Workshops & Talks 2017

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April 2017 WORKSHOP “Making a Napkin Box” with Val Heron (report by Alice Bradley)

Didn’t we have a “luverly” day, the day we made napkin boxes!

I am trusting that Hilary will have some great pictures to illustrate the efforts and achievements of the workshop participants, and also the pinnacle to which we were striving. Who knew what talent we had in our midst as members of MEG! Val Heron led us on a journey to make a fabric box. But there was a hidden agenda in this workshop. She was also teaching us how to lace fabric onto card. We all admitted that here was a skill missing from our repertoire. Some had made an attempt, in the past and wouldn’t put it any higher than that.

Val brought along some examples of boxes she had made and explained the art of the creations. One of her samples had a lid which had been made from an evening skirt she bought at a jumble sale, and we all agreed that the fabric took on a much better role as part of a fabric box, than it could possibly have done as a skirt – well each to their own of course. She explained how the boxes make lovely presents for those people who have everything, and a napkin box can be enhanced by matching place mats or table runner.

Prior to the workshop, Val had prepared a work pack for each of us, beautifully presented in an envelope file. Each pack contained what we needed to make a box, with the exception of the fabric- pre-cut pieces of card and interfacing, clearly labelled in separate component parts and two pages of detailed instructions. We were absolutely forbidden to open the pack until told to do so, but when we did we could see she had done a tremendous amount of preparation for us.

We took along our own choice of fabrics for the inner and outer of the box. It’s always a nice moment to see what the other course members had selected – and the variations were immense. So on with the learning. Val demonstrated the construction process of the sides and base of the box and the art of covering the padded card pieces using Lace Stitch. The box pieces were then joined using Ladder Stitch. The day involved a lot of stitching, and a lot of chattering. Topics included the forthcoming election, Politics in general, Mr (and Mrs ) Trump, exhibitions, museums, The Guild, the weather forecast, all as you would expect when a group of ladies gather over a needle and thread.

Very grateful thanks are due to Val, for her preparation beforehand saving us so much time on the day, for her knowledge on time and penny saving tips, for her demonstrating skills and for being prepared to share her talents with us. I do hope that the fellow workshop members will bring their finished boxes to a future meeting for us all to enjoy. And a bonus is that we now do not have any excuse for not presenting our “works of art” properly laced onto card for display. Thank you Val.


March 2017 TALK by members of N.Wales EG “Sharing Good Practice” (report by Marie Stacey)

We had a real treat on Saturday 18th March, with the visit of 3 colleagues from the large and thriving Embroiderers’ Guild from North Wales, each of whom gave an absorbing talk on totally diverse aspects of stitching and textiles.

Ronnie White

Ronnie has been working in felt for around 10 years; currently she is doing a City & Guilds course in Feltmaking. Ronnie loves the tactile nature of what she says is a simple process at heart. She showed us the basic materials of hand-made felt, passed around several items which had been made with wool and silk fibres, some of which were delicate scarves, and sculptures using tough materials which enabled the felt to stand. All the items were strongly textured and a delight to handle. Hangings developed from Ronnie’s own paintings were vivid representations of the Welsh landscape and coast.

Linda Beagan

Linda showed us the research, planning and designs which went into completing a commission from close friends – who gave Linda an open brief to start with, but who had quite definite ideas at points during the process! The final piece was a totally brilliant and imaginative depiction of Conwy Castle in medieval times.

Moya McCarthy

Moya returned to stitching after retirement, attending various courses (including one run by our own Ruby Porter!) and joined the N Wales branch in 2002 – a move which has had a powerful impact on her development. She showed us an amazing cross section of work, including fascinators using dissolvables, knitted wire, handstitched pebbles, beautiful stitched seascapes, and 3D flowers inspired by Bodnant gardens. What a rich and diverse collection!

February 2017 WORKSHOP “Fabulous Fragments” with Shelley Rhodes (report by Janet Wilkinson)

I was intrigued by this workshop from the moment the requirements list arrived and following its instructions was a creative journey in itself. First to find inspiring fragments that would fit in a match box and then to take close up photographs of them to manipulate and print out. Then filling a shoe box with materials and tools with which to draw, colour, fragment and assemble. All with no idea of what I was going to end up with on the day – very exciting.

Shelley brought samples, finished pieces and fascinating sketchbooks to guide us through the day and show how she had developed this particular way of working – originally inspired by Japanese Boro textiles. We started by making a series of varying size background papers by tearing, layering and sticking the photocopies and papers that we had brought. Introducing a limited colour palette with pastels, paints and inks. Not a bit of A4 white to be seen when we had finished.

Shelley demonstrated pen and ink techniques to produce lovely line and wash sketches and lettering. All done with flexible homemade pens easily put together from drink cans and coffee stirrers. There will be lots of these appearing in Liverpool now. She got us sketching and mark making with all sorts of media and tools with tricks to make us relax and not be precious about the marks we were making. Beautiful drawings appeared. We then moved on to distressing papers and fabrics using prompts like rip, tear, scrape and crumple. Then to assemblage of all these previously worked bits. Very focused – with some people working on the floor, using stitch and other fastening methods to layer all the elements together. Then a reworking of these compilations.

A non-prescriptive day so lots of variation in how these pieces emerged and grew. New directions taken as ideas popped up during the making process and in response to the materials and images. Tables filled with patches of bright pinks, soft seashore colours, fiery reds and greens, found object assemblages and beautiful soft pearlescent structures like the interiors of shells.

An inspiring and absorbing day that could go further in all sorts of directions, I was particularly taken with Shelley’s a page a day A6 sketch book and already have my pen making kit ready to go!


January 2017 TALK “Maker of Mad & Beautiful Things” by Heather Wilson (report by Eileen Sampson and photographs by Mal Ralston)

So a new year starts for MEG, and now we are 61. After all the highs of our 60th Anniversary, culminating in our epic finale, some may be wondering if this year will be a bit of an anti-climax and leave us all feeling a bit flat? Well if our first speaker is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding No, definitely not! Heather quite literally burst upon us with actions and an ensemble worthy of Cap’n Jack Sparrow, magnificently coiffured peacock blue hair and all topped off with a two tier miniature top hat with a shark on it. Possibly two sharks. For well over an hour she kept us wonderfully entertained as she shared her passions and covered topics as diverse as how to remove an unwanted relative from a family painting, and how to take a loo break in the Indian bush. We laughed (a lot), cried (a little), were treated to a whole range of regional accents and finally witnessed an impersonation of Prince Charles that would have had even Camilla fooled. Oh yes and then we finished off with cake.

Heather is originally from the South of England but is now based in Hebdon Bridge, Yorkshire where she has a studio shop. Her main interest is personalised watercolour paintings, but she ended up doing a modular degree in Ipswich covering a variety of topics including theatre set design and costumes. This resulted in the idea to make a mad hat, despite having no training as a milliner. She discovered a company called Parkins of Oldham who supply ready made bases for hats and fascinators. Starting with these the only limit is imagination, and Heather has no shortage of that.

We were enthralled as she showed and described a range of items, each more fantastically decorated and named then the previous one. All items are sewn and nothing is glued and they contained all manner of things. There were two very elaborate feathered fascinators entitled “The Pheasant Plucker’s Niece” and “The Pheasant Plucker’s Great Niece”, a bizarre blue confection with a budgie on it called “Who’s A Pretty Boy Then?” and a green hat trimmed with fake grass, a tree and a model cow which had the wonderful title of “Who Are You Calling A Lying Cow?” However she admitted that some of her more dour Yorkshire ladies definitely didn’t understand the humour and irony of her naming strategy. Some however were blunt enough to shock even her. The top tier of the shark hat is a wedding favour box and can actually be opened to store things, and while explaining this to one old lady she suggested sweets or bus fare, only for the old lady to reply that she would use it to store a…..Well let’s just say an item usually bought in barbers and known as “a little something for the weekend!!

Her business has not been without its setbacks and twice in recent years she has lost many unique and irreplaceable items due to extensive flooding. She considered re-locating to the Midlands but this was neither feasible in terms of potential customers nor cost effective, so undaunted she simply cleaned up and started again, but the shelves in the shop and studio do keep getting higher and higher. Heather’s other great passion is producing very personalised watercolour paintings each of which is absolutely unique to their recipient. Nothing is made up and they are produced after detailed discussions with family and friends of the subject and many, many photos. The subterfuges involved in the projects would be worthy of a spy movie and a very funny one at that.

Her folder of copies of each one was wonderful to view and her descriptions fascinating. The attention to detail is unbelievable, even down to a person’s favourite food or their tattoos. Each picture was a riot of colour and an absolute mish-mash of strange items and themes, but then each one was nothing short of a person’s whole life story. Nor does she shy away from the unhappy moments. There must have been several of us who had a lump in the throat and a few tears when she pointed out the name of a deceased little one whose name was shown in fairy dust in the clouds in one painting. Her most bizarre commission was to commemorate the 10th anniversary of a liver transplant.

Such wonderful commitment must surely make her an honorary member of most of the recipient’s families. In fact many do come back for future updates when a marriage occurs or a new baby arrives. All this started from simple cards made to mark a birthday or a christening and has now grown to the point where she has a truly global client base. And the unwanted relative? She simply supplied them with a cardboard cut-out to cover her up if or when the rest of the family finally persuade the husband to divorce her!

Heather finished her talk with a detailed account of her visit to India on a three week textile tour taking in Gujarat , Rajasthan and Goa. The party was led by a formidable lady called Lorna who was definitely a throw- back to a more imperialistic past and held attitudes frowned upon today. Despite that Heather provided such a comic take on her outrageous behaviour that we couldn’t help but laugh. You could almost picture her, a pith helmet topping off tweeds, a pink gin in one hand and an elephant gun in the other. However even this lady could not overshadow the incredible hospitality they all received wherever they went. We saw a range of photos illustrating amazing costumes and textiles and then were able to view the real thing in the form of an outfit of a skirt and top and embroidered cloths. The degree of detail was intense. There were examples of tie dying that were almost microscopic and certainly put the T-shirts of our youth with their dinner plate sized designs in the shade. There were even paintings made from rubbish picked up in the streets. As for her description of the loo breaks, well you just had to be there to fully appreciate the humour in that case.

As an ending Heather drew our attention to a strange painting made up of buttons, bits of dress patterns, scissors etc and said it was called “The Contents Of My Mother’s Sewing Box”. It was a very poignant moment and there were many murmurings of “just like my mum’s”. However before we all got tearful again she launched into a poem she wrote herself about Prince Charles’ visit after the floods and soon the tears were due to laughing. Throughout her talk Heather said four words several times. They were simply “I love my job”. At the end of the afternoon none of us were left in any doubt as to that fact. So if that’s the start of our calendar, then bring on the rest of the year! (and hopefully more cake)