Threaded together

Shefield Embroiderers' Guild Open Day: Jude Shore
Shefield Embroiderers' Guild Open Day: Jude Shore

“I THINK embroidery is in my genes,” said Kath Senior.

“My mother sewed and knitted and made my clothes when I was little, and my grandmother was always darning and patching the clothes for her family – my grandfather was a shepherd and I can remember him saying all he came back with was his buttons, because she did so much patching he almost had a new pair of trousers.”

Sheffield Embroiderers' Guild Open Day: Jenny Robson

Sheffield Embroiderers' Guild Open Day: Jenny Robson

Kath was reminiscing about her origins in the world of needle and thread at the Sheffield and District Embroiderers’ Guild open day last Saturday.

More than 30 people took part at St Luke’s Hall in Lodge Moor, from ten-year-olds to pensioners. Members of the Sheffield Guild were exhibiting their work and Alysn Midgelow-Marsden of the Beetroot Tree gallery in Derbyshire led a workshop on using metal in textile art.

“There is a growth of interest in embroidery, I think,” said Alysn. “In the gallery it’s getting better and better, we’re bucking the economic trend.

“People are wanting to do something for themselves, which is often important in difficult times.”

Sheffield Embroiderers' Guild Open Day: Kath Senior

Sheffield Embroiderers' Guild Open Day: Kath Senior

There are more than 50 members of the Embroiderers’ Guild in the Sheffield area and the local branch has been meeting for over 45 years.

The aim of the guild, said programme secretary Jenny Robson, is to introduce people to embroidery and to help educate members about the craft.

“We also want to preserve the skills of embroidery,” said Kath Senior, adding that people often think of the Embroiderers Guild as “elitist ladies with blue rinses and qualifications.”

“But you don’t need any qualifications at all to join,” said Jenny Robson. “We’re for people who enjoy embroidery to come and talk and share and listen and help.”

Sheffield Embroiderers' Guild Open Day: Naomi Cooper (11) and Lizzie Ollerenshaw (10)

Sheffield Embroiderers' Guild Open Day: Naomi Cooper (11) and Lizzie Ollerenshaw (10)

Jenny has strong memories of starting embroidering with her grandmother when she was about five.

“I used to sit embroidering on her windowsill in Harrogate with cherries to eat, looking at the view.”

Kath and Jenny reminisced about embroidering their first handkerchief at school and moving on to aprons and dirndl skirts.

Embroidery disappeared from the schoolroom for a time but fellow member Elspeth Eggington noted that textile art is now making a comeback.

Elspeth leads the Guild’s Young Embroiderers’ Group, which has 25 members aged from eight to teenagers. “The young people come up with lots of different ideas and the adults often learn from the children,” she said.

Lizzie Ollerenshaw, ten, and her friend Naomi Cooper, 11, are both Young Embroiderers, and were taking part in the Tarnished Stitches workshop on Saturday, where they added metal paint to stitchwork with tutor Alysn Midgelow-Marsden.

“You can do practically anything with embroidery and that’s why it’s interesting and creative and fun,” said Naomi, who also enjoys knitting. She said a number of her friends are also interested.

“There’s actually a knitting group at our school,” added Lizzie.

“You can use your imagination and embroider or knit anywhere, which you can’t do with electronic games and things. With art and craft, you can do that everywhere.”

Kath Senior said the therapeutic nature of embroidery has also been long established: returning soldiers from both world wars were prescribed embroidery and now the charity Fine Cell Work sends volunteer embroidery teachers into prisons to help inmates produce and sell fine needlework as a means to the rehabilitation of offenders.

Jenny said that the royal wedding helped to spark a new interest in embroidery thanks to the work on the royal dress, along with people ‘rebelling against sitting in front of a screen’ and the economic climate steering people into making their own things for their home.

And the fashion for a return to craftwork.

“I liked drawing and painting when I was little, and then sewing,” said Lizzie Olleresnhaw. “You can do anything you want and when finished you’re proud of yourself because you know you’ve done it.”

“Kids have always been interested in embroidery, it’s just the skills and opportunities to teach them are often not there,” said Catherine Cooper, mother of young embroiderer Naomi.

“We need organisations like the Embroiderers Guild to encourage people and keep those skills alive. These kids don’t think embroidery is weird at all, they think it’s quite exciting.”

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