My creative beginnings are not to be found in the field of embroidery, but rather in knitting and sewing as a child. Like many of us, I was initially taught basic skills by my mother and grandmothers, but from an early age I remember being largely self-taught – always motivated to make things, using books and anything else I could lay my hands on. I began knitting at four years old, and sewed oven cloths every year for family presents which became more and more elaborate. I also enjoyed sewing dolls’ clothes and also clothes for myself, adapting patterns and making things up as I went along.
In the late 1990s, with young children at home, I was looking for a hobby. I dabbled in painting for a while, but still did not really find anything to focus on. Then I came across Jane Nicholas’ wonderful book ‘Stumpwork Embroidery’ and my embroidery journey began. This book really captured my imagination, partly because of the embroidery and partly because of the history it encaptured. I became fascinated by many aspects of Elizabethan work, the style of embroidery, the beautiful objects created such as caskets. I found that embroidery was the ideal hobby she had been looking for – it could be done at home, and it could be done at little cost. My first embroidery was a little decoration on my sewing, but then I went straight into Jane Nicholas’ work, adapting patterns as I went. Soon I wanted to do more and heard of Embroidery 2000 and decided to take a class by Shirley Holdaway on Elizabethan work.
Finding the passion
I joined the Warkworth Embroiderers’ Guild in 2000 and did every class that I could in order to see which aspects of embroidery appealed most. I discovered that I found creative work less restrictive and developed a love of colour, texture and more creative endeavours. After trying a number of styles, I did the ANZEG Certificate in Surface Stitch, followed by two further Certificates – Goldwork and Needlelace.
The interest in goldwork led to developing a love for working in metal threads and experimenting with Art Deco designs on artists’ canvas. I moved from Art Deco designs into metal embroidery in Maori designs leading to an increasing New Zealand focus which has more relevance for me. As well as working with metal threads, I have also worked in surface stitch and stumpwork, including experimental work with dyed fabric. I am attracted to the techniques of watercolour painting leading to the development of a similar technique working with fabric and stitch.
In 2008 I took a class with Effie Mitrofanis on the technique of Casalguidi. This led me in yet another direction, developing Maori-inspired pieces which have similar geometric backgrounds to traditional Casalguidi pieces.
Shirley P Designs
Because of my love of teaching and all things to do with textiles I have always wanted to tutor in some form of craft. I began tutoring in crafts while working at a crafts supply shop in Silverdale and Whangaparaoa. I taught scrapbooking and beading. Later as I developed my skills in embroidery and started helping fellow guild members my desire to teach embroidery flourished. Later tutoring at conferences and receiving many awards at regional and national exhibitions gave me the confidence to teach others my own designs. Completion of the ANZEG Diploma of Embroidery and Diploma of Embroidery Teaching have fine-tuned many of my skills and I enjoy mixing traditional techniques with modern materials.
The next step was to begin Shirley P Designs where I can share my love of embroidery with others.