November 2022 WORKSHOP “Layers, Texturing and Stitch” with Gill Roberts (report by Miranda Farby)
What an opportunity! – a workshop with our group member Gill Roberts, creator of artisan embroidered
This workshop gave all of us an opportunity to try a new technique involving layering fabrics, fibres and stitch to create a textured piece of work. Gill provided us with an exciting pack to explore at first and we all started with a small piece of felt and one sheer fabric to experience the effect of using a simple running stitch. It was such an effective way to start the workshop as we could all use this simple stitch. However, the hardest decision to make was what to try next amongst the myriad of suggested options as our first sample. Gill suggested if we wished to use paint or print that should be done first to give this time to dry. There was no pressure to complete a piece, but instead to play with print, colour, texture and type of fabrics. It was ideal for both hand and machine embroiderers.
Gill offered suggestions and support throughout the workshop, guiding participants and demonstrating use of the sewing machine and the embellisher. I worked with a mix of coloured fabrics I wouldn’t usually choose, working on an abstract design, totally out of my comfort zone, but really felt pleased with its progress. At different times during the day, you could hear a pin drop as people concentrated; at others it was chatty & lively as we shared how we were progressing.
Looking around the room, it was clear that everyone had embraced the challenge and what a wide variety of WIP (work in progress) could be seen by the end of the day! Take a look at the photos to see the range of samples Gill brought us as well as our achievements.
15th October 2022 TALK “Career of Mary Quant” by Ruth Lowe (report by Kim Parkman)
We had a fun day, celebrating our first anniversary as an independent stitch group. Our guest speaker was Ruth Lowe, an avid collector of ‘all things Quant’ and other British designers, who gave two talks on the life and career of Mary Quant.
Ruth arrived with a car full of clothes, accessories, make-up, shoes and homeware, which made a large display across the hall. She also did her first talk dressed in the outfit that everybody remembers from the early Quant era: black and white plastic dress, white plastic knee-high boots and a matching plastic cap. The trademark five-star daisy was on several items in the collection. In the first talk she took us back to the fifties when material was hard to come by and young women went from liberty bodices to girdles and suspenders, and teenage culture was yet to explode upon the scene.
Mary Quant was at the forefront of change, tapping into the King’s Road culture, fuelled by celebrities and the new breed of young photographers. Like many people at the time, she learned to sew from her mother, and used this skill to sew new clothes from hand-me-downs. She started with accessories in her shop, Bazaar, to help women change the look of their clothes with simple additions, before gradually being asked to make more and more clothing.
One look at Ruth’s collection was enough to demonstrate the longevity of Quant’s designs. Many of the outfits could happily be worn today, although probably at a longer length. The materials were beautiful, with simple shapes but subtle details, such as an unusual cut or button trims, elevated them above the ordinary ‘copies’ that were available to those who could not afford the originals. All of us could wear the simple shift dress shape that marked out her early style, but probably could not afford the silk linings or the quality of trims.
Mary made sure that those who could not afford her clothing could still become part of the new culture with coloured tights, a cap or some Poppet beads. Teenagers like Ruth were captivated by this new freedom to express themselves through music and fashion. Most of us shared her excitement and remembered some of the outfits that we had worn in our youth. Even the late Queen wore shorter skirts at the time.
Between the two talks, everybody shared a buffet lunch and reminisced and chatted. The group was able to show that they could not only sew but cook some really tasty food. Before the second talk began, as if by magic, everything was cleared away and we settled down for the tale of Quant’s later career.
As before, Ruth’s talk was without script or visual aids, just her knowledge and enthusiasm for her subject, and more beautiful clothes. It was a real treat to see her dressed in the same coat that Quant wore when she sat in her Quant-designed Mini – a car that Ruth had also owned. She must be the first speaker that we have had who has featured in car magazines around the world!
We were taken on a trip through Mary’s entry into the American market and the development of her style into a world-renowned brand, which changed through the years. There were too many firsts to mention, but Quant was the first to design jeans for the female figure. Those of us who sat in a chilly bath to shrink our jeans to something like a reasonable fit will be forever grateful!
Ruth’s collection of Quant memorabilia is vast, and many items are now in Tokyo, as part of a touring exhibition with the Victoria and Albert Museum. She has staged her own exhibitions; appeared on television and radio, and in numerous articles in magazines. We were privileged to get a glimpse of it, and hear how it started from a teenage ‘passion for fashion’.
17th September 2022 TALK “Remarkable Dolls in Period Costume” by Noelle Thomson (report by Elaine Morgan, photographs by Alice Bradley and Elaine Morgan)
Following the AGM on Saturday the 17th September, there was a fascinating talk by Noelle Thomas about her collection of beautifully period dressed 6 inch dolls. Noelle’s dolls are reused, refurbished, redressed in beautifully researched period costumes which she makes with such attention to detail. These delightful dolls range from grand ladies and gentlemen to soldiers, servants and children in a range of periods. We were lucky enough to not only see a slide show of her work and dolls but to admire these perfect miniatures at close quarters on display.
Noelle recalled how a dolls house passed down to her from an older sister when she was a small child started her passion for making her “ little people”, originally from peg dolls and now from second hand miniature dolls bought on the internet which she lovingly restores. What started as a hobby, developed during the pandemic and with her retirement leading to her new venture to sell her dolls at craft fairs as “ Elle’s Redressed Dolls”. ( Dolls saved and given new life. Redressed by hand!)
It was inspiring to see how Noelle’s life long passion had developed into such an interesting and fruitful venture and we enjoyed hearing how she had made it possible and wish her every success.
10th SEPTEMBER 2022 WORKSHOP “Create and Use- Practical Stitching Workshop” with Liz Almond
A lively group of enthusiastic and keen hand stitchers gathered for this course with Liz Almond. After taking a minute’s silence to mark the death of Her Majesty, we gathered round to admire Liz’s intense work practice and she discussed extending our stitch repertoire. It was hard to imagine that she had time to sleep! Liz suggested using some innovative techniques such using old CDs as discs to wrap completed embroidery around for presentation purposes. Water-soluble pens were recommended to draw the designs on cloth as they wash out, but not Frixion pens as the colour returns at lower temperatures. She encourages us, as stitchers, to play around with both colour and textured stitches. Liz suggested trying a variety of threads including crochet cottons, cotton perles or stranded cotton with 4 strands to have the effect with textured stitches.
As usual Liz provided us with many, many choices to begin our day’s stitching in designs, material and threads. At first I found this both challenging and exciting as there was such a variety to choose from. The day was punctuated by periods of intense concentration as we tried to grasp Mountmellick stitch, double knot stitch also known as Palestrina stitch, wheatear stitch, cable chain stitch and the ever ‘popular’ colonial knot, interspersed with lots of laughter and occasional muttering of course! Liz supported us in small groups and individually very patiently. She happily went over anything we were finding difficult. She suggested whipping stitches using a different colour thread, or metallic thread, adding beads or colonial knots. Liz was very firm, it’s “what you do with the stitches to make them look dramatic.” But that it was important to find a rhythm and mix both plain and textured stitches, for example using a running stitch next to Mountmellick, as shadow is part of the texture of the whole piece, creating depth to the patterns.
It was hard to stop for lunch, as I just had to finish with ‘this stitch’. The day simply flew by with members embroidering wreaths, roses, circles, hearts and trees using our newly acquired textured stitches. We’d all learnt something new and had a chance to practise. I really enjoyed the day. It was wonderful to see what everyone had achieved. Liz did set us a challenge to complete a piece before her next visit in the new year!
JULY 2022 WORKSHOP “Tambour Beading”with Tina Saunders (report by Michele King)
Tina Saunders is an accomplished dressmaker, embroiderer and fabric artist. She formerly worked for the Queen and now has her own business, “Needles and Sparkles”. Tina also enjoys sharing her love of the crafts with others via talks and courses. She is a patient tutor with clear explanations, demonstrations and lots of enthusiasm. She was always ready to help when required and also when we did not know we needed it. The course was limited to 12 people owing to the contact time required for each student.
Tambour beading is a traditional technique of unknown origins. It is thought to have developed in India in the 17th century, and in the 18th century brought to Britain and France. The technique involves attaching beads whilst making a “crocheted chain” through fabric with the design being worked from the reverse side. A special needle with a small barbed end, much like a miniature crochet hook, is inserted into the fabric; the thread is caught on the hook and then the hook and thread are pulled back through the fabric with a bead trapped in the chain. The hand under the fabric manipulates the thread and beads.
We began with a highly transparent mesh net so we could easily see through the fabric whilst sewing. We then progressed to adding beads with each insertion of the hook. Lastly, we started on a small project, which when completed, should look like the one in the photo with the gold and white sparkler on a blue semi-transparent background. The technique is simple in principle but takes practice to become proficient.
I really enjoyed the course and learning a new technique. I hope to use it in future projects.
June 2022 TALK “Fabrics in Fashion from 1780-1880” by Rachel Midgeley (report by Brenda Muller)
Our June talk was by Rachael Midgley, Curator of the Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth collection at Gawthorpe Hall. Rachael was originally a theatre Costume Designer. After volunteering at Gawthorpe, she became the Curator 10 years ago.
Her very informative talk on Fabrics and Fashion guided us through social history from hand loom weaving, working from home, (as is currently on trend!) to powered looms in factories. From sumptuous brocade silks, to fine wools suitable for summer wear, to cottons, muslins, voiles and linens, we romped through the 18th and 19th centuries. Along came better fabric Dyeing techniques, block prints, complex weaves, colours and patterns we seldom see in Costume Dramas. Evidence of the fabrics has been found in patchwork quilts, as most clothing was repurposed, another idea that is popular again!
We could see how developing technologies affected employment and changing availability of fabrics and their cost reflected the social importance of style.
We look forward to our coach trip to Gawthorpe on 20th August, and another opportunity to meet with Rachael.
May 2022 WORKSHOP “Dry Felt Landscape” with Nicola Hulme (photographs by Alice Bradley)
April 2022 TALK “Textiles- an Artistic Journey” by Beverley Saville (report by Miranda Farby)
Beverley Saville describes herself as ‘an artist and maker’ and that art is about who we are. She can’t ever remember not doing some form of art and was always in trouble with her mum for making a mess! She took us with her on her artistic journey, from her beautiful paintings to felt making and free motion machine embroidery which explore her love of landscape and nature. Beverley’s textile art was inspired firstly by her work teaching children to explore art, revealing the ‘joy of the young children’ who were exploring and doing, without worrying about what the art looked like.
Then Beverley found the ‘fire in her belly’ after a course with Emily Notman, where she found she could be more playful with fabric and paint, sharing her own exuberance and joy in making. Beverley is resourceful and uses many of her conventional painting supplies for her textile pieces and let us peek into her workspace. She encouraged us, as artists, to explore art in general as inspiration.
Her top tips were to ‘put your time into the actual work’ not learning loads of techniques, to control the colour palette to achieve impact and get ‘rhythms of colour’ into pictures to draw the eye. Finally, Beverley suggested it was critical to assess throughout the process, stand back and consider how to make the piece better, using a picture mount to help with this. Beverley’s talk certainly gave us all some impetus and fire to get going with our own pieces, especially thinking about September’s exhibition in All Hallows!
March 2022 WORKSHOP “Fabulous Pouches” with Diane Moore (report by Sarah Lowes and photographs by Diane Moore)
Many people in MEG shudder when they hear the word ‘zips’ – I’m one of them, so I thought it would be good for me to go along to this workshop run by the super-efficient Diane Moore and overcome this phobia…
You will be amazed to hear that I exited with a lovely pouch with a fully functioning zip, decorated with the ‘flip and stitch’ method! I thoroughly recommend flip and stitch because it’s a wonderful way to use up all your left-over strips of fabric. You place a strip of fabric down facing RS up. Next, you place a different one on top of it with its WS facing up. Now sew a narrow seam down the right hand side and open up – hey presto! You can keep placing on extra strips for as long as you like. Make sure to press each one open.
To decorate these panels further we used decorative machine stitches and couched threads.
Diane walked us through every step of the process of making linings and attaching the zip which seemed very complicated to me but I’m sure seemed pretty obvious to others. Everybody’s pouch worked out well, no one broke their zip and everyone went home happy.
Our tutor was very experienced, well prepared with inspiring examples of her work and her friendliness and patience gave us all the confidence we needed.
January 2022 TALK “An Embroiderer’s Tale by Tina Saunders (report by Kim Parkman)
We were treated to a talk from Tina Saunders, who currently runs Needles and Sparkles in West Kirby. The tale of her career development was certainly different, and some of the tales were very funny!
Being entirely self-taught, she applied for an apprenticeship at the Royal School of Needlework in Hampton Court, and was accepted. The variety of work undertaken looked daunting, and Tina showed examples from each part of the three-year course. Not many students would have chosen to do a model of the old Wembley Stadium as their 3-D piece, but she seemed to have an ability to give an original twist to her portfolio.
We realised that getting started in a textile career involved a lot of hard work, and some lucky breaks. In the cut-throat world of fashion, Jimmy Choo’s kindness stood out. Tina worked on embroidering shoes, and then branched out with free-lance work with various bespoke companies and stage productions.
In 2007, the call came to work for the Queen on tour outfits and evening gowns, and we had a fascinating glimpse of the work that goes on behind the scenes, getting everything ready for such important occasions. There were also special one-off commissions for the Commonwealth and Olympic Games, where even the staff were unaware of the reason behind some unusual requests.
Eventually this period came to an end, and Tina went back to freelancing, before re-locating to the Wirral and starting her own business. Her expertise will be shared when she returns to MEsG in July to teach the intricacies of tambour beading.
“From Postcard to Stitch” Members’ Challenge for Christmas. Members were given randomly postcards of classic paintings to interpret in their own way. Due to ongoing circumstances the voting for this challenge was delayed until our January meeting.