Very few of our speakers have had such a prestigious CV as Karen Nicol. Karen’s mother was a keen flower arranger and she was brought up with flowers everywhere. Flowers, animals and birds can be seen in the majority of Karen’s work.
Karen gained a 1st class BA at the Manchester College of Art and then went on to the Royal College of Art where she studied textiles. For many years she taught at the Royal College of Art and has been visiting speaker and artist in residence all over the world.
Karen kindly bought a wonderful selection of her work for us to look at.
Karen then went on to show us images of her work. A large number of them included animals, birds or flowers and ranged from dresses to bedding, table linen and even large animal rugs. She mentioned working for designers like Alexander McQueen, Jasper Conran, Givenchy, Betty Jackson and John Rocha. In time Karen decided to expand her horizons and exhibit and accept commissions under her own name. She started with an exhibition in London and one in Italy with the theme of lace skirts but has subsequently exhibited all over the world. In 2015 Karen was awarded the Royal Designer for Industry.
To our amusement Karen told us that her favourite machine was a 47 year old Singer. She sources a lot of her materials from car boot sales and jumble sales and is always experimenting with unusual materials.
This was a truly inspirational talk which opened up a world I knew little about.
Apologies to Karen for the quality of some of these images which were taken from her presentation. I now know how to adjust the brightness on the projector!
Photos and report by Ros
David Birks from Trowbridge Museum started the new year off with his talk entitled “1000 years of Warp and Weft”. He is the Learning and Outreach Officer for the museum which is closed for redevelopment until August 2020.
David started his talk by asking why the area of West Wiltshire (Trowbridge, Westbury and Bradford on Avon) was so important to the wool trade. We had downland for the sheep, rivers to wash the wool and later to power the machinery, and a good supply of Fullers Earth clay which was important in the finishing of cloth. Initially it was a local trade whereby white woollen cloth was woven and dyed and also raw wool was exported to Europe.
We were shown a basic loom with the warp threads weighed down with blocks which was superseded by the horizontal loom in the 12thC - this had a 7 year apprenticeship to learn the skill. By the mid 15thC it became a regional trade with a wool mark of quality issued by an Aulnager and clothiers responsible for the complete process from raw wool to cloth. Merino wool was introduced from Spain and this was mixed with English wool to produce checks, stripes and patterns. In the 17thC cloth workers from the continent brought new techniques and equipment
By the mid 18thC Georgian money-saving inventions were introduced - the Spinning Jenny, Slubbing Billy, Carding machines and Scribbling Horse. This was a period of industrial unrest as workers worried about losing their jobs due to these new inventions. At the beginning of the 19thC clothiers became very wealthy and the Kennet & Avon Canal was constructed to enable coal to be brought economically from Somerset. In 1860 the wool industry was at its peak. During wartime military cloth was produced for all sides involved but the industry lost out eventually to Scotland, Yorkshire and the continent ending locally in 1982. One of the last orders was for Mary Quant in the 1970s.
David concluded his talk by reading us the fines which were administered to the workers in the factories. They were a high proportion of the workers wages and appeared most unjust by our modern day standards.
Early each December we all enjoy a “bring and share” buffet lunch to start the festivities of Christmas.
This is always a memorable event with a wonderful spread of delicious goodies. After the meal we have a surprise speaker and this year Lynda Warren entertained us with her talk entitled, “He’s Behind You”!
From the title you can probably guess that Lynda Warren talked about pantomime. Lynda’s background is in the theatre where she worked at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon first in the publicity and then in the costume department. She still works full time giving educational talks about the theatre, film and television.
She explained that pantomime first started in ancient Greece then came to Italy and France arriving in the UK in the 16th century. Lynda talked about Grimaldi, the Harlequin and the commedia dell’arte.
Over the years the characters have remained the same with the principal girl dressing as a prince and men dressing as dames. Modern pantomime has become very popular with television actors and pop stars taking the leading roles in traditional fairy tale stories – Dick Whittington, Jack & the Beanstalk, Aladdin, to name but a few.. A performance of singing, dancing, slapstick and jokes has entertained all ages of a family for years. There is always a background of good versus evil with the good fairy arriving on the stage from the right and the villain from the left. Audience participation has always been encouraged and the finale is usually a glamorous wedding or something similar.
Report and photos by Ros
Several years later he returned with a wife, Wendy, who made dolls and puppets and she asked Lydie to make clothes for them. One thing lead to another and Lydie ended up dressing puppets and dolls for various projects including Prince Charles, Princess Ann and Mark Phillips for Spitting Image and a large chicken for a Paxo advert. She also made dolls for Jim Henson based on his film Dark Crystal.
Lydie moved away so this initial career came to an end. She then went on to follow a Diploma in Stitched Textiles at Windsor and teach embroidery. She is currently a member of the South West Textile Group exhibiting all over the country.
Lydie was a very generous speaker as she showed us many examples of her work and explained in detail their construction. The "When I grow old I will wear purple" puppet and the "7 deadly sins" dolls were my favourites.
Report and photos by Ros
After the formal AGM our October speaker was Branch Member, Vernice Church. Last year Vernice was invited to go on a 19 day textile tour of India.
She started her talk by showing us a map of India and explained her journey starting in Delhi, moving on into Utter Pradesh, then Rajasthan and ending in Gujarat. Images of tuk tuks, motorbikes transporting families, unusual doors, windows, buildings, ladies in colourful saris and animals gave us an insight into a country with a completely different culture to our own. Many of the photos showed amazing textures, shapes and colours which could be used as inspiration for textile projects.
Vernice then showed us the various styles and techniques of the tribes in the different states she visited - Bandhani, Banjara, Shisha, Rabari, Sujani, Phulkari and Applique. They all used vibrant colours but each was very different.
The group tour started in Delhi, where they were shown the main sights, then moved south to Agra and one of the highlights of Vernice’s tour was an early morning visit to the Taj Mahal. They then continued to Jaipur, the pink city, where they had an elephant ride up to the Amber Fort, visited the Anokhi Hand Block Printing Museum, watched a cookery demonstration and attended a block printing workshop. There was a lot of retail therapy and Vernice showed us wonderful throws, books and souvenirs of her holiday. En route to Jodpur they visited the Chippa Community in the town of Bagru to see their Dying and Block Printing processes. Vernice concluded this first part of her talk by telling us about her visit to Jodpur, the blue city, where she visited the Mehrangarth Fort.
We now look forward to the second instalment of Vernice's trip when she visits Udaipur and then moves into Gujarat, the home of textiles in India.
Report and photos by Ros
Our September speaker was Jennifer Hughes and her talk was entitled “Culture at their fingertips – the Hill Tribe People of Thailand”. Jennifer trained as a Geography teacher, has an interest in needlework and lived for a number of years in Thailand. She has a wonderful selection of colourful garments and hats which she has collected over the years.
Jennifer explained that the Thai government recognises 6 different groups of Hill Tribe people and they all have their own distinctive individual style. They weave their own materials, usually hemp or dyed indigo cotton, on a backstrap loom attached to a tree or somewhere in the house and garments are then made up using the narrow cloth. At a very young age they are introduced to the various techniques and by the age of 7 or 8 children are expected to weave their own cloth. The garments and head dresses are decorated with stitching, seeds of wild grasses, dyed chicken feathers, and in the old days silver, but this has now been replaced by a lighter metal.
We were shown garments from the Akha tribe, the Mien, who are superb embroiderers, the Lisu, the Lahu and the Hmong.
Report and photos by Ros
The speaker for our July meeting was Dr Susan Kay-Williams who is the Chief Executive of the Royal School of Needlework based at Hampton Court Palace. Her talk was entitled Imperial Purple to Denim Blue – the colourful history of textiles.
Dr Kay-William started her talk by showing us an image of 1669 which showed the various stages of the dyeing process – the vat, a brick vessel where hanks of wool on a pole could be submerged and a plunge pool, all very similar to what we use in hand dyeing today. She said that mordants which assist in the fixing process of dyeing had been found in fragments of textiles found in the Indus valley dating back thousands of years.
She then went on to show us an image of a Coptic warrior from the 5/6th century in Egypt and explained the three things that stopped the progress of knowledge were war, plague and water. By the 19thC people would take mordants and dyes to different countries and the different components of the water would determine the results of the dyeing sometimes changing the colour completely.
To view an image of the Coptic warrior which is in the Art Institute of Chicago click on this link: https://www.artic.edu/artworks/99602/fragment-hanging
Dr Kay-Williams then went on to talk about individual colours starting with purple and explained that it was originally found from the gland in the mollusc from within a shell. There are two purples, red and blue purple and Alexander the Great took bolts of cloth as spoils of war. In Rome it was only the Emperor and a few senators who were allowed to wear purple and we were shown a mosaic image of his wife Theodora Ravenna in a purple cloak.
To see the mosaic of Theodora click on this link:
The next colour to discuss was red with copper and allum being the mordants and the root of madder, the dye. It was made commercially in the Netherlands and we were shown an image of the various stages of colour from the intense colour of the first bath to the exhausted pale shade showing the dye had been used up. Henry VIII’s favourite colour was red which is shown in many portraits. Venice was famous for making red from the insect Kermise which was found in the month of June on trees in Southern Spain, Armenia and Poland. It was the most expensive dye colour for the most expensive fabric and the Pope decreed that cardinals should not use purple but red. It was not until 50 years later they discovered cochineal beetle. Per grain of dye cochineal was much better.
Links showing portraits wearing red.
The portrait of the Young Flemish man in 1540 shows all garments in red and a shirt of blackwork - Hampton Court.
Henry VIII in a fine red suit heavily encrusted with jewels
The portrait of Cosimo de Medici by Jacopo Pontormo in 1520 Florence.
The next colour on Dr Kay Williams’ list was blue which she explained was the most popular colour in the world. Up to 8thC Mary had been shown in dar colours but it was then decreed that God should be celebrated in colour and in 11th C the Wilton Diptych shows lapis lazuli. In Europe the dye for blue was wode but in India it was indigo. Jenny Balfour Paul has written an in depth history of Indigo.
Click on this link to see the blue Wilton Diptych:
The European dye for yellow was weld whereas further afield saffron, gathered from the stigma of the saffron crocus, was used. Dr Kay-Williams explained that the Chinese had found a very powerful yellow colour which did not fade and therefore ancient examples of textiles have kept their vibrant colours. Scholars have tried to find out what they used without success.
The colour green could be seen in the famous Arnolfini portrait by Jan Van Eyck 1434 and this was thought to pay homage to the master dyers of Bruges because it showed deep browns and a deep green for the dress.
Click on this link to see the Arnolfini portrait:
The poor man’s black usually came from black sheep where as rich black was achieved by overdyeing as can be seen in Rembrandt’s painting.
The final colour which Dr Kay-Williams talked about was white and she said this was difficult to achieve because the material had to be bleached and re-bleached. The image she showed was of Queen Elizabeth I in a white gown.
Click on this link to see Queen Elizabeth:
To conclude her talk and bringing us up to date Dr Kay-Williams talked briefly about the “new blue” of the military uniforms and the most popular fabric nowadays, denim.
Her final image was of the portrait of Madame Moitessier by Ingres. She has become the living advert for the silk industry of Lyons to be seen in the National Gallery.
Click here to see the image of Madame Moitessier:
Report by Ros
Christine Chester’s talk this month was entitled “Afterwards”. Born and brought up in Eastbourne her father was an "in shore" fisherman and so beaches and the sea played a great part in her life. Her grandmother and mother both taught her various crafts but it was not until she was 25 and wanted to give up smoking that she turned to these skills to give herself something to focus on. Christine did her City & Guilds and following the horrific storm in 1987, she created “the Old Sea Wall”.
Christine entered several Hever Castle Quilt Challenges and showed us images of Strips, Stripes & Structures .and an Elizabethan theme.
A lot of Christine’s work has been influenced by family events and in 2004, after her step son’s car accident she created “Faint Hope” which showed the harsh words of the consultants together with the words of hope sent in cards from friends and family.
Christine felt she was become a butterfly with her work flitting from one thing to another so while at Committed to Cloth she decided to concentrate for one year on one technique. About this time her father had a stroke, his memory deteriorated and he could not read. This event in Christine’s life has given the foundation for various pieces of work – Fragile Fragments and Layers of Memory which won a prize at the Festival of Quilts. She used a selection of photographs which her mother had taken of her father as a fisherman and used various techniques to distort them to show the fading, gaps and deterioration in his memory.
Realising how precious life is, Christine decided to give up her job, set up her own studio and start a Masters degree at the University of Brighton. The final piece was based on empty pockets showing the emptiness of the brain. Pockets were cast with plaster and she pointed out the fluff and crumbs which has accumulated at the bottom of the pocket had been transferred to the cast.
In 2014 Christine created "One Woman's Journey". She explained that the amount of work in each panel was determined by how she felt at that point in her life – panel 4 had no stitch at all.
Christine is a founder member of UnFold which is a group of artists who had a successful stand at the Knitting and Stitching Show.
Report and photos by Ros
I was curious about the title of today’s talk “Butterflies and Banners” so it was interesting to hear the story. Born in Derbyshire Heather Everitt spent a lot of her young years with her grandmother who taught her numerous practical skills. Heather was very lucky because she had inspirational teachers at Secondary School, during her Art Foundation course and later at Manchester Metropolitan University where she followed a BA Hon Textile/Fashion chief study in Embroidery. Anne Morrell and Isabel Dibden Wright were two of her tutors and she was given the opportunity to explore behind the scenes of the Whitworth Art Gallery and Gallery of Costume at Platts Field. Heather became interested in heirlooms and tried to age her fabrics to make them look old and worn.
A fortuitous meeting at the final exhibition of her course opened an interesting door which over thirty years later is still a major part of Heather’s work. A gentleman asked if she would be interested in making a masonic banner and she makes on average 6 to 7 a year. Heather also makes replica banners and conserves old worn ones.
After university Heather tried to make a living designing and making hats and cushions but soon realised that she needed more lucrative employment. She became an articled Primary School teacher on the outskirts of Manchester and later moved to become an Arts Co-ordinator in Devon.
Eventually, after 17 years full time she was encouraged by her husband to reduce her teaching and eventually give up work and concentrate on textiles. She got commissions for waistcoats and ties concentrating on nature for inspiration – fish, butterflies, moths etc. Heather used a lot of Liberty fabrics in her work and told us how one day six years ago she queued along with lots of other people to have the opportunity to show her work to a buyer at Liberty’s in Regent Street. She was not successful on this occasion but went away fired with enthusiasm as she subsequently got commissions for weddings and other occasions. More recently she was exhibiting at a craft fair in Devon and a visitor said she knew someone at Liberty’s and promised to contact them. As of last year Heather’s amazing butterflies are now on display in the Liberty Home department.
Heather then went on to explain how she draws or paints the butterfly, chooses the Liberty fabrics which she layers up under organza. The various areas are cut back according to her design using a technique know as reverse applique. The thorax of the butterfly is made using wet and needle felting. Finally Heather adds some “bling” to her work in the form of sequins or the like. The finished butterfly is presented in a labelled box with an OS map as a background identifying the area where it is found.
Heather is very pro-active with a Facebook page, a newsletter, an Etsy site and also sells through “madebyhandonline.com”
Report and photos by Ros
What a great treat to welcome our surprise speaker Harriet Riddell to our Christmas meeting this week. I first saw Harriet at Art in Action when she had just left University so it was interesting for me to hear what she had been up to during the past five years.
After our “bring and share” lunch the raffle was drawn and the winner Margaret Gow, had her portrait drawn by Harriet on her sewing machine. It was interesting to see how, starting with the left eye and continuous free machine embroidery, Margaret's face was created on the canvas.
Harriet explained that she followed a course in Contemporary Applied Arts at the University of Hertfordshire. At a life drawing evening class her tutor suggested she bring in her sewing machine to draw with instead of the conventional materials and she has not looked back since. At the age of 10 her grandmother had taught her to do free machine embroidery and this has become her chosen technique ever since. As long as she had a plug, a table and chair she could head off to various locations to find subjects – the launderette, the greasy spoon cafe, a nursing home where she was working part time and Greenwich market.
After graduating Harriet worked for a shoe company and was sent to their factory in China to record the process in stitch. Harriet has now travelled extensively on her bicycle in India with her sewing machine, table and a motor cycle battery to power her machine and has published a book of her experiences. She went on to become an artist in residence in Kenya and, as she could not work in Nairobi, she found herself in the countryside and in the slums.
In addition to portraits, Harriet has drawn the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Albert Hall and various other locations around London and told us how she invites people to ride her bicycle to power her machine. These works have been exhibited at several galleries in London.
I am sure I speak for everybody when I say we wish Harriet well with her wonderful creations and her travels and we will enjoy following her career.
So inspired by Harriet's talk our member, Nikki VW decided to have a go at her own self portrait and the result is below.
Information in this blog is provided by branch members who have attended the meeting, workshop or event.
Marlborough & District Branch is a member of the Embroiderers' Guild, the UK's leading crafts association
* The Embroiderers' Guild website -https://embroiderersguild.com/
* The Guild Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/embroiderersguild/
* The Guild Pinterest pages - https://uk.pinterest.com/theembroiderers/
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