Spring 2015
Welcome to my Newsletter

Pink seems a perfect colour to spark the senses into creativity, Christian Dior called it 'The colour of happiness', and Elsa Schiaparelli called her famous shocking pink, 'a colour of China and Peru,.......bright, impossible, impudent ...' So, goodbye to grey, cool, February skies; a fabulous bunch of pink tulips will stir me into action, a wave of 'Tulipomania' is inspiring my new paintings and embroideries.

The allure of the tulip has entranced the eyes of artists and embroiderers for centuries; the tulip's dramatic pedigree is rooted in the Ottoman Empire. In the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, is a brilliant collection of Dutch 17thc flower paintings, featuring all the exotic specimens that enticed the Dutch merchants into a frenzy of 'Tulipomania' (1634-7). I have embroidered a tulip only once: a painted, quilted cushion, with petal flaps layered over embroidered stamens, inspired by seeing those paintings in 1976. In October 2014, an Ashmolean gallery was the setting of my 'Pop up Studio' (see Reportage).

Thinking pink might catch the imagination of students who come to the 'Free Spirit Flora' day school in August (see Textiles Class in the Cotswolds). Or take a peek at Stitch Stories with its colourful floral lace of coral pink, sugar pink mixed with lime greens and lemon. I am looking forward to Part 11 of 'Free Spirit' Masterclass with the class of 2014 returning to Farncombe; maybe Schiaparelli's hot pink might influence a stitching sensation!

A retro theme is in the air for Vintage Favourites, magazines and books to inspire instead of vintage embroidery this time. Still in a nostalgic mood, I discuss the early years of my textile career (first studio 1975!) in a forthcoming interview for

The 'Open Studio Exhibition' starts in two months, read more about it below. I hope my Dutch tulips will be flashing their petals to welcome visitors into the garden studio by then. But right now, I am ready with brush and water colour paper, to capture this bunch of tulip beauties in all their glorious shades of pink!

'Open Studio' Exhibition in Oxfordshire

Once again I shall be opening the doors of my studio and welcoming visitors into my creative world for five days in May; the exhibition will intertwine artwork with textile works. On display will be new embroidered creations for the 2015 show; a series of framed textile samples with sketches, from my collections of 2013-14; watercolour paintings and drawings of botanical themes.

The 'Open Studio' show will give a glimpse of my creative practice, through displays of: sketchbooks and design boards; stitched works in progress; the materials and tools of my craft; on some days I shall be stitching away on my sewing machine too!

A number of themes are catching my imagination for embroidery, some develop ideas that I started in 2014: the 'White Garden' samples (see photos) reflects a continuing love affair with a pale palette of ivories, cream, mint, with embroidery styled into fashion pieces. While 'Free Spirit Flora' pursues an ongoing retro reference to hippie chic (see Stitch Stories). Another idea is still at the notes and sketches stage, labelled: 'Fairy-tale Fancies' - a curious title, I am not quite sure what stitch witchery will emerge? But, I am hoping this fanciful notion will be a 'work in progress' for my 'Open Studio' show.

'Open Studio' Exhibition: May 2, 3, 4 and 8, 10 (closed on Sat.9th May) 12 - 6 daily. Details and directions for Sue's studio please email: or telephone: 07596 441503. (Oxfordshire Artweeks 2015

Works featured in the 'Open Studio' exhibition will appear on in May, for those living abroad or unable to visit my studio.

'In Studio' photo: Emily Gale

Stitch Stories

'Free Spirit Flora' - Embroidered lace sample & sketch 2013

I am frequently asked: "Where do you get your ideas from?", or "How do you select embroidery techniques to translate your designs?" Unravelling the creative journey of the 'Free Spirit Flora' (see photo of samples & sketch) reflects the intricacy and artistry of creating these embroidered flowers; it begins with a potpourri of ideas on paper, before a needle is even threaded.

In the photograph, carefree embroidered floral motifs float over a sketch of swirling flower heads and scribbled fringes of leafy tendrils, all splashed with pinks, acid greens, yellows. Design research entered the era of hippie chic, and looked to the fashions of the Woodstock Music festival of 1969 to inspire a different direction for an embroidered accessory: a decorative choker.

The floral doodles in the sketch are reinvented as machine embroidered flower heads with stitched textures of radiating fringes, or trailing stems and leaves. The technique uses water-soluble films, or water-soluble voiles*, to support the free machine stitchery, which is washed away to leave lace textures, or feathery tendrils and carefree cords. This sample uses metallic threads and rayon threads; hand-stitched Miyuki seed beads and Swarovski crystals add a final sparkle.

This floral lace sample inspired the 'Summer of Love' choker, exhibited at 'Fashioned with Stitch' (Macclesfield Silk Museum, 2013).

See image of choker on Home Page of

'Free Spirit Flora' is once again on my work table, now enhanced with an embroidered fancy fringe, ready to be framed and appear in the May exhibition.

*Water-soluble lace techniques are described in the Studio Techniques chapter of my book 'Embroidered Originals'.

Reportage: Sue's 'Pop up Studio' at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

This special event was part of The Big Stitch, October 4th 2014, organised by the Ashmolean and the Embroiderers' Guild, (mentioned in the Autumn Newsletter). From start to finish the Ashmolean Museum was buzzing with thousands of visitors, attending The Big Stitch!

In the past, I have visited the Ashmolean numerous times, to study or sketch historical artefacts in these famous collections, inspiring a diversity of design ideas. Spending the day in the 'Pop up Studio', within the airy, elegant space of The Cast Gallery, surrounded by classical statues, was the perfect ambience for demonstrating my textile art to visitors.

Within the studio set, a mannequin draped in ivory silk organza, embellished with textures of 'White Garden' flora: lace, applique, cut-work, assumed a classical connection to fashions past. Another group of stitched lace samples: 'China Blues' looked to the museum's collections of Chinese porcelain for pattern reference.

While working in The Cast Gallery, I was reminded of another day spent drawing in the museum in 1986, sketching patterns from classical carvings, for a quilt design. (Exhibited: 'Stitched Textiles for Interiors', RIBA, 1986). That study day also inspired textures for embellished jackets; the pearly tints of the silk quilted bolero (see photo) evokes the surfaces of cool marble. An example of fashion embroidery from my archive collection, influenced by antiquities in the wonderful Ashmolean!

Blue and gold embroidery detail photo: Michael Wicks. Silk Jacket 1986 model Gilly Longton.

Textiles Class in the Cotswolds

'Free Spirit Flora' Saturday August 1st 2015
Farncombe Estate, Broadway, Worcestershire WR12 7LJ

I am pleased to offer a one day class on my special machine-embroidery techniques: using applique sheers, water-soluble lace to create lace flora and foliage. Following the popularity of last year's Masterclass at Farncombe, this workshop continues the 'Free Spirit' theme, with the accent on creating flamboyant, embroidered flora.

Class fee: £87. (Includes 3 course lunch, all refreshments; some class materials; tuition; technical assistant Pam Obertelli, to advise on your sewing-machine). Class times: 9.30am - 5pm (Lunch break: 12.30-1.30) 10 -12 places.

Overnight accommodation is available at Farncombe Estate: 01386 854168.

For class details & booking form, please email:

Photo: Michael Wicks.

NEW! Studio Study Days

I am feeling in celebratory mood: 40 years ago, in1975, I set up my first studio in the Cotswolds; in remembering those stitching decades, the Study Days offer a peek into my studio archives, and insight into my unique techniques.

'Accent on Accessories' - Saturday June 6th studies embroidery designs for bags, belts, stoles, cuffs. View archive pieces in my collection; learn about the specialist techniques; see demonstrations etc.

'A Floral Romance' - Saturday June 20th explores embroidered flora for fashion embellishment. Study the intricacies of interpreting botanical forms into stitch creations, via demonstrations and displays.

These special days are designed for small groups (5 places on each Study Day). Class fee: £75 (includes coffee & tea, light lunch; Study Day notes & samples). Class times: 10.30 - 4.30.

For details and booking:

Photo: Michael Wicks.

Vintage Favourites

Collecting vintage Vogues is a passion of mine. Browsing through the 1940s issues always catches my breath, seeing illustrations by Eric, Bouche, Descombes; photos by Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson. The decades of this iconic magazine have always inspired my design research.

With the retro spirit influencing my embroideries (see Free Spirit Flora), I could not resist two covers from a later era, a1970s set, bought recently. Appropriate too, as these magical Vogue covers are full of the joys of spring: Jean Shrimpton in a fanciful outfit by Pablo & Delia: painted leather tunic, choker and a gauzy petal hat, April 1970; on the March 1972 cover, the model wears a paper taffeta dress with a headband of roses, again by Pablo & Delia.

Photographs by Barry Lategan. 1970s chokers sparked the initial ideas for the 'Summer of Love' embroidery.

'Fancy Dress Described' by Ardern Holt, publ.1887 by Debenham & Freebody

Looking at the 70s Vogue covers, my mind slips into fancy dress mode! This original illustrated edition is an A - Z of fancy dress costumes, which could be ordered and made to measure, by Debenham & Freebody, London. A fascinating book for its inventive ideas with fabrics and embellishment, all described in detail, some are illustrated (see: 'Rose Garden' & 'Bunch of Sweet Peas'). As 1887 was Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, I can imagine Fancy Dress Balls were all the rage. Perhaps Pablo & Delia used this book to inspire their 70s fashion fantasies.

Example: "Wood Nymph. Green tulle gown, trimmed with leaves, wild flowers, blackberries, hips, acorns, forming a fringe..... birds nestling here and there......."!

(Google this book to see more, it is worth it!)

And finally...

Just as the Newsletter began with a splash of pink, I will conclude with one too! This time it is Elsa Schiaparelli's famous "shocking pink", the pink of the Incas that became her trademark.

I draw attention to Schiaparelli for a couple of reasons: 1) The amazing, artistic fashion embroidery she lavished on her couture clothes, executed by Lesage in the 1930s, always an inspiration 2) Her "shocking pink" seems a perfect colour to say goodbye to winter, and welcome in springtime stitching!

Photo: A box of Schiaparelli stockings in the signature "shocking pink", with lace pochette containing the pink tissue wrapped stockings.1960s.
(Purchased recently at a Vintage Fashion sale)

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