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The Royal School Of Needlework: Sampler Competition

Last year I had the privilege of an insider’s tour of the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace near London. I wrote about it on this blog.

At the time, my overriding impression of the School was that of creativity combined with innovation, taking embroidery into the twenty first century without any of the stuffiness that one finds in Guilds and the organisations that set themselves up to judge handwork at Agricultural Shows. The ladies and gentlemen at the Royal School of Needlework are better placed than most to be fully aware of what has come before us, but this doesn’t hold them back in their quest to keep hand embroidery alive by taking it forward.

Di, Wilsia and I had a wonderful afternoon at the Royal School. We were made to feel so welcome. Consequently, my thoughts have been with them rather a lot in the past week, as I watch the television footage of the horrible floods in England. Hampton Court Palace is not far from the banks of the Thames, a little too close for comfort to my mind at the moment. So, I sent off an email to Monica Wright to find out if they were dry. They are, which is good and they don’t seem to be too concerned, at this stage.

In our correspondence she told me about the 21st Century Sampler Competition that they are having and invited to me visit the website to read about it. I did that, and I think you should too.

Their challenge is for you to design a sampler with no limits as to what elements it may or may not contain. How inviting is that?

In my lifetime Samplers have, mostly, been worked in cross stitch. That is not, however, the full story of the sampler. It was originally a vehicle for trying out stitches and techniques, and this meant all stitches and techniques, not just cross stitch. As time went on they became a method of recording information, hence the wedding sampler and those that record the details of a birth. What this means to me is that you can use any stitch or technique in the construction of your sampler. Likewise, you can record just about anything in the motifs that you put into the design. Imagine a record of a wonderful holiday that you had. Scrapbooking in hand embroidery if you will.

Some years ago I designed what I call our Family Sampler. I took a photograph of our house, turned it into a line drawing by tracing the lines off the photograph, and used this as the starting point for my sampler design. Sticking with the sampler tradition, I included letters of the alphabet and numbers. I also put in a lot of floral elements, but those were to make it look like a sampler.

To make it relevant, other than the picture of our house, I included motifs that depicted the interests of each member of our family. Obviously there was picture of a Boxer dog as well as one of a Maltese Terrier, which is our other breed of choice. My son was studying film making at the time, so I put in a motif of an old cine camera. My husband is a lawyer and so is my daughter – she was studying law when I designed this – so I included some old leather bound books that look like those that sit on the bookshelf behind any lawyer that you will see interviewed on television. Our family enjoys music and plays musical instruments (in my dim and distant past I even produced musical shows), so I included an old wind-up gramophone. And in the floral border are all of our initials.

Historically, samplers were highly prized and were often mentioned in wills, being passed down from generation to generation. Now, I’m not sure if my children will think that my family sampler is worthy of the same, but whatever they feel about it, I enjoyed designing and stitching it. It does form at least a snapshot of our family life. Looking at it now, however, I am inclined to think that I was a bit boring.

If I were to enter the Royal School’s competition I would have such fun. I wouldn’t stick to the mostly satin or long and short stitch that I worked with then. I would go mad with needle lace techniques, weaving stitches, beads and maybe even some goldwork techniques. I have a picture developing in my head and I have to supress it because I’m writing another book and that deadline is getting closer.

So I will have to leave it up to you. On their website you can read up about it and download the entry form. If you live near enough, you can get inspiration from the Sampler Exhibition that is being held at the Royal School from January to July this year. If, like me you live too many thousands of miles away, you will have to be satisfied with surfing the internet, and there is a lot to be found on the subject if you type ‘embroidery sampler’ into Google. While you’re doing that don’t forget to visit the Royals School’s Facebook page, and click on like.

If you win it, your piece would be become part of the RSN’s collection. Wouldn’t that be a feather in your cap?

The Royal School is, for all of us who love embroidery, a precious organisation. They form the base of the network that we need to keep hand embroidery alive. I think this is a wonderful concept for a competition and by taking part you contribute something for all of us. Think about it, and don’t forget to pass the information on to your Guilds, customers and fellow stitchers.