A stitch in time

Rachel Banham, Post on 23rd January, 2013
Members of the Embroiderer’s Guild East Suffolk.

If you thought there was only one type of embroidery, it’s time to think again. Members of the Embroiderers’ Guild Suffolk East branch have a wide range of skills, from traditional to modern. Rachel Banham reports.

Some members stitch by hand, some stitch using a sewing machine, but they share a common aim – to express themselves through their embroidery. The Suffolk East branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild has about 70 members – and it seems that the craft is increasing in popularity.

Carol Sutherland, chairman of the branch, says: “There are a lot of other independent exhibiting groups around the county as well. I think embroidery has gone from strength to strength in Suffolk.

“There are a lot of cross stitch magazines available now and a lot of people do stick strictly to doing cross stitch. We do a very much more varied kind of embroidery.

“Some people still do very traditional stitches, we have some people who do traditional gold work (ecclesiastical embroidery)… and we have people who do some very modern things.”

Although some people may think of embroidery as traditional stitching, branch members may use heat guns and soldering irons to create pieces using modern fabrics too.

Carol says: “A lot of us embroider using the sewing machine. You take away the need for the fabric to go in a straight line and you can then manoeuvre the fabric as you choose. You can use the sewing machine to draw with.”

The branch also has a Young Embroiderers’ group for those aged 18 and under. A former member went to study at the Royal School of Needlework. Carol says: “We run a talented and enthusiastic Young Embroiderers’ group. We have a very keen group of youngsters at the moment.

“The teaching of domestic skills in schools has changed very much and the emphasis now is very much on making a product with a view to selling it – market research, packaging and all that kind of thing – rather than the skill of actually making something.

“We feel that we should step in and supply the lack that’s there – to teach children basic stitching, basic sewing and also the more decorative sewing.”

Carol began embroidering when she was a child. As an adult, she saw a City and Guilds embroidery exhibition at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, featuring three-dimensional embroidered pieces which she says left her “absolutely enchanted”.

She joined an embroidery group which was linked to the Embroiderers’ Guild and studied for a City and Guilds diploma in embroidery. When Carol creates a piece of work she does a drawing first. She also dyes her own crochet cotton to embroider with. She explains that the appeal of the craft is to make something which is tactile.

“I think one of the things embroidery teaches you to do is to look and to see,” she says. “The thought of touch is very important to embroiderers. We do look to texture a lot nowadays.

“It isn’t just doing a pretty picture in silk, although that’s very nice to do and a lot of people still do some beautiful representational work, but it is also the idea that something is touchable.

“For most of us the secret of a good embroidery is that you want to reach out and touch it.

“The other thing is that it’s very pleasant and soothing to do.”

Carol points out that even those who don’t embroider are welcome to join the branch. “We most certainly welcome everyone. You don’t have to stitch at all,” she says.

Carol Sutherland

“If you’re interested in textiles then we welcome you with open arms. We are an educational charity so our remit is to teach.”

The branch covers a wide area. Members come from across Suffolk and as far as the Essex border. They meet monthly on a Wednesday evening and have a wide range of speakers – past talks have included those on quilting, Egyptian stitching from the time of the pharaohs, and embroidery from different countries.

Carol says: “We don’t stick to doing a bit of stitching of an evening. We do have some practical classes, but we also have a lot of speakers come in. We have a big and wide-ranging interest, whether it’s the history of textiles or textiles from other countries, or the current embroidery that one particular artist is doing.

“Even if you don’t set a stitch you can come along and have a very interesting evening learning about something you might not have known about before.”

  • The Embroiderers’ Guild also has branches covering Waveney, Norwich and King’s Lynn. For more details, including contact information, visit the website of the Eastern Region of the Embroiderers’ Guild at: www.embroiderersguildeast.org.uk
  • Visit the national Embroiderers’ Guild website at: www.embroiderersguild.com
  •  The Suffolk East branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild usually meets on the second Wednesday of the month at Rushmere Village Hall (not January or August), Humber Doucy Lane, Ipswich from 7.30pm. It also organises Saturday workshops.

Events in 2013 include

  • Saturday, January 26 – 1pm to 4pm – Fantastic Felt with demonstrations, sales tables and an exhibition of felt making and felt items.
  • Wednesday, February 13 – A talk on millinery by Sarah Valentine. Sarah is a bespoke hatmaker and a member of Suffolk Open Studios. She will be bringing some of her hats along and talking about how she makes her creations.
  • Wednesday, March 13 – A practical evening making Japanese braids with Steve Pretty.
  • Wednesday, April 10 – A talk on print making by Liz Clark
  • Wednesday, May 8 – A talk on The Victorian Boudoir by Jackie Ward
  • Other evenings will include printing on fabric with leaves, a study evening on working with transparent fabric, a design evening and a talk by Annette Morgan.
  • Visitors are welcome.
     More details about the junior arm of the guild at: www.youngembroiderers.com


Rachel Banham (writer)

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