It’s often what people ask when they see me with a piece of embroidery in my hands. The answer usually is ‘I haven’t got a clue’. That’s not why I do it… When I make felt I am often thinking about functionality as well as what it looks like…hats, bags, jewellery, slippers (if I ever get them finished.) I am aiming for the William Morris ‘useful and beautiful’…
But I embroider because I like the process. Most of all I like it because it is SLOW and contemplative…and about as far away from sitting at a computer as you can get!! I am often to be found during my lunch break french knotting away happily, and I enjoy my Thursday evenings sitting with a group of other women in my regular class occasionally chatting and slowly producing beautiful things.
This is what I am working on at the moment. It’s based on a Klimpt landscape and it is pretty much all knots and straight stitches. I love knots (except the ones I get by mistake!) I painted it onto calico before I started and am gradually working out how to shade just using the knots like my own version of pointillism.
I think the ‘frame’, which is currently mostly covered by the embroidery frame, is going to branch out into chain stitch and couching so I can add some gold thread.
Small bag by May Morris in William Morris Gallery
I went to the William Morris Gallery in Wathamstow recently for an exhibition by Nicola Jarvis called ‘The Art of Embroidery’ – works on paper and textiles created in dialogue with the techniques and ideas championed by William Morris’s daughter, May Morris. I have to say that my favourite bits of the exhibition were the designs and embroidery by May Morris exhibited alongside the modern work. There seems to be limited information out there about her – perhaps I am just looking in the wrong places – but from what I can find it seems that she was a worthy successor to her father, as Director of the Morris embroidery department, with her own work which has an amazing degree of skill and delicacy of shading, and in her promotion of women’s craft work with the founding of the Women’s Guild of Arts in 1907 (as the Art Workers Guild did not admit women.) I particularly liked this quote:
‘While inferior work can be tolerated for the sake of the design, if that is good….excellent work on a worthless design must be cast aside as labour lost; so that, you see, design is the very soul and essence of beautiful embroidery.’
May Morris 1893
I still have a lot to learn but I am really interested in how to create a design in stitch, so maybe even someone as slapdash as me can become an interesting embroiderer…..!