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Friday, 16 November 2018

Royal School of Needlework, Hampton Court Palace, London

On Tuesday I spent a fun day at Hampton Court Palace. Now I have to confess that it takes very little enticement to get me to spend a day in such a wonderful place. However, on Tuesday, I had a very special reason for being there: I was taking part in one of the Royal School of Needlework's sampler days, which involved a tour of the Royal School's workrooms and then a workshop in their studio.





The theme for the day was animals in embroidery.  Sadly we weren't allowed to take photos within the workshop for copyright reasons. However I can say that the work displayed was inspirational. There were lots of dogs and dragons (worked in elaborate gold-work), farm animals and safari animals, bugs and birds and all manner of other critters. We saw crewel work, gold work, stump work and the most life-like silk shading.


We had a quick tour through the Royal School's restoration studio where precious textiles were being lovingly restored.  They've got a wall of wool in there, full of crewel wool - much of which has been donated - from which they can match just about any hue or tone that has ever been dyed.

My group (there were six of us in total) were a very chatty, friendly bunch. My colleagues, who came from the USA and various parts of England, were all proficient stitchers. It was billed as "beginner" level, but the others had already mastered the basics, and some within the group were veering towards the expert end of the spectrum. One lady had done a succession of different courses at the RSN and was about to embark upon her own line of designs. Our teacher, the lovely Chrissie Juno Mann, was friendly, talented and fluent.  Chrissie had designed a pretty kit for us to workshop on, and then take home to finish. I give you my version of the very handsome Dexter - the Dauchaund:



Isn't he adorable?

Mine differs from the official version in that his jumper boasts some golden yellow stripes. As originally conceived it had orange and blank stripes. Not having read the instructions before getting started 👀 I went dithering around in one of the blank stripes with my starting stitches, and my only come-back was to change the design to incorporate a contrasting stripe. Clearly he's still got a little way to go before he's finished, but you get the idea of what a handsome hound he's going to be.

He's worked on a heavy calico using crewel wool and DMC pearl cotton. His outline is worked in stem stitch, his coat is outlined in split stitch and filled in with satin stitch. There are a few French knots here and there, running stitches for the grass and lazy daisy stitches (attached and unattached chain stitches) for the flowers.

If you'd like a Dexter of your own, Chrissie has a website from which you can see her other day classes and buy her kits. You can find her here: Cloud Juno. As you'll see from the portfolio on her site, she's a huge talent with the most exquisite design aesthetic. And on a personal level she's just about the nicest tutor you could wish for.

We worked using seated embroidery frames, which was a first for me.  They had the great advantage of freeing up both hands for sewing. I was so impressed by the freedom that this gave me that I bought my own mounted frame to take home afterwards. All I need now is one of those marvelous day-light simulator LED lights and I'll be all kitted out. I've got a really good Ikea floor light that I use in the evenings, but the bulb gives off a lot of heat, and when you've got it close to your face it can get quite uncomfortable.

I should also add that the RSN has a lovely shop, which is open to the public within the palace, and they also do mail order. I bought a fabulous pair of upwards curving scissors, which are perfect for snipping off threads flush with the canvas, and a pair of gold-plated tweezers. Now I'll admit that the tweezers look a bit decadent - think oligarch's bathroom, and that's not a good look. However, in my defense, they cost less than a fiver, and with gold being one of the most inert metals they will never produce an oxide that will stain the fabric that I use them on. Genius!




Whilst we didn't have time to enjoy the freedom of the palace during the course of the day, we were free to use the cafes for lunch and coffee breaks, and parking was not a problem as I was able to use the visitors' car park. Alternatively the railway station is close by if you wish to come by public transport. So, even though the palace is a distance out of central London, it is easily accessible and has all the facilities to cater for everything you need once you get there.

They've got a huge programme of classes that run all year. You can find their website here: Royal School of Needlework. I'm sure that I will go back for more. I really like the sound of some of the crewel work classes and they've even got a class for machine embroidery, which would be a good way of learning a little bit more about all those fancy sewing machines that I keep swooning over, but can't really get my head around.

All the best and happy stitching,

Bonny x

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