Last week I met up with some old school friends in Winchester for a reunion. We were at school in Southampton, but I was later an art student in Winchester so I was keen to go back for lots of reasons.
We had lunch and a catch-up in a restaurant nearby and then set off for a guided tour given by one of our number who has blossomed into a qualified Cathedral tour guide!
She told us that during the war the school was evacuated to Winchester and the girls went to live with the families of the clergy that lived in and around the Cathedral Close. Conditions were pretty stark, cold, spooky and scary I believe.
But there were embroidery classes run by Louisa Pesel (1870-1947) an International expert in design and stitching and the first president of the Embroiderers Guild of England.
The Dean had asked Miss Pesel to organise a project to produce needlework cushions and kneelers for the Cathedral quire and some of these were stitched by girls from my old school. Their designs were based on ancient floor tiles in the Retrochoir, but the undersides of their cushions were all embroidered in green and gold – our school colours. They are now in the Epiphany Chapel. I’m sorry, no pictures. I never remember to whip out my phone/camera when I should.
High above them are stained glass windows by Burne Jones, made in the William Morris workshop with the familiar Morris stylised leafy tracery above and below..
What illustrious company for the schoolgirl’s needlework!
There are many, many fabulous treasures at the Cathedral but the most recent is in the Crypt which regularly floods. There is an Antony Gormley figure (himself) donated by him to the Cathedral. He is holding a cup and when the crypt floods, water rises up inside the figure and emerges through a small hole in his chest to fill the cup.
We had a fabulous day in Winchester, but I think the fine needlework done by the girls of my old school in the early 1940s in the chapel lit by the William Morris windows was the highlight for me.
I have kept my wool snippings and unpickings since the dawn of time!
Rammed into my marmalade pot, they come out in little bales so I can tell which tapestries I have been stitching over many years.
These snippings are perfect for stuffing small or oddly shaped tapestry items, where ordering a cushion pad would be discombobulating to say the least for the suppliers.
So I was ready when a customer had a number of Special Requests for her Reindeer Stocking…. which normally looks like this:
As well as the red version she wanted a blue one, and could I please make it face the other way?
I can print single canvases myself so this was done, my customer stitched both her tapestries and back they came for making up.
This was where we really went into the unknown.
They were to be made up in 3D!!! Like a box cushion.
So we also had to make stocking shaped box cushion pads to bulk out the stocking nearly to the top so she could add some little toys. (This was not to disappoint small children, the stockings will be hung up as Christmas Decorations.)
My stoic Cushion Lady said she loved a challenge.
She made a fabulous job of the stockings and for the pads she said she had made an overlapping slot at the bottom so I could stuff them and wouldn’t have any stitching up to do afterwards…
This is it!!!
I could just about get my finger in there and it took less time to open up a fist sized length of seam than it did to poke a cubic inch of wool snippings into that little aperture!
The pads were soon done, and here are the finished stockings. I think they do great justice to my customer and her clever, original ideas.
All they need now is toys.
Tapestry is a peaceful pastime. Nothing really matters – certainly not the back!!! So just relax and enjoy it. You can’t drop a stitch and if you put a stitch in the “wrong” place, just keep going, it won’t show and you won’t remember where it was 5 minutes later, let alone by the time you’ve finished the tapestry.
I’m not saying it’s fine to be slapdash – it is more to do with enjoying the needlework rather than worrying about it. You will be an expert before long anyway! Needlepoint is so relaxing and addictive that you will surprise yourself at how quickly you finish a whole cushion tapestry.
You have clear stitching diagrams in my kits; give it a go and you will soon get into a rhythm.
Your tapestry will go out of shape. This isn’t even a mistake – it is normal! It can be stretched back into shape in a jiff (a jiff being 3-4 days)
The best piece of advice I can give you is “Invest in a tapestry frame”. A frame will prevent the tapestry going out of shape; not completely – but enough to make the difference after stretching, between a Perfectly Straight Tapestry and a Perfectly Straight Tapestry But With Long Pointy Corners At The Top Left And Bottom Right. We have tapestry frames here.
My designing style gives flat uncomplicated areas of colour, so nothing on this website is difficult. Go for 12 count projects or easier still – 10 count. The smaller the count number (stitches per inch) the bigger the canvas holes.
I keep saying it – Tapestry is for pleasure, not an exam.
Designing is a funny old business! In recent weeks, I’ve been working on an idea that I thought was genius so I worked hard to get it looking just right and then I began stitching. After several false starts, it began to look the way I wanted it to and you’d think it would be plain sailing from there. However, I couldn’t make up my mind about colours and you have to knuckle down and stitch a good bit to see how the colours work together. But I was getting up to all sorts of mischief – playing patience on the ipad, checking out Twitter and Facebook, studying the tv guide…
Finally, I took the hint. If I was finding that design boring – so would others! It has been abandoned and I have started on something new and exciting that has got me stitching late into the night again, with little clue as to what I have been “watching” on tv. Phew!
When I post off a tapestry kit to a customer, nothing much happens after that (unless of course, it comes back stitched and ready for Making Up).
However, when I post off a finished cushion or stocking beautifully hand-made by one of my lovely cushion ladies, it is quite different!!!
Tapestries usually go rather crooked as they are being stitched and also can be pretty whiskery on the back as well, so they don’t necessarily look up to much when they are sent to me.
The transformation starts with the stretching. It not only straightens the tapestry and makes corners into right angles, but it gives the whole thing the fresh, even appearance that you would expect from an expert stitcher – I suspect this is what impresses the most!
The cushion ladies complete the job and off go the finished items to the customers. There may have been lengthy conversations about fabrics; timings; who, how and where to send to; even apologies for poor tapestry stitching. But in the end, the work looks fabulous and the customers are very quick to be in touch to thank me and express their pleasure. So thank you all for that – it makes my day.
Here are some of their Kind Words
Three One Off tapestries and one Ehrman that has sneaked into the picture.
A month ago, a customer brought me a boxful of beautiful vintage tapestries, stitched around 50 years ago by her late mother. They had been packed away for some decades but my customer felt it was high time they saw the light of day.
Her mother had stitched them despite failing eyesight, and although this was evident, it did not spoil the needlework in the least, but captured the time when she was enjoying her stitching too much to stop. Extra patches of stitching and rows from nowhere on the fine double thread canvas meant that after two stretchings they were still pretty wonky, but the central part of the design was looking fine.
Off I went to my cushion lady who wasn’t remotely phased! She would make cushions with straight edges, no matter where the rows of stitching went.
And that’s what she did.
Two fat cushions and a tie-on squab for a small chair.
Thank you Annie for trusting me with your precious tapestries and allowing me to show them here on my blog.
If you have a collection of tapestries tucked away somewhere, it is so worthwhile to have them made up. The transformation is astonishing, and no matter how wonky they are, the needlework always triumphs in the end.
Here is an earlier blog post New from Old about some vintage tapestry cushions we rescued for a friend.