Embroiderers stitch together all manner of styles


Embroiderers tend to be fairly private people and almost exclusively women.

Refined ladies stitching on to small hoops spring to mind, as do piles of embroidered linen aimed at a wedding chest, but that may be a fairly antiquated view.

Nelson Embroiderers Guild president Donna Kennedy says most of the members started stitching as children, carrying on into fairly utilitarian sewing as they brought up their own families.

It's mostly after that phase that they start to think of extending their scope and sharing their interest with others – and that's when they join a club.

Which may explain why most of the membership tends to be on the older side.

Kennedy says the guild exposes stitchers to a completely different way of working and thinking, encouraging members to work in ways that extend their techniques, their materials and their imaginations.

With an active workshop programme, the highlight of the year is What A Weekend (WAW). Held in October at Waimea College, the event attracts up to 120 people to a variety of classes, some of which are already full for this year.

Kennedy says that when a lifetime of skills meets creative stimulation, some more traditional stitchers have blossomed, especially with the motivation of an exhibition.

However, it can be hard to spend perhaps months working on something special and then have to sell it.

The guild's exhibition, Changes, in the McKee Gallery at the Suter shows a range of stitching skills and emphasises the many different directions members have taken.

When I first saw the traditional tatting of Koe Harris, I thought I was looking at something mysteriously manufactured by a machine, but Kennedy assured me it was all done by hand.

It was hard to believe that this light-as-air relative of crochet could be built from an initial small circle of stitches to something that might grow as large as a tabletop without going out of shape or falling to pieces.

The drawn-thread technique was pretty interesting, too. Kennedy explained the process used by Angela Gittus in which a piece of heavy linen has a border stitched on to it and a rectangular hole is made by unpicking threads, which are then woven back together in a new pattern.

I was impressed by these traditional manifestations of needlework, but had to admire the way the challenges of new ideas were taken on.

Many of the works on show took on too much, loading fabric, stitch and ideas together.

The most successful works were more understated, allowing the skills from which the work sprang to show through.

The two Flax Reed works by Cheryl Curtis were perhaps the most pared back.

Dana Pratt also kept it uncluttered, using bold line and colour for a simple statement in many of her works.

Guest exhibitor Karen Broderson demonstrated a variety of techniques, using different fibres in combination, then painting, burning and reassembling for effect.

Changes, the Nelson Embroiderers Guild exhibition, continues at the McKee Gallery in the Suter until June 27.

  • For more information about the October What A Weekend workshops, contact Catherine Dunkley, ph 035267478 or email acdunkley@xtra.co.nz.