A stitch in time: The art of hand-embroidery

Ruth O’Connor gets crafty as she attempts hand-embroidery and finds a new skill as well as an enjoyable hobby.

A stitch in time: The art of hand-embroidery

Ruth O’Connor gets crafty as she attempts hand-embroidery and finds a new skill as well as an enjoyable hobby.

Recently I attended the Dublin Maker festival in Merrion Square during which my son learned to create a programme on a computer. The results were then “printed” out with needle and thread onto a piece of fabric using an electronic embroidery machine.

In sharp contrast, yet somehow just as modern, was my endeavour the previous weekend at the Dean Hotel to learn the craft of hand-embroidery under the instruction of two young artists and craftspeople - Domino Whisker and the Cleveland-based Britt Hutchinson of Tinycup Needleworks.

Tattooed, creatively confident and possessing a distinct sense of rebellion, these two, are, I suspect, not what you’d envision when picturing the quintessential hand-embroiderer.

Britt Hutchinson of Tinycup Needleworks.

Britt Hutchinson of Tinycup Needleworks.

Embroidery has existed in some form or another in cultures worldwide for thousands of years. It has been both folk art, done by ordinary people, and has also been practised by specialist craftspeople who have created sumptuous clothing, religious and household items for the wealthiest members of society.

If your typical view of an embroiderer in Western culture is of a woman with a sampler in a Victorian drawing room, then think again, because a whole new generation is embracing this craft.

If Domino Whisker’s embroidered artworks are on display at Create in Brown Thomas alongside international brands such as Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Prada, then it’s safe to say that embroidery is firmly in fashion.

Instagram has proven a great way for the new wave of embroiderers or fibre artists to get their work seen and appreciated by more people. The work varies from one designer and craftsperson to the next - from the very beautiful to the funny to the political — the embroiderer’s needle has become a potent tool.

The well-known Tessa Perlow (@tess_perlow) has some 152,000 followers on Instagram, Sophie Mac Neill (@slow_stitch_sophie) has 86,000 followers and the Lake District’s Adam Pritchett (@ajpritchett) has some 46,000 fans.

Closer to home, artist/ designers such as George Murray (@geomurr) and Raychel Murphy (winner of a Design and Crafts Council of Ireland Future Maker award 2018 @m.raychel) are also making names for themselves in creating contemporary artworks.

Our workshop title No Gods No Patterns was a bit of a giveaway in terms of attitude and the two hosts were keen to impress upon us students the need to employ artistic integrity and to do our own thing creatively. One of the participants, Nadine Guerlain, is a French designer living in Dublin where she runs LoveInkPaperScissors.

“I love trying new skills and have been admiring a few embroidery artists on Instagram for a while now. Having seen a post about the No Gods No Patterns workshop I checked out the artists running it, found their work absolutely beautiful and booked straightaway

“Domino and Britt welcomed us with treats and goodie-bags before teaching us different stitches - including the dreaded bullion stitch. My inner eight-year-old was delighted when I eventually managed one perfectly! I then worked happily on my own design. I’m seriously hooked.” Indeed, our beautifully-presented screen printed bag included an instruction pamphlet, an embroidered patch and one of Domino Whisker’s enamel badges. All materials were provided and ready to hand - from needles and thread to fabric and embroidery hoops. But first we needed to learn the stitches.

Despite this only being Britt Hutchinson’s second workshop, it is clear that she is a natural teacher. She also exhibits a keen eye for detail - as illustrated by her work with it’s finely orchestrated skeletons and roses (check her out at @tinycup_ where she’s got some 90,000 followers on Instagram).

Britt has a great knack of explaining in fine detail how to do outline stitches, reverse chain stitches, French knots and bullion knots - the four basic stitches we learned that day. The class was of mixed ability - some beginners (myself included) and those with some knowledge who wished to develop their skills.

Sitting around a long table with refreshments to the side, beautiful posies by Appassionata Flowers and the low hum of productive congeniality, it was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

An embroidered artwork by Britt Hutchinson by Tinycup Needleworks.

An embroidered artwork by Britt Hutchinson by Tinycup Needleworks.

Meeting at noon, the first half of the day was spent learning the stitches or honing our skills. After a break for lunch, under Domino’s watchful eye, we began to make our own pieces. On an embroidery hoop we placed an outline in the shape of a playing card inside which each of us students composed a design of our choosing. We began work, with Domino and Britt on hand to answer any questions or provide help with stitches or design elements.

I’ve studied pattern cutting and sewing and have made everything from jeans to dresses, yet my embroidery skills only went as far as embellishing daisies on the back of a denim jacket aged 16. After the No Gods No Patterns workshop I feel that I’ve come away with a new skill.

Learning embroidery has provided me with a new outlet for creativity and the possibility that my friends are now likely to receive lots of badly-executed yet personalised embroidered gifts. Who knows? I may even have to set up a new Instagram account for my embroidery work alone.

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