‘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 


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

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.


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.

The gentle art of felting, with Claire Bullock

Claire Bullock came to talk to us this month about felting. It’s difficult to describe how funny and entertaining Claire’s talk was – so I’ll simply say that we spent a happy afternoon chortling away.

We also learned alot. One of the great things about Claire’s talk was a practical demonstration of how she incorporates scraps of fabric into felt. Claire de-mystified the process, and demonstrated how quickly and easily these delicious textiles can be made. For those of us whose felting tends to produce weighty door-steps, it was a revelation to see just how thinly Claire lays her wisps of wool down, and then how gently she felts it.

Gently teasing out wisps of wool ready to felt
Laying the wool down
Adding scraps of fabric
Gently felting the layers together

Claire brought a lovely selection of her work with her, which she kindly let me photograph to put on the website here. Wouldn’t it be great to have a workshop with her to learn some of these techniques? No more felt that looks like a cow-pat and risks knocking people out if thrown as a frisbee. Here’s a link to Claire’s website for further inspiration.

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/