Workshops & Talks 2014

NOVEMBER 2014 WORKSHOP “Lets Print” with Elsie Watkins (report by Margaret Crichton)

Few people who are members of the Merseyside Branch of Embroiders’ Guild do not know, or, have not heard of Elsie Watkins. My personal recollections of Elsie are from the time she so generously gave her time to advise and produce items for the Liverpool Tapestry 2008 project  on view in St. George’s Hall visitor centre entrance. Examples of her work have been shown at various exhibitions held by the Guild in Liverpool.  I was delighted to attend Elsie’s Let’s Print  workshop.

Marie Stacey, programmes secretary, gave a humourous introduction about Elsie’s teaching career. We were intrigued to learn that Elsie has ‘spent time’ in prison, something which Marie was quick to enlighten us was as a ‘teacher’ not as an inmate.  This introduction set the tone for a very happy and productive day.

Elsie demonstrated printing methods using fabric dyes and printers letters. It is amazing how many interesting patterns can be produced for example by using the letter ‘A’.   A further demonstration included the use of bleach as a technique to produce dispersed effects on fabric e.g. velvet which resulted in examples of devore work. Finally, we were introduced to screen printing.    We were  encouraged to ‘have a go’ using some materials of our own or those items Elsie provided. We were a very diverse group from the experienced to the complete novice in the use of printing on fabrics. Throughout the day Elsie gave individual attention to everyone’s attempts, offering advice here and there as needed.

We all agreed that we had gained something special from the day. Comments made by the participants included, “this has encouraged me to get out my printing stamps and use them again”,  “I have never used any of these methods before and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience”, “this has been a very enjoyable day, a most relaxing time, no pressure yet we have all come away with something good to show for it”. All too soon it was time to pack things away and go home. Elsie received a well-deserved round of applause and sincere thanks for an excellent day.  I, for one can’t wait for another of Elsie Watkin’s workshops.


OCTOBER 2014 AGM followed by TALK by Sarah Thursfield “Tudor Women’s Dress” (report by Vicky Williams)

To make your neighbours envious in Tudor times and show you were respectable, you did not require fancy clothes or the latest foods, just have sparkling white linen! So we learnt from this knowledgeable speaker after our AGM. Linen was worn next to the skin and often only a small amount was visible, so keeping it clean was not so difficult in the days before detergents and machine. The unsung heroines of the period were the starchers, who could make the ruffs and cuffs appear very sharp edged.

The appearance of the rich is familiar from portraits; what 99% of the population wore was very plain and dull (natural) colours with little decoration. After 1530, when wills became compulsory, it is easier to learn of ordinary folks clothing, as items were handed down and itemised. Top layer garments lasted longer; these were made by tailors. They were often protected by aprons when women were washing or cooking.  Subtle changes of colour indicated class of servant. Undergarments were made by seamstresses, who were responsible for sheets, tablecloths and napkins, the table type that were very large.

The basic female undergarment was the Shift, the design remained unchanging until sewing machines were used. Because looms were narrower the shift had inserts along each side to allow movement. The neckline was quite low so a Partlett was worn for added protection and warmth. These were made of linen or cloth with simple ties under the arms and at the neck.

Over 50 years the outer garments showed a gradual change; the top became more fitted whilst the skirt was separate and gathered into a waist band. Sleeves could also be separate, being tied at the shoulder. Knitted hose arrived in 1550s, superseding cloth ones. Colours remained natural until a red petticoat became every young woman’s ideal.  1580 saw the beginning of female jackets or doublet. A full length gown or cassock could be worn over all items, often with a rabbit lining, as protection from winter winds.

We all enjoyed the display of garments, the detailed description of construction and Sarah (ours) was the perfect model for the gown and cap.


AUGUST 2014 WORKSHOP with Cathy Turner “Lumpy, Bumpy & Spikey” was cancelled due to lack of take up of places.

JULY 2014 TALK by Norma Heron & Kim Parkman “Designing & Conserving the POOL OF LIFE embroidered hanging 1995, in Womens Hospital Liverpool” (report by Helen Patrick) 

We welcomed MEG member Norma Heron, who has been a Guild member for over 40 years. Shortly after her retirement in 1995 Norma was approached by Arts for Health to do a commission for Liverpool Women’s Hospital. We were then enthralled and enlightened as to how she set about undertaking such a huge commission. The embroidered wall hanging was entitled “Liverpool – Pool of Life” and when completed measure 12ft by 7ft , to hang as a triptych. Norma worked one day a week for a full year on this magnificent embroidery, using images from all parts of Liverpool life and people. The Liverpool Echo at the time of unveiling called it “The hidden City in Hospitals’ work of art”.

So how do you begin on such a huge undertaking?

Norma starts with insight, imagination and inspiration looking into things which may be hidden from vision. From this words , ideas and images flow.The next stage is experimental looking at fabrics, colours and drawings etc. Norma is very methodical and she keeps all these experiments for her records.Then comes the translation of all the preparation onto fabric, no mean feat for such a big work. The final stage is the completion, the hanging and the viewing.

Kim Parkman then explained how Norma’s work had to be removed, conserved and stored while the new building work on the Womens Hospital was completed.The “Pool of Life” now sits in pride of place in the hospital to be admired and enjoyed by staff, patients and visitors alike. I have not seen this work so will take myself off to the Women’s to see it for myself. Have you seen it? If not give it a visit.

“The Pool of Life Wall Hanging” may easily be viewed. Enter the Liverpool Women’s Hospital by the Main Entrance and turn left, following the signs towards Emergency Admissions. Along this corridor you will see the preliminary studies for the embroidery, and then you will see the hanging on the right side of the corridor.


JUNE 2014 WORKSHOP & TALK “Japanese Day” by Katie Chaplin (report by Kate Robinson)

We were grateful to welcome back Katie Chaplin from Japan Crafts for agreeing at such short notice to run this month’s workshop. Katie’s interest in all things Japanese started initially following a silk painting course and grew from there. Over the years she has worked hard to develop her passion into a full time business. She travels frequently to Japan and has developed a wide network of contacts. Her in-depth of knowledge of Japanese culture and crafts is impressive and her enthusiasm for her subject evident.

During the morning Workshop we tried our hand at needlefelting using single felting needles and wool tops resting on top of a sponge block. Katie explained that although this is not a traditional Japanese craft (sheep are rare in Japan) it is nonetheless an extremely popular craft over there. We created simple shapes using metal biscuit cutters as a guide (and to protect fingers)! We also used larger pieces of felt to apply wisps of different coloured wool tops which could also be used as backgrounds. The repetitive action of the needle was therapeutic as was not having to think too much and no mess to clear up afterwards!

Katie’s afternoon Talk & slideshow focussed on traditional Japanese textiles.  She emphasised the value the Japanese place on craftsmanship, training for many years to perfect their chosen craft.  The ultimate master of each craft is given the honour of the title ‘national living treasure’ and has a duty to pass on his/her skills to the next generation.  During the talk we were able to handle exquisite examples from Katie’s personal collection including her favourite Art Deco inspired meisen kimono from the 1920s and 1930s, ably modelled by Sarah and Helen! Katie explained a range of processes: hand weaving (including fingernail weaving), silk production, kasuri (double ikat weaving) where warp and weft threads are dyed prior to being woven and yuzen (painting or stencilling technique using a rice paste resist).  Having always had an interest in Japanese culture, this fascinating insight from Katie made me want to book my plane ticket to Japan….

“Japanese Day” Workshop by Katie Chaplin


“Japanese Day” Talk by Katie Chaplin


MAY 2014 TALK “Viking Warriors & Weavers” by ‘Snorri the Viking’ AKA Ian Uzzel (report by Michelle King)

An almighty roar came from the rear of the room. This was soon followed by the entrance of Snorri the Viking, dressed as a very rich warrior, ready for battle. He made an impressive warrior. In one hand was a large shield. On his head was an iron helmet that was spherical on top. It was without horns because helmets of the Vikings never had horns. Hanging from his side was his sword. It was of good quality, long and flexible and would have cost about £10,000 in today’s money. His iron mail weighted 8 kg and was the most expensive part of his attire. He wore brown trousers, leather shoes and a blue tunic. Everything about his attire showed his vast wealth. Snorri described the various plant-based dyes that were used by the Vikings to give rich and varied coloured wool and linen. Blue, from woad, was very expensive. Purple, from a Mediterranean beetle, was even more expensive and used to dye imported silk from Istanbul, and only worn by Royalty. The different roles of men, women and children were described. An important part of daily life for all three was spinning of thread; this was done at every opportunity as each family made their own cloth for their clothes. The cloth was decorated with tablet-woven braid which sometimes contained silver and gold threads. Both the quality of the cloth and embroidery techniques were impressive. The presentation was informative and entertaining; it left a very good impression of what life would have been like for Vikings living in the north-west area of England.


COLOUR COMPETITION 2014 The entries were judged by Snorri the Viking, and the Winner received The Edna Billiston Glass Trophy.


APRIL 2014 WORKSHOP “Scarves for Sreepur” with Ruby Porter MBE (report by Sarah Lowes)

When I signed up for Ruby’s workshop using scarves from the Sreepur Women and Children’s Refuge, I had no idea that I would stumble on a potential third career. As I ran about the garden at All Hallows waving my freshly dyed scarf in the sunshine, I realised that I had quite some talent as a human washing line. The scarf rapidly went from dripping to damp and I returned indoors feeling very pleased with myself…

An hour before my Isadora Duncan moment, we had been marvelling over the finely handwoven scarves – (so delicate!), and choosing which shade of dye to use. As the scarf and the embroidery were both made of natural fibres, the threads dyed beautifully and we had some lovely blush pinks, lilacs and soft french navys. The most interesting colour turned out to be the green dye which produced different shades from lime green to a soft eau-de-nil.

While we waited for the scarves to dry, Ruby demonstrated various natural dyes for us and we browsed through her books of embroidery designs for possible embellishment ideas. Those who had brought threads and beads soon set to work and we spent a relaxing and happy afternoon.


MARCH 2014 TALK “Kay’s Practical Embroiderer & Its Influence on my Work” by Alice Colson (report by Wendy Neale)

Alice Colson is an embroiderer who decided at the age of fifty to throw caution to the wind and study as a textile student. While studying at Manchester Metropolitan University the point came when she had to decide what she was going to specialise in, and the way forward, and she decided to concentrate on a style of embroidery which was popular in the 1930s and 40s, using metal templates, which was known as Kay’s Practical Embroiderer. Perhaps surprisingly hardly any of us had even heard of this.

The method was to sew over the templates, covering them but not sewing underneath, then cutting through the sewn thread and removing the template, leaving a tufty effect. In time several layers of different coloured threads would be used. Alice has taken this idea and expanded on it using beautiful colour combinations, and sometimes very detailed layering and cutting, leaving an interesting and intriguing centre. She has adapted Kay’s method and transferred the basic idea to a twelve needle industrial sewing machine. She uses flower designs, also circles and squares. A variety of work samples were passed around for us to look at closely, and larger pieces of work were on table display. All so beautiful.

At the end of her talk Alice told us that she loves making fabric and surfaces; her particular enjoyment is for making edgings.

A very interesting and inspiring afternoon.


FEBRUARY 2014 WORKSHOP “Recycled Accessory Workshop” with Tina Leahey (report by Rose Chambers)

Having seen Tina Leahey’s ‘Miss Raggy Doll’ creations in shops and craft fairs around Liverpool, I was really looking forward to this, the first workshop of the year, and I was not disappointed!

Like most of us, I keep lots of bits and pieces, beads, broken jewellery and scraps of fabric with the intention of using it somehow in my work. This was the perfect opportunity to do that, though Tina had brought lots of her own interesting bits and pieces for us to use.

Her ethos is cost effectiveness and recycling – and she gave us  tips to use e.g. Instead of using expensive fabric paint pens the same effect can be achieved by just using permanent ink pens and ironing to set. She’s also a great advocate of Pound Shop purchases!

She brought a range of her lovely creations including fabric brooches, notebook covers, bags and necklaces. She was very generous in sharing her creative ideas and her materials. Tina demonstrated how to make one of her bags and there were templates to make a variety of other bags (hopefully that will be the subject of another workshop)

I made a fabric notebook cover, brooches, beads and started a tote bag. Everybody produced some impressive pieces.

I think I can speak for all who attended when I say it was a very enjoyable day from which we learned some useful techniques and produced some unusual, attractive work.


TALK by Merseyside Embroiderers Guild at Parbold Embroiderers Guild on 12th January 2014 (report by Marie Stacey, photographs by Vicky Williams and Sandra Kedzlie)

Three of our  members, Norma Heron, Karen Scott and Marie Stacey (supported by Kim and Vicky), went to Parbold EG in order to deliver a ‘show and tell’ session. We had a warm welcome.

Norma led the way, showing samples from the forty years (!) she has been a member of the Guild, and taught embroidery and textiles. The work was stunning: Norma ‘likes big’, and is inspired by colour. A wide range of pieces included machine embroidery; patchwork; the use of layering and cutting;  and gold and silver threads, embellished with paint and crayon . A collection of drawings and photos made on a trip to the Middle East, with the completed work, demonstrated her approaches clearly.

Karen spoke next, outlining the journey she had made to embroidery and textiles, including her brave decision to completely change course professionally. She is now in the second term of a BA in Design at Liverpool Hope, and is clearly relishing the opportunities it provides ‘to play with a whole load of new toys’. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Initially inspired by felting, she has developed a passion for printing, dyeing and melting. Karen used a kaleidoscope , and then made a trileidoscope, in order to photograph and play with images that can be used as a basis for embroidery. She showed samples of shibori, and work made with heat presses, digital printers and a dot matrix, as well as more traditional work, such as reverse appliqué and goldwork.

Marie’s talk was concerned with the impact of age-related macular degeneration on her ability to embroider. With the help of a patient and empathetic teacher, Ann Rogers, Marie is developing mastery of machine embroidery, and also having some success with more traditional hand embroidery. She described tools she had found helpful.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Parbold, and look forward to March 2015, when Parbold colleagues will be making a return visit to Merseyside.


JANUARY 2014 TALK “Creative Fabric Printing” by Christine Toh (report by Linda Sowler)

Our first talk of the New Year was by Christine Toh who gave us an interesting insight into her work on fabric and paper printing.

Christine was brought up in France but only took up her interest in printing when she came to England. Having achieved a first class honours degree in Textile & Design at John Moores she has followed her love of ‘playing’ with fabric and paper. Most of her inspiration has come from nature, taking photographs, using photoshop on the computer and interpreting a design onto fabric. Even graffiti and cracks in the pavement have been used in her designs. These are usually screen printed onto silk with colours interacting. We were treated to some lovely examples of hangings and scarves, also books and ruffs. Layers of images were made with another design coming through on the reverse.Christine very much likes to see what happens and experiments as she goes along. Her work can take a day, a month or years ( we all understood the latter).

We learned that Christine likes to depict examples of decline and fragility, that nothing lasts, things are moving on. An example was the lotus leaf design with fraying text which disintegrates like our memory! It was interesting to be able to feel and see the work done by Christine for the exhibition at the Bluecoat in “The Void”. This installation work depicted refugees and asylum seekers showing the despair and loneliness they feel. It was very moving.

We wish Christine all the best for her future work for the next Biennial.