Thursday, December 9, 2010

8 December 2010 - Christmas Social

The December meeting is one of the two social evenings we hold each year. This was not so well attended as most of our monthly meetings. I don’t know if this was due to the inclement weather or down to the Coronation Street 50 year’s bonanza. While Oxford has escaped the worst of the snow and ice that has wrought chaos on much of Britain, temperatures have rarely climbed above zero in the past week or more so it is not surprising that some members choose not to leave the comfort of their own homes. Those who did venture out were rewarded with a most enjoyable evening.

Alex had written a needlework themed cross word that was sufficiently challenging that no team was able to answer all the questions but judging by the groans, many of us realised that we should have been able to fill in at least some of the blanks.

After exercising our brains, we tucked into the lovely selection of food everyone had brought. A home-made cheese ball was a huge hit and judging by the comments that may be gracing a few party tables over the festive season. Thank you to Gaby and Ann for making the fruit punch this year.

Everyone was hoping their raffle ticket would be drawn first so that they could claim the home made Dundee cake. That prize went to Fiona who, despite much encouragement, flatly refused to cut the cake and give us all a slice.

The highlight of the evening was definitely the competition table. When it was suggested that we make inchies this year, most people responded with “what are inchies?” Well, judging by the entries, everyone not only found out what inchies are but had an absolute ball making them. Nearly every member who came to the meeting had made inchies for the competition and variety and skill on display was tremendous. No two sets of inchies were remotely similar. We were all crowded around the competition table for a very long time, admiring and exclaiming over them. The competition is judged by a coin vote and every pot contained several silver coins but the clear and deserving winner was this entry by Kathy Lin.

Congratulations, Kathy.

And in no particular order, here are the rest of the entries.

I'm sorry that the photographs do not do justice to the beauty of these little gems.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everyone. See you in January.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

10 November 2010 - Anne Sillifant, "An obsession with trees"

Since retiring her teaching job as Director of Art at a girls’ independent school, Anne has been able to fully indulge in her enthusiasm for all aspects of art, textiles, embroidery and design. Trained at Goldsmiths’ and with 10 years plus teaching City and Guilds, Anne has developed a wide interest in both traditional and innovative techniques.

Tree print, courtesy of Anne Sillifant

Sampler gifted to Anne, courtesy of Anne Sillifant

Tree sculpture gifted to Anne, courtesy of Anne Sillifant

Silk paper sculpture, courtesy of Anne Sillifant

Vase, courtesy of Anne Sillifant

Her talk focused on the natural forms, particularly trees, which have been the inspiration for much of her work. Anne works both in two and three dimensions and often develops an idea into a whole series of work.Anne brought with her many examples of both her own work and that of her students and was happy for us to pass much of it around.

13 October 2010 - Alex and Karen, "Our life with Cherrilyn"

Alex and Karen were due to give their talk in February 2010 but the meeting was cancelled due to unusually heavy snowfall. They thought that let them off the hook but we had other plans and they were quickly rebooked to give their talk following the AGM.

Both were clearly nervous, but they had no cause for concern; they were among friends. They opted to speak alternately for about 5 minutes at a time. It was a format that worked well as we got to hear their stories in parallel. Each told us their first experiences of needlework, about coming to their first Oxford Branch EG meeting alone and receiving a warm welcome, then attending the first workshop that Cherrilyn Tyler gave for us way back in July 2001. Everyone enjoyed that workshop so much that Cherrilyn was invited to do another workshop, which Alex and Karen both attended. It was at that workshop that Cherrilyn invited them to join her for a masterclass. They both admitted that they were surprised and flattered by the invitation and more than a little daunted at the prospect and how relieved they were to know they would have a friend on board.

For their very first masterclass they were asked to bring something that inspired them. Cherrilyn then guided them through a series of exercises that focused on their inspirational item. Over successive weekend workshops they were encourage to develop their initial thoughts through to a finished article. Since that first meeting the group of textile artists mentored by Cherrilyn has continued to meet four times a year and exhibited several times.

Alex and Karen’s work is very different from each other, but as they said that is Cherrilyn’s gift - to help those she mentors to find and develop their own style.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

18 September - Linda Rudkin Workshop

Following her excellent talk on "Colours from Nature", Linda Rudkin returned in September to teach a class on Flower Pounding. This is not a new technique but Linda felt that it had greater potential than simply producing blobs of colour and has developed a method of producing very realistic renditions of flowers and leaves.

Linda with an example of her own work, courtesy of Linda Rudkin

The supply list for the class was refreshingly short, but a hammer and earplugs are among the more unusual items that I have taken to an EG workshop. With the tables festooned with flowers and leaves gathered from our gardens (and those of our neighbours) and a bunch or two from the supermarket, this was perhaps the prettiest workshop I have attended.

The tables were covered with flowers and leaves, courtesy of Linda Rudkin

After a brief but thorough demonstration we set about pounding our flowers and soon expressions of delight could be heard, even over the hammering, as the colours transferred from the petals to the fabric. During the morning we ‘sampled’ the plant materials we had brought with us, discovering which worked well and how the colours altered by the process.

It's Hammer Time, courtesy of Linda Rudkin

Photograph by Linda Rudkin

After lunch, which was eaten outside in the warm September sunshine, we got more adventurous and created little floral pictures.

Photograph by Linda Rudkin

Before the class ended, Linda found time to teach us ‘flower trapping’ and showed us how this could be used to make our work more dimensional.

Having enjoyed her talk so much, there was high expectation that this class would be as enjoyable and we were not at all disappointed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

8 September 2010 - Jennifer Hughes, "China - Protected Heads and Bound Feet"

We don’t have a branch meeting in August so the Summer Social in July can feel like an end of term party and the September meeting feels very much like the start of a new year. There is the joy of meeting up with old friends and discovering what they have been doing during the summer months, the thrill of seeing new faces and the excitement of discovering who our speakers and workshop tutors will be.

This year kicked off with a returning guest speaker, Jennifer Hughes, who last visited us in 2003. Her talk this time was ‘Bound Feet and Covered Heads’. Although the two elements of the talk are not directly related, both feature prominently in Chinese culture, and both the shoes and hats that were the real subject of the talk are heavily embroidered.

Jennifer gave us a history of the tradition of foot binding in China and a rather disturbing description of how it was done. One thing that particularly surprised me was that, at its height, women from all walks of life would bind their feet bound to some extent. I had assumed that it was predominantly practiced among the more wealthy or noble families. Another surprise to me was that all women were taught and practiced embroidery and that nearly all embroidery was done in silk. Although a luxury thread in most of the world, silk was readily available to everyone in China.

Embroidered shoe for bound foot, courtesy of Jennifer Hughes

Jennifer brought with her several pairs of shoes to illustrate the ‘fashions’ of various regions and eras. It was interesting to see also how the shoes of working class women, who for practical reasons bound their feet less tightly, were fashioned to give the impression that their feet were smaller than they actually were. Jennifer also showed us some children’s shoes and pointed out the differences between shoes made for their naturally small feet and those made for bound feet. I thought it paradoxical that I found the tiny shoes beautiful, despite knowing the pain and suffering caused by the bindings.

Child's shoe, courtesy of Jennifer Hughes

The colourful and delightful hats on display were altogether a lighter topic. They were worn by children to protect them from harm and to bring them good fortune. It was believed that evil spirits would attempt to steal a child’s spirit through the top of their head. Boys were particularly vulnerable so some hats were trimmed with long black fringes or plaits to disguise the wearer as a girl. Other hats sported ears, sometimes lined with fur, to make the wearer look like a dog. Bells, shiny objects and things that moved or waggled were all used to distract and confuse the evil spirits. Many of the hats featured tigers, with huge ears and bulging eyes to hear or see danger, and ferocious teeth to fight of evil.

Childs hat with fringe, tassels and bells, courtesy of Jennifer Hughes

Black velvet hat with lion embroidered in red silk, courtesy of Jennifer Hughes

The hats of older children were covered in symbols intended to bring the child of good fortune.

Three-toed toad, courtesy of Jennifer Hughes

Among the other items on display were ear protectors for little girls who were not afforded the same level of protection as their brothers and purses hung from the belt and stored small items as traditional Chinese garments have no pockets.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

South East West Regional Day, Part II

Lunchtime gave everyone a chance to look round the traders and stretch their legs.

We had a raffle with lots of generous prizes from the traders, which seemed to go well, especially if you had a pink ticket.

Then the winners of the competitions were announced with our very own chair person, Alex Messenger, winning the ‘Rags or Riches’ section with a thought provoking denim piece, asking the question whether the people who make our clothes are paid fairly for their labour.

Second was Carolyn Walker and third was Liz Hykesman. Sadly, there weren’t many entries for the competition; it would be lovely to see more pieces on display? Does anyone have any alternative suggestions? Should it be more open or should we not a hold competition at all?

There was a separate competition for Young Embroiderers. The ‘Dolls’ competition for embroiderers aged 6-9 years, was one by Eleonor Surmin and Florence Cooper.

Florence Honey, Alison Mumford won the 10-13 years old competition. There were no entries in the 14-16 years section.

In the afternoon, we were all interested to hear Michael Brennand-Wood’s talk. We had to listen intently as he had a lot to tell us and spoke fluently and quickly. He explained that as a child, he spent time with his grandparents. His grandmother was a weaver and his grandfather was an engineer, so he spent time with textiles and in the shed with tools and wood and metal.

When he went to college he thought he would like to study Fine Art but then decided to switch into textiles as it was something of an unexplored area, and constantly tries to bring old skills up to date.

Although he found that many people involved in the UK Fine Art arena are very dismissive of pattern, he believes that pattern provides a visual language which helps to inform some of his work. His three main tenets are depth, translucency and structure.

He showed us many slides of his work from the 1990s, when he was exploring themes based on lace. Many of his pieces are large; two to three metres wide or more. It was interesting to see them hanging in galleries worldwide, even if they are not always hung as they are conceived to be seen. One such piece, consisting of five circles, was displayed in Japan ... in the opposite sequence to which Michael intended them to be.

He moved on to his more recent work, in which he started with Asian patterned textiles as a reference source and reproduced the shapes and colours by using Gerbera flowers, then had machine embroidered flower shapes made up. From there he started to reintroduce wood backgrounds, wire, lights and grids.

He has recently completed a piece of work for a community music venue in Bristol. It included many disc shapes covered in badges, embedded in the wall above a bar area. The discs were the size of various records, singles and CD, the badges all had the common theme of entertainers, such as Kylie Minogue. There were also LED lights set into the walls.


Olympic Project 2012

Jill Drury explained that the Embroiderers’ Guild will be involved in the Olympics by asking each branch to produce some embroidered Postcards of a particular country represented at the Olympics. The postcards can represent anything to do with the country, such as flowers, coins, architecture (and embroidery, surely.

There was a draw starting with Andover, who drew Iraq; Cherwell Valley drew Ireland and Patsy pulled out Yemen, for Oxford, so there is a challenge. The postcards will be similar to the rainbow squares, except postcard sized, mounted over card and laced at the back. The cards will made up into rectangles, with the top left postcard being the flag of the nominated country. Each branch was given an envelope with more details, so we will be hearing a lot more about it I’m sure.


Wolfson College was a special venue and everyone commented on how pleasant a setting it was. As Jill Drury predicted at the outset, it was a wonderful day.

Thank you to Sally Fulton for her detailed report of the day, and Ulrike Hutchins for the accompanying photographs.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

South East West Regional Day, Part I

"Thanks to everyone at Oxford Branch who helped to make this such a wonderful day", were the sentiments of Jill Drury, the SEW region representative of the Embroiderers' Guild. Her words were also fully endorsed by all the visiting members of the region, with loud applause.

There was a buzz in the air from the start with the traders starting to set up at 8.30 on a very sunny summer morning. We had a great selection of books, threads, beads and finished items to choose from.

Visitors started arriving around 9.30; how quickly the time goes when everyone is preparing for the day. The Morsbags, made by Oxford Branch members and given to visitors, were well received. Then it was time for a reviving coffee before settling down to hear from the EG and from the morning speaker.

Jill Drury appealed for new regional committee members, as a considerable number of the current SEW committee are standing down this autumn. Jill herself will be continuing for a further year, but is happy to explain her role to anyone who may be thinking of volunteering and she could help the next person to take over gradually.

Anthea Godfrey from Headquarters explained that Contact Magazine is now available as eContact on the EG website and rather than giving us all a speech, she encouraged us all to read the substance of what she would say on the EG website as well. No news was given regarding any plans for moving from Hampton Court.

Alastair McMinn from Coats Crafts was also there and kindly brought some threads for us to try out, lovely colours in cotton and rayon. It was mentioned that we had chosen a good day to get away from all the sporting activities; football, Wimbledon and a Grand Prix. However, not many people noticed that the rainbow squares had been hung up in a slightly different sequence to the rainbow. In the reception area, they were hanging in the colours of the German flag and the English flag, as a reference to the World Cup game being played that afternoon!

Bobbie Britnell was the morning speaker, what a great choice. Bobbie told us about her earlier work experience in Soho, making costumes for shows such as "The Talk of the Town" and "The Black and White Minstrel Show", earning £6.50 per week. Then she moved to Savile Row Taylors and decided that she would like to teach, so after a year of comprehensive tailoring training, she enrolled at teacher training and went on to teach at a Comprehensive school at Guildford.

From there she completed City & Guilds parts 1 & 2 and then moved to rural Shropshire, where she still lives. She works freelance accepting opportunities to work in the community with all ages and backgrounds, from primary schools to a local detention centre.

She enjoys Morris Dancing in her spare time. Her husband also dances and they accompany each other’s group by playing the backing music, Bobbie plays an accordion and it is the dances and the music which informs a lot of her quilts. She travels to Europe to participate in dancing festivals and enjoys seeing the embroidered outfits that some of the other dance groups wear. She sketches and takes photos while she is there.

She had a lot of pieces for us to see as well as slides to illustrate her talk. The quilts were colourful and curious including the charmingly named "Such a Getting Upstairs I never did see" – which was named after a particular Morris dance.

"Such a Getting Upstairs I never did see 1, 2001", courtesy of Bobby Brittnell

"Such a Getting Upstairs I never did see 2, 2001", courtesy of Bobby Brittnell

Bobbie uses a certain weight of cotton for her quilts and dyes them all herself. Then she bonds shapes and overstitches quite heavily, using a slight zigzag stitch all over. She is interested in trying to produce a 3 dimensional effect from a 2 dimensional piece, using very realistic shadow effects – down the edge of a pleat for instance. The effect was very realistic.

She has recently built a studio annexe at her house and runs courses there, both on her own and together with Ruth Issett. She also invites visiting tutors to run courses, see her website for further information.

Lastly, she showed us some of her recent work which has much more abstract, neutral coloured backgrounds but with the addition of the red tulips which some of us saw at Art in Action last year. We all thoroughly enjoyed the talk and seeing the quilts close up.

The Buttery produced a great lunch and the weather was nice enough to sit outside on the terrace, what a bonus.

To be continued ...