guild, and a ‘show and tell’ of historic embroideries. Viviane reminded members that preservation of the collection is the main reason why we pay the additional part of our membership fee to the National Embroiderers Guild, so that the special pieces are properly curated and cared for. She showed photos of some of the most precious pieces of the collection and spoke about their history, as well as bringing out the ‘handling collection’ that can be borrowed from the Guild. Thanks for a great talk Viviane. This is probably a good time to mention that in next year’s programme, Gay has organised a talk by Gerry Connelly, Textiles Curator at Worthing Museum.

Anne came up with the suggestion that members bring along any historic embroideries of their own that they may want to show members.  Pride of place goes to these two child’s ‘stitch cards’ that were shown by Val, with the inscription ‘Valerie aged 5 and a half years’.  The horse picture even has numbers written on it, which suggests that our treasurer was good with numbers even aged five and a half! Val also brought in this embroidery of swans, birds and bullrushes. The history behind the piece is that it was stitched by her grandfather when he was on fire-watch duty in London during the war. The background fabric that it was stitched on had decayed over the years, so it has been cut out and re-mounted onto a new silk backing in order to preserve it.

Jane R brought in this sampler which was stitched in 1829 by her great great great grandmother at the age of 13.

Sampler, 1829

Here are some others:

Turkish Towel border
Satin stitch in silk, date unknown
Sampler, 1785
English, 1870’s

Flamingo joins the branch

We have a new member – a flamingo! He joined us on our trip to the Royal School of Needlework, having decided that he wants to live in Carol’s garden.  He may have revealed his name to Carol by now,  but if not then you could post suggestions here. Freddie or  Frederique were suggested.

Do you think he’s hungry? Perhaps he’d like a sandwich.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos in the exhibition (some of the exhibits have been loaned by the RSN apprentice or student who created them and other pieces from the collection are used by the RSN on cards etc and subject to copyright).

In our own work, some prefer traditional techniques and others prefer more modern techniques, but everyone can admire the incredible workmanship of the pieces that we saw. Exhibits included a wide range of techniques, such as blackwork, goldwork and whitework. Some were historical ones from the collection and some are more recent. We had a talk on the history of the RSN, before being guided round the exhibits. Some of us didn’t know that the EG was originally an ‘offshoot’ of the RSN. Gone are the days when to join the EG you had to submit a portfolio of work so the Guild could see if you were ‘up to scratch’ and would be allowed to join! Now the EG is so different; beginners are very welcome and everyone learns from everyone else.

How exactly do you explain that you are going home with a flamingo?

Update

The flamingo is now spreading his wings in Carol’s garden – see photo at the end. His name is Frankie – apparently there is a link to East Preston and the 80’s. Frankie goes to Hollywood East Preston? No, I don’t have a clue either. Answers on a postcard…

Happy Art

If anyone was feeling under-confident about their creativity, then this month’s talk by Paula Watkins had the power to change that. Paula inspired us with the way she has shared her art in order to help people feel happier and more confident. Like many people, Paula was put off from following art as a career, being told that there would always be people better than her. The reason she shared this part of her story with us was to show how creativity can be fostered and nurtured at any stage of life, despite a lack of initial confidence or direction. Paula’s breakthrough moment was when she went to see a City and Guilds exhibition. Initially she was discouraged and thought she could never achieve anything like it, but she was encouraged by an elderly woman who had completed the course and who told her that if she wanted to do it then she could. This simple encouragement changed her life, and she signed up for City and Guilds and has never looked back. Her approach has been to ‘say yes to everything’ and then work out how to do it once the commitment was made. This led her into teaching art groups in various different community settings, and training as a teacher. Paula has worked in education for many years, and has particularly enjoyed working with people with learning disabilities and people with mental health issues. She is passionate about the way that community learning can transform peoples’ lives. There were several key moments that stay in the mind. One was going to the European Parliament with a group of young people, when a girl who was an elective mute was able to find the confidence to speak up about the importance of funding for creative projects. Another was hearing about the kind of emotional safety net that Paula’s art-groups have provided for people at a vulnerable time of their lives.

Paula de-mystifies art, making it accessible and fun. She uses spontaneous, non-intimidating techniques, with affordable materials. She helps people create work that can ‘evolve’so there is no intimidation over creating designs.

Paula brought with her a lovely collection of art-journals and altered-books, which she kindly agreed I could photograph and share here. She has found that making ‘play-books’ are a very non-intimidating way for children to learn to enjoy a book.  Art journals have been very positive for people experiencing mental health difficulties. Paula spoke about the way that making things and enjoying images can help well-being. Many members of the audience had examples of their own where art and stitch have helped at a time of crisis or depression.

Paula is clear that she is not an art-therapist and doesn’t try to ‘interpret’ people’s art. However, just hearing her talk about her work made people feel positive and happy, so it is easy to see why her art and stitch groups would help people to feel happy and relaxed.