This December saw the latest in a series of outreach workshops in conjunction with the Textiles department of the Castle Museum, designed to broaden Norfolk Sixth Form students’ awareness of hand embroidery techniques and how they have been used in the past, as well as inspiring the present.
We caught up with Mrs Ravenscroft to delve into the world of embroidery.
How have embroidery techniques changed over the centuries?
The truth is – they haven’t! I start the students off with an exercise that asks them to imagine how they would attach metal in the form of thin sheets or thicker pieces to fabric in such a way as it doesn’t fall off or make the cloth too stiff to function as clothing. After about ten minutes, they have usually re-invented the bead, several of the techniques I’m going to teach them, and worked out how to make metal thread by winding thin strips about the core thread. It is very impressive!
Do you just 'stitch' in the workshops?
No – the Castle Museum has an amazing textiles collection ranging from the C15th to present day, and the Textiles Curator, Ruth Battersby-Tooke, takes the students to see wonderful examples of how embroidery and metalwork was used in previous centuries on both men’s and women’s clothing, and on shoes and furnishings. We hope that the students might be inspired to use embroidery in their own designs – it’s their favourite part of the day and we all wish we could spend longer in the collection!
How do you decide on a design?
It has got to be small enough to complete – or almost complete – and yet needs to provide the opportunity to teach several techniques. The inspiration can come from the collection – I used the paisley (the bouteh) shape, as this features on a lot of Norwich textiles for one design and the December one was a snowflake, to match the season. The snowflake also had the advantage of having six identical ‘arms’ so that students could complete the design later once they knew all the techniques for one. Students learn couching and plunging the thread; chipping; how to use various wire coils, and attaching spangles and beads.
Isn’t embroidery a bit old-fashioned for today’s fashion and textiles students?
Not at all – people do still make their living at doing embroidery! We are seeing a resurgence of embroidery on garments. The high end of fashion uses a lot of beading and embroidery and most of what you see on the catwalk is done by hand, as it is too complex to do by machine.
Embroidery is used on a lot of film and stage costume, too – Dr Strange and Game of Thrones, for example. One of last year’s students got really inspired by embroidery and has gone on to gain one of only 20 places on the Royal School of Needlework’s degree in Hand Embroidery for Fashion, Interiors, Textile Art and I will be very interested to see where she takes her skills.