This is a waistcoat which I made some years ago. The front is crazy patchwork using silk and other fabrics including remnants from my wedding dress (also used by my elder daughter), her bridesmaids’ dresses, her sister’s outfit, and other ‘occasion’ pieces. The lining is black polyester satin.
I have made a number of cushions over the years, most of which were given away! Most of the recent ones have featured an overlap closing and a doorknob-and-pencil twisted perle cord.These are two of them.
This third cushion is one which I made for an earlier C&G course, based on the Sutton Hoo Burial. It was made as a gift for the daughter of the archaeologist who excavated the site. It has a perle cord and a small tassel to finish the cord off.
I don’t often make hangings: I don’t have anywhere to hang them, although I do have one: the one metre plus component of the Hand Embroidery certificate. It has a piece of velcro attached to the back at the top. Two nails have been put into the wall, and a piece of plywood with holes drilled at the same width, and the other piece of velcro stapled onto it. This makes it possible to remove the hanging when decorating. However, the local primary school asked me to help them make some hangings for the school hall to hide the wall bars. These used tabs and velcro to fasten them onto the wall bars and are easily removed for PE lessons.
This would have worked better if I had made it larger: the ones for the school hangings were much more successful.
I have obviously made a number of these over time, many of which have been mounted in commercial picture frames which have glass in front. This does not show embroidery to its best advantage. For the latest two panels I worked for an exhibition last autumn, I float mounted them on foam board cut slightly smaller than the panel, attached this to linen fabric with double-sided tape, and stapled this onto artists’ canvas. I then put a few hopefully invisible stitches through everything, as the tape was not wholly secure (the stitched piece fell off).
Tassels and Fringes
Cindy Hickok is a Texan with two children and grandchildren, who trained in applied art at Iowa University, working in mosaic, weaving and soft sculpture. Her work was often on a large scale for installation in public buildings. She and her family now live in Houston, but are frequent visitors to the UK.
Her husband’s work brought them to London for five years which meant that she had no facilities for large items. She discovered vanishing fabrics at Goldsmiths’ College in 1985, went on a workshop with Moira McNeil, bought a sewing machine, visited a miniature textile exhibition in France, and never looked back. A special exhibit of her work was included in the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in 2009.
She says she became interested not in the lacy effects possible with soluble fabrics, ‘but in creating designs that allowed spaces to become an integral part of the whole’. She uses a Bernina machine and rayon machine thread, including Madeira and Natesh, on hot water soluble material to produce her small scale pieces which she prefers to mount between acrylic sheets, although for exhibition, they are often mounted and framed. Sizes range from 15cm – 40cm, (6-16 ins.).
Oddly, she has found a lot of her inspiration here in Britain – children in school uniforms, striped deckchairs, phone boxes (red ones, of course). She has visited places where there are crowds, and appeared to find inspiration in queues! Her work is also strongly influenced by women’s activities. Sometimes she thinks of a title and works towards it, on the other hand, the idea can come first and the title later, as she is working.
In her later work, she has taken inspiration from the colour palettes of the Impressionist painters, and sometimes the artists and their work creep into the piece as well as more contemporary inspiration. Having included the Impressionists, she seems to have broadened her scope to include earlier artists, such as Botticelli. She does this with wit and humour, often relating the work to the present day.
What I find interesting and attractive about her pieces is that within an everyday shape, an apron or a chair for example, she puts lots of other objects or people which refer to the original shape in some way, and also to the title of the piece. It is the subtlety which appeals, and the necessity to think about the piece, not just to look at it. Cindy herself says ‘A title is an integral part of a piece of art, an explanation of what is happening in the mind of the creator’.
Is this really Embroidery?
I don’t think I could there is anyone particular whose work I dislike, more a genre which I find difficult to see as Embroidery as it is not fabric and thread.
The first Exhibition of Embroidery I visited was ‘The Art of the Stitch’ 1995 at the then Commonwealth Institute. The catalogue preface says that ‘The exhibition also shows… continuing to question the boundaries of… what is, and what is not, Embroidery’. Julia Caprara showed a piece called ‘Custodian of the sacred vessel’ which was a mixture of fabric and recycled plastic bags. This must have impressed me at the time because I have noted beside it ‘brilliant colour’. I remember liking the fact that people had used recycled plastics, and I had been to a drawing workshop with Julia Caprara, and enjoyed it, so was disposed to like her work. However, in the next room (I think) was this:
Close-up of one panel.
I remember thinking ‘ This is not embroidery, what’s it doing here.’ For me, fabric and thread must be an integral part of the piece of work, and that has neither.
(This is a scan from Embroidery magazine of a piece by Helene Pincus from her solo exhibition at The Barbican in December 1993- January 1994.)
Helene Pincus gave a talk about her work to Kingston EG Branch not long afterwards, and I found it very difficult. At that time, she was wrapping threads round a metal mesh, resulting in something similar to canvaswork, and the titles were all either musical terms or composers. I couldn’t relate to either, to me it wasn’t embroidery, although I would certainly argue that it was a piece of art.
Clyde Olliver was one of three artists featured in the ‘Insights’ section of ‘Art of the Stitch’ in 1999. Alongside him was Audrey Walker. (Incidentally, I rate her work alongside that of Cindy Hickok.) He was using wire and slate, she had machine-embroidered portraits. To me, one was embroidery, the other was not. It probably shows my perceptions as being stuck in the past, but again the slate pieces, which, like Helene Pinkus’ work are also art, I just don’t understand it.
Lilian Dring was one of the most influential embroiderers of the mid Twentieth century. Embroidery histories of the period tell us that she came to prominence in World War II, when make-do and mend was at its height, – nowadays we would call it recycling.
She was born Lilian Welch in Surbiton in 1908, living at 34, Victoria Road where her father was a plumber. The family moved to New Malden in 1916, where I believe that she was a pupil at Burlington Road School, leaving at age 14 first for Kingston School of Art and then the Royal College of Art, training as a poster artist. Very little of her poster work is still to be seen, although I understand that one of them entitled Elpetebe was available as a postcard recently at the London Transport Museum.
She began stitching in 1931 on her mother’s hand-operated 1912 Frister & Rossman machine. I cannot discover whether she had a newer model when she was working on the commissions for St. Mark’s Church in Surbiton, but a close inspection fails to reveal any zig-zag or free machining of the kind a modern machine might produce. Her early work, undertaken during the Depression and using scraps, included rag dolls, given as presents to friends’ children, and later the ‘personal pillows’ and ‘music cushions’, which always illustrate articles about Lilian. Recycling thus became a major influence in her life and work. She also made a ‘throw’ from two old coats and a piece of woollen cloth, which she called ‘Thrift Rug’.
Arms across the Ocean & a music cushion.
Her reaction to WW2 was illustrated by a piece called ‘Parable 1’ made in 1941 to cover a bombed out window, by then she may have been living in Twickenham, where she died in 1998. It was in three layers with quotations from Exodus (20, v.4.): In the Heavens above: fighter planes and barrage balloons; In the Earth beneath: bombed-out buildings & ambulances; ‘And in the Shelters (sic) under the Earth: people sleeping in air-raid shelters. She appears to have been deeply disturbed by both the destruction caused by warfare, and later by that caused by pollution of the environment. Most of her work featured appliqué – all the items at St. Mark use this technique – and in a similar work, ‘Parable 2’ [see portrait above] made in 1972 (the year after she made a red presentation stole for Canon Blair-Fish, the then Vicar) she used can-pulls, dead gladioli stems and even fur from her kettle.
Her work for St. Mark may contain re-cycled fabric, I suspect the Lamb and the field on which He sits might fit into this category, but probably not the rest of the items. Although I doubt if she was still using the Frister & Rossman when she took on the commissions from St. Mark’s, the work has been done using a simple forward stitch in intricate patterns which hold down the applique without the need for edge-stitching of any kind. However, the work would need rotating every ten stitches or so to get the angle for the next line in the pattern, both awkward and time-consuming.
Passiontide Chasuble. (Photo: Sandra Hurll)
I have always been interested in Gothic Architecture, particularly the Cathedrals and Great Churches of Britain and North-Western France, together with the music and textiles which decorate them and enhance their beauty. Both the churches in our parish are in the Gothic style: St. Mark dates from the 1960s, as a 6,000lb landmine landed directly on the original (also Gothic-style) having missed the railway line to Portsmouth by 100 yards, while St. Andrew is a genuine Oxford Movement Victorian Gothic church by Butterfield, which has some of the original textiles still in use.
St. Mark lost everything in the fire caused by the landmine, so needed new frontals and vestments. These came from various sources, one of whom was Lilian Dring, living at the time locally in Twickenham. Her first ecclesiastical commission was in 1957, and in 1962 she made some vestments for Gloucester Cathedral, which so far I have not seen, but hope to in the future. She made the Childrens’ Altar frontal, the Lady Chapel Pentecost set, and a Passiontide Chasuble, Stole, and Altar furnishings. I have catalogued and described these, together with the others, for the parish website. I have been inspired by all the textiles in both our churches, and have wanted to add to them myself. Although the High Altar Pentecost frontal was made by two students of Beryl Dean, under her direct supervision, none of the rest are by names I know. Researching Lilian Dring, I found a copy of Joan Edwards’ book ‘Textile Graphics by Lilian Dring’. I discovered that she was born in Surbiton, and was probably baptised in St. Andrew’s. In 2012, with the help of other members of the congregation, I made a Laudian Frontal for St. Andrew, I hope she would approve.
PS. I am making a chasuble to match the frontal to celebrate the Golden Wedding in December of a friend; she and her daughters and other friends are helping.
Laudian Frontal at St. Andrew’s, Surbiton.