UK Textile Tour Day 9: Audrey Walker at the Ruthin Craft Centre – Wales

One week before I was scheduled to leave on my trip, I received my “Embroidery” magazine, the publication from the UK’s Embroiderers’ Guild.  To my surprise, an article highlighted an upcoming exhibition at the Ruthin Craft Centre in Northern Wales of Audrey Walker’s amazing embroideries.  And it was opening one day after I was scheduled to drive North through Wales up to Scotland!

Christina Fairley Erickson with Audrey Walker's "Adam" and "Eve" stitched textiles (2000) and drawing study for "Eve".

Christina Fairley Erickson with Audrey Walker’s “Adam” and “Eve” stitched textiles (2000) and drawing study for “Eve”.  Adam and Eve each approximately 16″ w x 40″ high (the embroidery). On loan by Graham Holland.

As an artist who does a lot of pictorial work, I’ve been a fan of Audrey Walker’s work ever since my mentor and tutor, Gail Harker, introduced me to Audrey’s intricate stitched portraits.  So, without much hesitation, I worked out a change in my itinerary to stay an extra day in Wales, so I could see the exhibition on its opening day.

Detail from "Eve" by Audrey Walker 2000.

Detail from “Eve” by Audrey Walker 2000.

Audrey Walker’s six-decade long career in embroidery has influenced many contemporary embroiderers.  Not only is she an amazing artist in her own right, she succeeded Constance Howard as the head of the Goldsmith’s College Embroidery & Textiles Department (1975-88) guiding another generation of makers.  She focused on teaching her students to seek out and explore their ideas first, then to study the history and techniques to realize their artistic vision. Her first textile associate was Jan Beaney, who went

"The White Tulips" by Audrey Walker 2012. On loan from the Embroiderers' Guild UK

“The White Tulips” by Audrey Walker 2012 (approximately 48″ h x 16″ w). On loan from the Embroiderers’ Guild UK

on to become internationally renowned for her stitchwork, as well as being one of the Cities and Guilds tutors and evaluators who taught Gail Harker.  So, I guess I can claim Audrey is my embroidery great-grandmother!

Detail from "The White Tulips" 2012 by Audrey Walker

Detail from “The White Tulips” 2012 by Audrey Walker

This exhibition, in Audrey’s 90th year, is a retrospective of her work, with pieces coming from as far away as the U.S. (owned by private collectors) brought together at the Ruthin Craft Centre, the location of Audrey’s first solo exhibition 18 years ago.

Audrey’s start in textiles began ten years after completing her degree in fine art (mainly portrait painting), after seeing an exhibit of fabric collages by Margaret Kaye (1912-2002).  Prior to that , Audrey associated embroidery with the domestic textiles of her youth.  Rather than continuing on as a painter, textiles became Audrey’s medium of choice.  She even incorporated some of her family’s domestic textiles into her artwork, giving a nod of recognition to the historic roots of embroidery.

"A Cumbrian Birthday" 1997/8 embroidery by Audrey Walker uses a tray cloth from Audrey's childhood.

“A Cumbrian Birthday” 1997/8 by Audrey Walker uses a tray cloth from Audrey’s childhood. The embroidery (approximately 30″ w x 20″h) represents the Cumbrian tradition of offering guests a class of port and cream crackers with rum-butter on the best china, when visitors came to see a newborn baby.

Topics that have figured prominently in Audrey’s work include “momentary glances, encounters, inward smiles, the power of a gaze, vulnerability and the simple pleasures of life”.  Some of her figures have a wistful, enigmatic look or smile, reminiscent of the Mona Lisa.  Audrey’s process includes drawing portraits prior to her stitching and even drawing at the end of a day of stitching as a critique of her work or to an express an idea to develop in the future.

"Beach Woman" by Audrey Walker 1996, approximately 36" h x 28"w. 

“Beach Woman” by Audrey Walker 1996, approximately 36″ h x 28″w.  The larger-than-life size was to be suggestive of ‘heroes’.

Embroidery detail from "Beach Woman" by Audrey Walker 1996.

Embroidery detail  from “Beach Woman” by Audrey Walker 1996. Machine and hand stitched.

It’s remarkable to see the incredible detail that has gone into each of these large pieces.  The images are created through color blending with the threads.

“There is no doubt that building up an image with absolutely separate lines of colour – the threads – is an endlessly fascinating and pleasurable activity.  But it can be infuriatingly slow and it has all kinds of hazards! …However, the very slowness of the process can be productive.  It allows a longer encounter with the idea and therefore the chance to explore it more fully and critically.  It offers opportunities for valuable interludes – for instance setting a large piece on one side for a time in order to work through related thoughts on a smaller scale or in a different medium.  The prooblems in the larger piece are often solved through side-stepping into related work.”  (Audrey Walker ‘Insights’, 1999.)

"Encounter" 1998 by Audrey Walker approximately 36 h x 54" w.

“Encounter” 1998 by Audrey Walker approximately 36″h x 54″ w.  Originally intended as two separate pieces, Audrey reworked the piece through drawings and small embroideries to overlap the images.

Detail of hand-stitched eye from "Encounter" by Audrey Walker 1998.

Detail of hand-stitched eye from “Encounter” by Audrey Walker 1998.

Audrey was a regular participant in the “62 Group” exhibitions from 1966 – 1981.  Starting in 1962, the 62 Group of Textile Artists was created as support for serious professional textile artists.  Audrey joined in 1964 and remains an Honorary Exhibiting member.

"Observed Incident" by Audrey Walker 2002.

“Observed Incident” by Audrey Walker 2002. Approximately 28″ w x 60″ h (each panel). On loan from the Crafts Council.

Detail of knight's face with helmet and shield from "Observed Incident".

Detail of knight’s face with helmet and shield from “Observed Incident”.

Detail of "Still Life" by Audry Walker, 1993

Detail of “Still Life” by Audrey Walker, 1993

Inspired by a tiny embroidery fragment less than 2″ high at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Audrey created “Observed Incident.”  The 14th Century inspiration had 3 knights in full armor with a watching figure.  She wished to salute the unknown embroiderer’s imagination with a large scale version of the topic.

"Still-life" by Audrey Walker 1993 includes a tribute to Marandi, a master of still-life.

“Still-life” by Audrey Walker 1993 includes a tribute to Marandi, a master of still-life. Aprroximately 48″ w x 28″ h. On loan by Jan Beaney and Steve Udall.

"Stop and Smell the Roses" by Audrey Walker 2004.

“Stop and Smell the Roses” by Audrey Walker 2004. Approximately 14″w x 20″ h. On loan by Jean Littlejohn.

"Life is Just a Little Bowl of Cherries" by Audrey Walker 1984.

“Life is Just a Little Bowl of Cherries” by Audrey Walker 1984. Approximately 20″w x 15″ h. On loan by Jan Beaney and Steve Udall.  Ground is a tablecloth c 1935 to celebrate Audrey’s mother’s domestic embroidery.  One of a series on this theme.

Detail "Stop and Smell the Roses" by Audrey Walker 2004

Detail “Stop and Smell the Roses” by Audrey Walker 2004

Detail "Life is Just a Little Bowl of Cherries" by Audrey Walker 1984.

Detail “Life is Just a Little Bowl of Cherries” by Audrey Walker 1984.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"The Big Blue Bowl" by Audrey Walker 2013.

“The Big Blue Bowl” by Audrey Walker 2013. Approximately 24″w x 18″ h.

Detail "The Big Blue Bowl" by Audrey Wal;ker 2013.

Detail “The Big Blue Bowl” by Audrey Walker 2013.

The Big Blue Bowl is part of Audrey’s recent body of work where she is experimenting with a single line of stitch, rather than overlapping stitches.

Detail "The Garden" by Audrey Walker 2012.

Detail “The Garden” by Audrey Walker 2012.

 

 

 

 

"The Garden" by Audrey Walker 2012.

“The Garden” by Audrey Walker 2012. Approximately “52” w x 48″ h.

"Early Landscape" (1960's) by Audrey Walker.

“Early Landscape” (1960’s) by Audrey Walker. Approximately 24″ w x 22″ h. On loan by Jan Beaney and Steve Udall

"Gaze IV" by Audrey Walker 1999.

“Gaze IV” by Audrey Walker 1999. Approximately 14″w bottom; 11″ w top x 14″ h. On loan by Diana Springall.

Detail of Goldwork in "Gaze IV" by Audrey Walker 1999.

Detail of Goldwork and Embroidery  in “Gaze IV” by Audrey Walker 1999.

Christina Fairley Erickson with "Temptation (The Collectors)" by Audrey Walker 2004. Approximately

Christina with “Temptation (The Collectors)” by Audrey Walker 2004. Approximately 36″ x 36″ On loan by Diane & Marc Grainer, USA.

Once in a while you need to give in to temptation… as I did by going out of my way to make it to this exhibition.  I’m so glad I did!

UK Tour Day 1- Royal School of Needlework Curator’s Tour

I’m a great admirer of England’s RSN and the incredible embroidery pieces produced by their students and tutors.  I’ve had the great fortune to visit them twice in the past, most recently in 2016 for theor Stumpwork and Raised Work exhibit.  So when planning my current tour, I looked up what is available and found their current exhibit is “Animals in Embroidery”- one of my favorite things to create!  Only problem was that the curator’s tour this month occured only at 11 am on the day I arrive from Seattle at 7 am!  I thought about it for several weeks and then decided I’d take the risk and sign up, even if timing was tight and I might miss it.  Luckily the stars must have been aligned because our flight arrived on time, we were successful with our train connections, and we met the RSN volunteers at the front ‘moat’ gate of Hampton Court Palace at 10:45 am.

The Royal School of Needlework (RSN) started in the late 1800’s with Queen Victoria as their first patron.  Their mission has been to keep the art and techniques of hand embroidery alive and thriving, as well as helping train women (now men too) for employment so they can support themselves and not become destitute  They have classes at Hampton Court Palace and other International locations lasting from 1 day to several year programs.  They also have rotating exhibitions at their on site location, which can be viewed with a curator’s tour.  Book a tour at the Royal School of Needlework here!

According to our presenter who is inher second year of the RSN teacher certification program, animals  (including birds) are the second most common subject for embroidery (flowers are the most popular.) The display of both student and tutor work includes all sorts of techniques, tied together by the common theme of animals.  The techniques include blackwork, needlelace, goldwork, canvas, Jacobean crewel embroidery, whitework, applique, and silk shading.

One piece that caught my eye was a blackwork race horse and rider.  The stitches were so tiny- about 3 mm at the longest.  To create the shading/shadows, the density of stitch is increased, often by increasing the thread weight.  The jockey was done in blackwork techniques, but using colored threads to create contrast.  This exquisite piece was given to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Cards purchased at the RSN gift shop display a few of the lovely pieces from the “Animals in Embroidery” exhibit.

Silk-shading works beautifully as a technique for animals and birds, as you can make extremely realistic hair/fur and feathers with gradually blending the colors of very fine silk threads.  There are many true to life creatures in the exhibit using this technique including rabbits, leopards, chickens, badgers, yaks, flamingos, bats, owls and more!  Some might call this a photo- realistic style, but I think it’s so much more than a simple 2D picture.  You can’t get the range of texture in photography that you can in stitch.

From the 60,000 piece collection owned by the RSN, this banner has exquisite goldwork with 10 animals included. Can you find them all?

The tour moved then to their workroom where RSN trained embroiderers are working on commission projects.  These include both conservation work (repairing historic embroidery to stop the ravages of time) and new bespoke pieces.

As a final treat, we got to the RSN giftshop, where I picked up a few goodies.  After flying 9 hours and staying awake through planes, trains and automobiles, we headed back to our hotel in London, to get a well-deserved rest before a late dinner.

If you’re planning a trip to London, make sure to look up the RSN and see if you can take a class or tour.  You’ll be glad you did!

The front “moat” entrance of Hampton Court Palace

 

Actress in period costume working on blackwork embroidery in Hampton Court Palace.

Looking at the back side of the palace (where the school is located).

Magazine I purchased at the RSN store a out the history of the RSN since it moved to Hampton Court.

Second magazine on ecclesiastical embroidery.

New book I found at the RSN store… looks fabulous! A sweet memory to take home and inspire my own projects.

Day 4 – Game of Thrones Tapestry at the Ulster Museum, Belfast

My guilty pleasure… Game of Thrones (well, Fantasy & Science Fiction overall.)  Now, mix that with textile art and I’m in heaven!

Before the final episodes of Game of Thrones were filmed, an army of designers, weavers and embroiderers in Northern Ireland was hard at work.

The tapestry was designed by hand by illustrators and color artists Carim Nahaboo, Jacob Merrick-Wolf, and Rob House.  The weavers, Juliet Bailey, Franki Brewer, and a team at Dash & Miller in Bristol used a state-of-the-art jacquard loom. The linen thread was provided by Thomas Ferguson Irish Linen in Banbridge, one of the last surviving mills in Northern Ireland, and contains over 250,000 threads placed by hand.

Each episode through season 7 is represented in the 253 foot tapestry. Rather than wait for the final season to be released (Season 8, set to air in 2019), the tapestry develops its own conclusion.

Embroiderer’s working on the Game of Thrones tapestry

After the weaving was complete, delicate hand embroidery added by a team of 30 stitchers at the Ulster Museum adds color, glints of metalics, and detailing to enhance the tapestry. From King Joffrey’s golden crown to Daenerys’ shimmering white and silver hair, blood red weddings, emerald green wildfire, cold-blue White Walkers and jet black ravens, threads of metallic, cotton and silk yarns bring vibrancy and lustre to the story.  The embroidered elements  are quite simple overall, but bring much to the finished project. Stitches include chain stitch, split stitch, back stitch, running stitch, couching and seed stitch.

Willow dragons made by Bob Johnson, basket maker at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum

 

 

 

 

In Belfast’s Ulster Museum where the Tapestry is currently on display, they also have two magnificent Willow dragons soaring above the three story atrium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click on the video below to view the entire tapestry!

A woman & young girl embroidering linens in County Down early 1900’s.

As well as information about the making of the tapestry, the exhibition included further documentation on the history of the linen industry in Northern Ireland, supplementing what I’d learned in Lisburn.

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon Head detail

The process of making the tapestry is described in this video by Northern Ireland’s tourism department:

 

Day 3- Carrickmacross, Ireland

Ireland has a rich history of lace-making, including several distinct styles:

  • Carrickmacross lace
  • Irish Crochet lace
  • Krnmare kace
  • Limerick lace
  • Youghal lace

Knowing this, I wanted the chance to see some of this beautiful needle art!  Driving North from Dublin, we made our way to the little town of Carrickmacross.

Christina with talented lacemaker and member of the The Carrickmacross Lace Co-operative at the Carrickmacross Lace Gallery

Carrickmacross lace was introduced into Ireland in about 1820 by Mrs Grey Porter, wife of the rector of Donaghmoyne, who taught it to local women so that they could earn some extra money.  During the famine years in the mid-1840’s, a lace school was set up by the managers of the Bath and Shirley estates at Carrickmacross as a means of helping their starving tenants, and the lace became known and found sales.

A beautiful rare sample of a Carrickmacross Lace priest’s vestments. Most vestment pieces were buried with the clergy for whom they were made.

The lace is made on a base of cotton net (similar to tulle, but much softer and pliable).  A lightweight soft white muslin (sheer enough to see a pattern underneath) is appliquéd onto the net.  Additional embroidery stitches create edgings, patterns and cutwork.

Here you can see areas where the Muslim has been appliquéd to the net, as well as designs embroidered into the net.

The meaning of this Irish Gaelic saying is “a hundred thousand welcomes”- quite apt in our experience- the people are so friendly and welcoming here!

Christina Fairley Ericksonand Mom Nan outside the Carrickmacross Lace Gallery.

After the worst of the famine years, through the last half of the 19th century, the lacemaking declined. Then in the 1890’s, the Sisters of St Louis founded their own lace school to revive the craft, and this was quite profitable for several years. Although the outbreak of the 1914–18 war marked the virtual end of commercial production of hand-made lace in Europe, the lace school kept the technique alive throughout the 20th century. In 1984 the St Louis Sisters assisted in the formation of The Carrickmacross Lace Co-operative, which maintains the tradition to this day.

Display of some of the pieces that the Carrickmacross cooperative members have made and are available for sale.

Piece available with incredible miniature stitches in patterns

Detail of tiny stitches!

The lace cooperative also has some little kits and supplies if you want to try your hand at making your own Carrickmacross Lace.  Their kits are available via their website at: https://www.carrickmacrosslace.ie/

I couldn’t leave without bringing a little souvenir of this lovely technique From the Carrickmacross Lace Gallery!

Here in the 21st Century, the most famous use of this beautiful historic form of lace must be when Kate Middleton incorporated Carrickmacross lace into her wedding to Prince William.  I highly recommend you make the time to come visit, if you’re ever in Ireland!

Christina standing below hand-dyed
embroidery threads

I’m back from five days in “stitch heaven” with Gail Harker.  The class, “Experimental Hand Stitch” focuses on Procion MX dyeing of embroidery thread and a wool/acrylic felt to stitch on, and then learning some of the basic embroidery stitches and how to use them in a contemporary context.

My friends”, Debbie and Rebecca, dyed felts and threads

The felt and threads are vibrant and beautiful.  Gail feels that having your materials inspire you is important, so she helps her students understand their color choices and combinations to be successful with the dyeing process.

Some of my dyed felts and threads

I basically stuck with an analogous color scheme from yellow-green through red-violet.  If you’re unfamiliar with analogous color schemes, it means that you pick colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel.  So the colors I worked with were greens, blues, and violets.

After our dyeing days, we started doing small stitch samplers.  Each stitch will have its own page in a small stitch book (we even learned how to bind our books!)  We also worked on documenting our samples within a sketchbook, including what threads we used, any observations we have, needles that were chosen, etc.

Some of my incomplete pages with the sketchbook
documentation pages and sample threads

Some of our samples were also worked on sketchbook pages which we dyed and then fused together, so they are quite stiff.  We then poked holes in the sketchbook pages along the line which we wanted to stitch, and then added the stitch afterwards.  It was so fun… it reminded me of when I was a little girl and had cards with pictures on them and holes to “stitch” through (really it was more like lacing.)

French Knots (in process) by Christina Fairley Erickson

While none of these samples is complete yet, you can get an idea of what they’ll look like here.  I have additional ones started, but these are the most complete.  The other thing which was different and interesting was the freedom which we were encouraged to take with each piece.  For instance, in years past, French knots were expected to have the thread wrapped neatly around the needle two times.  With contemporary hand stitching, however, we can make a variety of sizes and different textures and effects by wrapping a thread more times around the needle, or by wrapping it loosely, rather than tight.

Running Stitch (in process) by Christina Fairley Erickson

Seed Stitch (in process) by Christina Fairley Erickson

Blanket Stitch by Christina Fairley Erickson

Open Chain Stitch (in process) by Christina Fairley Erickson

Each of the pages is about 5″x 7″, so they fit in well with my 5 x 7 Challenge!  I’ll be getting my final Salsa piece finished up this week, then I’ll need to work on the sashing and binding of all the Salsa blocks into a finished quilt.

You Might Also Be Interested In:

Dyeing to Embroider; Recognizing our Limits 
& Not Giving Up
Hand Stitch Variations

Check Out these other Great Blogs:

Anything Goes – Quilt ‘n Sew at Stitch by Stitch

Freemotion by the River

Quilt Story

Wow… another fantastic day of mostly working with Procion MX dyeing at the Gail Harker Center for Creative Studies.  To be completely honest, I’m pretty tired… this can be hard work.  So, I’m going to keep it short and sweet tonight, and just put up some images and descriptions of the processes and projects we worked on.

First, our hand-dyed embroidery threads are totally luscious!  Here they are drying in our classroom.  We had to rinse them out and then set the color in hot water with Synthropol today.

We then started dyeing wool-rayon felt, which we’d cut into pieces prior to class, and will be making into hand-stitched books.

Felt with dye poured on (wet)

The felt totally soaks up the dye… you have to pour it on and it looks horrible and dark for the most part.

Rinsing out the felt

After allowing it to sit for a few hours, we rinsed it out and also set the dye with Synthropol.  Since the felt soaks up so much water, we had to carefully wrap it in towels to help dry it.  You don’t want to press or agitate it very much, or it starts the felting process.  We then left it to completely dry overnight.

Felt dyeing

Rinsed felt for hand-made stitch books, laid out to dry

We also worked with painting dyes on sketchbook pages.  We do these in 2-page “spreads” so that they will go together when the book is opened.  We then fuse pages together, to make the pages stiff and able to be stitched on.  We started working on a few pages by drawing a design on them, then punching holes through the paper with a darning needle.  We then can easily put our stitches through the holes.

Some sketchbook pages painted with dye

I believe we’re done with the dyeing now… on to more stitchwork tomorrow!

A two-page spread for a sketchbook, painted with Procion MX dye

  You Might Also Be Interested in:

New 5 x 7 
Challenge Pieces
Complex Threads 2 Developing the 
Creative Habit

Check out these other Great Blogs!
For great ideas on freemotion quilting, check out Leah Day’s FreeMotion Quilting Project

I’ve been continuing to explore hand-stitch this last week and completed another sampler.  I’m not really sure where I’m going to be using this in my work this year, I’m just certain that I am.  I’ve seen so many spectacular pieces that were enhanced by using hand-stitch.   I’ve also noticed that show judges seem to appreciate the extra effort that an artist has put in, when there are hand-stitch elements.  Here are the stitches (on acrylic felt- not hooped):

Top row:

  1. Double Knot Stitch (aka Old English knot, Palestrina or Smyrna Stitch)
  2. Cable Chain Stitch.  This is like chain stitch, but with a link in between the chains
  3. Fern Stitch (aka Fern Leaf Stitch)
  4. Paris Stitch (aka Open Square Stitch)
  5. Fence Stitch (aka Bosnian Stitch)
  6. Tnorn Stitch
  7. Cross Stitch (aka Berlin or Sampler Stitch)
  8. Braid Stitch
  9. Singalese Chain
  10. Wheatear Stitch
  11. Fishbone Stitch (on leaves)

Bottom row:
  1. Whipped Backstitch
  2. Threaded Backstitch
  3. Double Threaded Backstitch
  4. Chain Stitch with Backstitch running through center
  5. Double Knot Stitch
  6. Petal Stitch
  7. Scroll Stitch
  8. Ladder Stitch
  9. Long Armed Cross Stitch
  10. Vandyck Stitch (aka Flat Variable Stitch)
  11. Long & Short Stitch (top leaf in oranges)
  12. Stem Filling Stitch (bottom leaf in blues)

I’m partially doing this work as I’m taking another hand-stitch course at the Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts in March.  I’m looking forward to getting more ideas in how to incorporate the hand stitches into my work.

Speaking of Gail’s classes, this Thursday, Jan 10 from 5-8 pm, the opening of “Complex Threads: Students of Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts” will be happening at the Schack Art Center in Everett WA.  If in the area, be sure to check it out!

You might also be interested in:
How to make a knotted blanket stitch (video)
More embroidery samples
Stitchwork Samplers

Christina  in Winter White Cape
at Snowflake Lane

Randy and I finished up our shopping at Bellevue Square where they have “Snowflake Lane” each night during the holidays. He’s now entertaining us playing an assortment of Christmas music, Broadway show tunes, and pieces from the 20’s to the 50’s. I’m at a distinct disadvantage with “Name That Tune” for that era, since I wasn’t even born yet, but my Mom is having a great time!

Snowflake Lane

Knotted Blanket Stitch

Since I always like to keep my hands busy, I’m working on an edging stitch for one of my embroidery samplers. I decided to do a Knotted Blanket Stitch, which I’ll show  how to do here:

Step 1- Make a loop
Step 2 – Needle through loop and
above the lower thread from last stitch

Step 3- Pull loop tight around needle
Step 4 – Pull thread through, making
sure that loop stays tight to form knot

You might also be interested in:
Stitchwork Samplers
More Embroidery Samples

Merry Christmas from our family to yours and wishing us all Peace on Earth.

Christina