Embroidered wyverns

Cushion cover in Parma workOne of the real pleasures of teaching, for me, is researching a new technique or embroidery history. For my ‘Stitches with Stories’ workshop in October I wanted to follow up on Parma embroidery¬† I first came across it in the wonderful Anchor Manual of Needlework. This was first published in 1958 and in my teens I repeatedly borrowed it from my local library. It was the volume that essentially sparked my interest in, and love of, hand embroidery. I finally bought my own copy in the 1970s – the second reprinting of the third edition, so there must be many copies out there.

The manual covered everything from darning, through lace, via knitting and crochet. I always turned to the fine hand embroidery which was exquisite and inspiring. In the section on Italian Embroidery was that from Parma. A tantalising glimpse of ‘a cushion cover’ with appealing wyverns and a clear explanation of how to work at ‘typical Parma Embroidery Stitch’. And that was all I knew.

Table runner in Parma workNow, thanks to the wonders of the web, I have tracked down a recently reprinted Italian volume from 1926, Arte e Ricamo a Parma, and there, on the last page were the little wyverns again. The book has photographs of several embroidered articles along with line drawings of typical designs from local church architectural decoration. Lovely!

Trees at the NEC

I took a long train journey on Thursday. It was worth it to explore this year’s Festival of Quilts at Birmingham’s NEC.¬† The once clear boundary between ‘patchwork and quilting’ and ’embroidery’ has blurred and often cannot be perceived at all and I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful examples of art and skill on view.

One of Sandra Meech’s art quiltsQuilt by Sandra Meech

With only six hours at the exhibition (five if you factor in essential, seated, breaks) it helps me to have a plan. There is just too much to see for me to be able to really appreciate each piece – hundreds of quilts in the competitions, individual’s exhbitions (Lynne Edwards, Kaffe Fassett), European showcases, curated art quilts – the list goes on. And then there are the traders…..

  This is The Rookery by Mary MayneThe Rookery by Mary Mayne

For me to get the most out of the day I need to be selective and each year I choose a theme that I will focus on and that helps me to really ‘see’ the selection of quilts I look at. This year I chose trees. Obviously I didn’t completely ignore any of the striking or beautiful quilts that had nothing to do with trees but I spent more time with those that did.

A detail of Jenny Rolfe’s colourful ‘Branching Out’Jenny Rolfe's Branching out, a detail

I thought about how they worked (or didn’t work) for me: composition? style? colour? detail? . This helped me consider the elements that are key to working in any form of art textiles, embroidered, pieced, quilted or all three. Hopefully this exposure to such a wonderful array will feed into my own design processes.

The Orchard by Jill PargeterThe Orchard by Jill Pargeter

Looking at the exhibits in this way helped me to engage with quilts I would not necessarily have been immediately drawn to. But if it had a tree, I had a careful look and found elements I could appreciate in them all.

Trees of Hope by Helena ProkopovaTrees of Hope by Helena Prokopova

Do you have ways of approaching exhibitions, that could be overwhelming, that help you make the most of them?