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).

 

August Garden Meeting

We had a lovely relaxing day for our August ‘Garden Meeting’. Traditionally, our August garden meeting is a chance to sit and stitch together and have a ‘show and tell’ of work that members have been getting up to. It’s good to see what a very wide range of interests and techniques we have across the group.

Medusa (detail)

Pride of place went to Medusa, the branch entry into the Regional ‘Fantasy Wear’ competition, which was awarded a joint second place. Snakes were contributed by lots of different people which gave them a good variety. If you look at the close-up you will see that Medusa herself has a snakeskin face. This mysterious effect was created by Gill.

I took lots of close-up photos of individual pieces of work, but as they didn’t have name labels I couldn’t ask for permission to put them on the website, so I’ll just add some photos of the overall show. If you put something in to the show and agree to it being put in the gallery of members work, please could you drop me an email and describe which piece it is and I’ll include it in the gallery. There are so many lovely things hidden away in people’s houses, which would be good inspiration for other people to see.

Flowers and birds, a summery talk by Lara Sparks

What a delightful afternoon for our June meeting, listening to a talk by Lara Sparks.  Judging by the numbers of questions and the throng round Lara’s display table, Lara’s talk was enjoyed very much by members.

Lara told us about a world that most of us know next to nothing about, which is the world of embroidery designers working in the fashion industry. Lara worked in various roles, for example designing and providing the prototypes of embroidery designs for high-end fashion houses making wedding dresses. She recounted one disaster when, after two weeks of stitching the embellishment on a very expensive wedding dress, the sewing machine had a hissy fit and sputtered oil onto the white silk. Oops. Then Lara had a stint of doing embroidery designs for women’s and men’s fashions, as well as designing for children’s clothing. Now she works on embroidered cushions, lampshades and home furnishings and exhibits with the Sussex Guild of Craftsmen (the next exhibition is this coming weekend, Sat 16th-Sun 17th at Parham House).

The drawing and design skills learnt during Lara’s art-college training have stood her in good stead. At one stage she was having to come up with one, sometimes two designs per day, not only drawn but also stitched.

See some of Lara’s work below here, with kind permission by Lara to include images of her work on our website. There is great enthusiasm to invite Lara to run a workshop for the branch.  If a date is arranged for this, then Ann will let everyone know in the newsletter. To see more of Lara’s work, go to her website: http://www.larasparks-embroidery.co.uk/

The Road to Mandalay

Jennifer modelling an intricate head-dress

This week we had a fascinating talk from Jennifer Hughes, who shared her knowledge and enthusiasm for the textiles of Burma. Jennifer brought a wonderful collection of textiles with her to illustrate her talk, some of which she modelled for us. Great hilarity was caused by her demonstration of how and why men and women tie the wrap-around ‘longhi’ in different ways (don’t ask!)

There were some wonderful little snippets of information. For example, every man in Burma has to be a monk for a period of time, so every family has a connection to the monastery, and religion is closely woven into the fabric of society. Another little snippet was where the term ‘white elephant’ comes from. Apparently pale-coloured elephants were prized, but a ruler could cause frustration and embarrassment by giving someone a white elephant. The elephant would take great time and expense to care for, but the recipient could never get rid of it as it was a gift from the ruler.

Examples of fine weaving
A belt with shells and coins. Wealth is worn rather than hidden away.
Embroidered elephant with sequins

Isobel Moore: ‘Swirls of Paper, Fabric, Stitch and Beads’

Isobel Moore

At our March meeting, members enjoyed a fantastic talk by Isobel Moore, who shared some of her wonderful machine-embroidered textile art with us. Her work (and her talk) were so well-liked that the forthcoming workshop on the 26th April booked up almost immediately. Don’t despair though, if you go on the waiting list then you may just squeeze in if there’s a cancellation.

February Workshop Group

Zippy Bag by Pam Bennett

Look what the Workshop Group made this month. Pam Bennett wrote: ‘Here is a photo of my finished zippy bag from our last workshop. Hope to make a couple more for Christmas presents. Thanks to Wendy for an excellent day’.

It would be good to add more photos if anyone has them.

P.S. I am trying to get my head round a different way of sending new posts to people who have subscribed via the link on the Home Page. If you receive spaghetti instead of something sensible, please let me know!

February Meeting

At the February meeting, we were treated to an interesting talk by member Ruth Walker, who talked us through her ‘textile journey’. Ruth brought with her a beautiful collection of her work, including machine-embroidered bowls, pictures and bags. By her own confession Ruth has quite a ‘thing’ about bags, and they are such a good vehicle for displaying a range of techniques. Ruth also showed us a wonderful range of designs based on peacocks. Some years ago she was treated to a magnificent display by a peacock who shook his tail-feathers at her and ‘strutted his stuff’, and peacocks have featured in her work ever since. Thanks to Ruth.

We had a whole-day meeting this month, so there was plenty of time to ‘sit and sew’, and to see what people are working on. Jill showed people the results of a recent embellishing course she has been on, and demonstrated how she makes background fabrics using scraps and threads (don’t forget that the branch has an embellisher that you can rent for just £5 a month). And thanks for the encouraging feedback on the website everyone. Do keep sending in the photos – we are starting to build up a good range in the ‘gallery’.

 

RSN Last-minute Day Classes

There are a few last-minute places available on day-school classes at the Royal School of Needlework in February and March – see below.

 

Intermediate Metal Thread Work: ‘Silver Snowdrop’
25 February
Hampton Court Palace

Funky Felt for Appliqué
4 March
Hampton Court Palace

Crewelwork Lady, Inspired by a 17th Century Petticoat
25 February
Bristol

Introduction to Blackwork: ‘Tulip’
4 March
Bristol

Silk Shading & Goldwork
Only 3 spaces left!
3 & 4 March
Hampton Court Palace

Intermediate Goldwork & Silk Panel
17 & 18 March
Hampton Court Palace