Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Lesson at Hand & Lock Embroidery School

As a self-taught embroider, I have longed to improve my skills. After attending the lecture given by Hand & Lock CEO Alistair Macleod at Seneca College in March, a lightbulb went off. I would be in London in May and take a lesson at Hand & Lock’s School of Embroidery.

I exchanged several emails with Sara Meanwell, head instructor at Hand & Lock and a graduate of the Royal School of Needlework, and we decided a day long private lesson would expedite my learning. I sent her images of my textile based artwork along with a wish list of the things I wanted to learn. This list included: proper working techniques, transferring my drawings onto fabric, embroidery of letters, creating colour shading with satin stitch, achieving smooth lines with stem stitch, creating the illusion of fur, and use of sequins and beads.

Situated in a hip part of London near the Oxford Circus tube station, the offices of Hand & Lock are jammed with works-in-progress, samples, and boxes containing treasures of beads, sequins, gold, silver and other embellishments. I could have happily spent hours investigating, but all too soon it was time to begin my day of training.

In a quiet room upstairs, I put on my reading glasses and my apprenticeship began. Highly skilled and incredibly patient with me, Sara demonstrated a technique and then would watch as I attempted to replicate her example. More than once, my stitches did not measure up and she would smile and tell me to rip it out.

What I learned was that embroidery is not something that can be done quickly. Smooth perfection is created with a single strand of embroidery floss and the tiniest needle imaginable. Great care must be taken where the needle is placed. A small petal done with the silk shading technique takes an hour to do well, and that is only possible if every other stitch doesn’t have to be ripped out.

As much as I enjoyed my day, I left leaving a little uncertain about how I would use the skills I learned that day. Sara and I joked around about how I would need to bring her to Canada to have her sit with me in my studio to rethread my needle. If only I’d learned embroidery when my eyes were younger!!

To be honest, I still have to counter that feeling that I will never achieve the incredible perfection and beauty that I admire in the work of professionals like Sara.  I have to tell myself that it is okay to embroider with two strands of floss and a larger needle. After all, my work is conceptually based and perhaps has a charm and beauty of its own. And besides, I like doing it, which is more important than perfection anyway.

Hand & Lock School of Embroidery is located at 86 Margaret Street London, England. For more information on classes, check their website at