Marlborough & District embroiderers celebrate 40 years of stitching with a ruby exhibition

Written by Chris Cook - Guild Member.

Four of the members' ruby squares [Click to enlarge]Four of the members' ruby squares [Click to enlarge]Here I am sorting through my stash of red fabrics and threads - some so precious that I have never used them while other scraps drift in and out of my magpie collection. We have been challenged by our chairman to each make a ruby square. The square is to be ten inches by ten inches, we are free to use any materials, any techniques, any design.

The squares' colour is to be predominantly red - ruby red - but to include touches of other colours. Yes you’ve guessed it, our Marlborough and District Embroiderers’ Guild is forty years old next month (April 2016.) We are celebrating with an exhibition of members’ work and, centre stage we are planning to show a block of ruby squares.

There are so many decisions to make when starting a piece of work. We are able to explore, invent and be excited by a whole range of products and materials. Our workbox is as likely to contain a soldering iron as a needle case.

We may have fabric paints and printing blocks, brushes and rollers. We may hand stitch with the most astonishing range of threads or use a sewing machine as a drawing tool, employ soluble fabrics to create lacey structures, or work with a whole range of non-woven materials.  

Embroiderers nowadays are bombarded with so much choice.  Styles of embroidery come and go and change frequently over the years.  Embroidery worked an age ago dates alarmingly.  Such pieces can end up in a charity shop only to be reclaimed by a new generation searching for vintage items.

As our April anniversary and its exhibition approaches, we have been wondering what our branch was like forty years ago. Thanks to one of our members we have a copy of the branch programme for 1976/77 and we read that meetings were held in Marlborough Public Library.  

Monthly talks and workshops laid the foundation for the way our branch works today.  In this old programme we see that Miss Kaye Norris gave a series of talks about the history of embroidery.

Kaye Norris had been taught by Constance Howard at Goldsmith’s College of Art, they remained life long friends. Some examples of Kay Norris’s work can be seen in “Inspiration for Embroidery” by Constance Howard published by Batsford in 1966.  

Constance Howard had an enormous influence on contemporary embroidery, urging that the design side of embroidery should not be overlooked and was as important as the craftsmanship.  Another book by Constance Howard “Embroidery and Colour” was published in 1976, which is as relevant now as it was forty years ago, but it appears strange to us that a book about colour has so few coloured illustrations.

Nowadays modern technology means that we have easy access to wonderfully produced books full of enticing colour, not to mention CD’s and YouTube with its instant access to the world of “how to do it range of crafts”.  Followers of Pinterest and blogging embroiderers abound.

Our own branch now communicates with members online and we have published a newsletter since 2001. One of our members designed our website and another writes a regular blog showing photos of talks, workshops and outings.

Lorrain Lockwood's woodpecker designLorrain Lockwood's woodpecker designIn 1977 Mrs Vilma Wells gave a design workshop with an exercise based on black and white counter-change. The results of this can be seen in the woodpecker box top designed by Lorrain Lockwood who also made the box.  Lorrain was a founder member of the Marlborough and District Embroiderers Guild  

Lorrain’s embroidered Cockerel was part of the branch challenge of 1977. Then members were given a preprinted picture of the cockerel and told that they could use any method excluding gold work or canvas work.  Both of these pieces were in the 1978 July exhibition.

Early meetings of the Guild moved from Marlborough Library, to the Scout Hut, and then to the Bowls Club.  Now our Branch meets in Kennet Valley Hall in Lockeridge and we currently have a membership of sixty-five.  As well as monthly talks with regular and exciting workshops, we run a stitch day for members who want to come and do their own work.  

We run a six-session course, Design to Stitch, which covers machine techniques with a chance to experiment with design. Young Embroiderers began in 2003 and continues to thrive, meeting regularly during school holidays.

The ruby squares are now complete and they will form a very exciting display.  We do hope that you will come and visit our exhibition in Lockeridge, in April 2016 and see for yourself – details of the exhibition can be found here.