• The Disruptive Designer

Sheffield Embroiders Guild

Updated: Jan 22, 2019


I was kindly invited by embroideress Jenny Robson to attend their Sheffield Embroiders Guild meeting in the Assisi Hall, Sheffield where I had the opportunity to talk to individuals passionate about needlework. The meetings are held on the third Friday of each month from 10am - 4pm and comprises of a short agm commitee meeting and occasional workshops and guest speakers. The majority of the time it is an opportunity for individuals to socialise and continue of embroidery projects in the presence of like minded creatives, where ideas and techniques can be shared alongside networking and friendship building. The attendees were all female (although males are welcome) and aged from 60 - 90+, in total there were about 25 people at this meeting. This set up had similararities of the Mens Shed Charity which also encourages friendship building, skills sharing around creative activities.

I took with me my project work today including the two samples above, really to gauge reaction, feedback and generate possible ideas for further development based on the techniques of hand embroider as an option to build on the machine aesthetic. I was particularly interested in developing texture and depth.

Given the age of the attendees and the fact they were all hand embroidering and appeared to following traditional "text book" or "template" guides I was apprehensive showing them my machine work in the fear in would cause offence. The last time I experienced this was when talking to a Savile Row Tailor about mass produced tailoring, who was responded by saying "that isn't tailoring, its an insult to tailoring". Given what I have read in publications about peoples attitudes to hand v machine embroidery, it fuelled my anxiety a little.

The reactions to my work was incredibly positive by everyone and I found people were very keen to offer advise on techniques, equipment and processes. They loved the concept of reworking old jackets and the manipulation of the canvas with embroidery. They seemed genuinely intrigued by the digital embroidery and asked alot of question on "how' I created the pieces. I assume given the age of the individuals that many of are not CAD literate and therefore digital embroidery is something they feel is beyond them. Several mentioned they do use machines to free machine embroider, however no one I spoke to engages with digital embroidery. What really interested the ladies was my attempt to move beyond "just machining' by manipulating the machine in my attempt to give "it soul" as Morris would say, moving away from the rigid, stiff aesthetic created in previous samples by fully machining.

The work produced by the ladies were so individual, it was a testament to the variety hand embroidery can offer in terms of style and aesthetics. Some styles utitilised basic stitching, as seen by the beginners in the group, and these were often created over some sort of template guide (either pre purchased pack with a given design, or draw guidelines to sew over the top). Even the more advanced members utilised some sort of template guide, however the techniques used were far more advanced and the samples more accurate and intragate.

The bird sample (above) created by Jackie (69) is a piece she works on only at the guild meetings and a result it has taken her many months to get to this stage as she likes to talk to the other attendees which slows productivity. Jackie has other larger project she works on at home, which she cannot physically transport to the meetings, this therefore is more manageable piece and ideal. The berries use a French Knot technique which creates an interesting 3D effect, and with thicker wool the affect is increased. If I combine machine and hand sewing methodologies, combining wool thickness would not only add depth, but also vary the tactile feel.

The Egyptian piece by Sandra (66) above is based on the evolution of the Pharohs and is part of a group collaborative project forming one tile of a larger piece. The techniques are more experimental than the work produced by other members, utilising organza layers and embroidering on mesh to create depth and detail. The 3D tubes above are created by wrapping thread continuously around either cord or even wire (which allows for 3D moulding). Layering fabrics and exploring applique is something worth exploring further in my work.

Marias work (72) uses a Frixon pencil to create an outline. Maria explained that the main advantage of using this pencil is that it can be removed by heat (Maria uses a hairdryer) afterwards. These pencils come in a variety of colour, however occasionally a faint white line is visible afterwards. Maria also uses Derwent Ink tense pencils, mixing them with water and a fine paint brush to create a watercolour background, thus mixing media to create depth and detailing. French knots are handsewn to create flowers using silk threads which provide a simmer appearance with the light.

Sues (80) work above is beautifully sewn showing highlevel of skills and attention to detail. Initially I thought this was created by machine as the stitches are so accruate there is no evidence of "error". Although I am totally in ore by the work, part of me can not help thinking "you can create this quicker on a machine to the same affect" and it loses the "human touch" to a certain degree. This does raise the question about the importance of "error" in realtion to machine and hand embroidery and also perception and thus desirability, value and value. The body of the bee above uses a "bullion knot" to create a long thick detailed section, pretruding from the canvas, thus helping to create a 3D and 2D aesthetic. The flowers use a series of specialist techniques (of which I cannot remember the names, but these can be found in a text book). Sue purchased the design "pack" from which came complete with all the materials she needed. The template guide in this case is perminanet and can only be covered to hide by the stitches themselves. The instructions Sue follows informs the colours and stitch types to be applied and in this case Sue does not divert away or interpret in her own style. When speaking to Sue, she was not interested in design and interpretation of, but used the process of needlework itself as a form of therapy (Her husband is very ill and she is looking after him).

Here we see a technical process having mental health benefits, as opposed to creativity and self expression.

Pams (64) work above is incredibly accurate and precise, using another kit pack complete with materials. The canvas does not use a template to follow, however the instruction guide uses a "counting" guide, in which the craftsperson can scale up or down as appropiate to the scale they are working to. This counting method is similiar to the machine method which also works on mathematical formulae and stitch count. Afterwards Pam will turn the work into a birthday card cover for a friend.

Moving forward, it would be worth me looking at the work of May Morris (Williams daughter) who took over the embroidery aspect of her fathers business. Mays work above, could inspire boarders and breaking of which could be applied to canvas layers of a jacket. Also typography.

Jenny also gave me book which she thought would help, which explored Drawn Embroidery and needle weaving, where canvas threads on both the warp and weft are removed to create holes in the canves. A needle is then used to weave through the holes, creating a lace effect.

Preworking the canvas in this way would help with the transparency of the canvas revealing the fused underlayer.

Wet felting was also mentioned and needle punching, techniques which can add a more solid appearance to areas. A designer who was recomened I look at was : manon gignoux instagram.

In terms of sourcing scrap craft materials for project work, Scrap Dragon a Sheffield Charity was suggested which I will look into.

The commitee members were very much interested in my project work and have asked I would be willing to give a talk next year to the members about my craft. I have agreed to do this as a way of saying thank you and building networks.

To consider.

I proposed the idea of collaboration and celebrating the diverse styles seen, by creating one large piece of embroidery which is past around the members over a given time period, with each member adding to a part in their own signature style. They seemed very keen on the idea and on initial "testing of the water" a lot of members are keen to take part. I have proposed producing a canvas hanging, which I will start using my machine method and then present it next year after my talk. It might be that i have to drawn the image on the full canvas and separate into sections which a member can select to work in. The final outcome can be used for exhibition, reference, teaching aid, paper case study etc...