Two weeks ago I spent three enchanted days stitching crewel with a twenty other women at Beating Around the Bush.
When the BATB program came out, I expected to be away for the first week of the event, so I booked into Phillipa Turnbull's Crewel work class for the last three days, when I expected to be back in Adelaide.
In the end I didn't go away for that week, but with the Guild Exhibition on, I'm glad I didn't try to fit in more!
Beating Around the Bush is a very different experience from a small group embroidery retreat. BATB is a chance to be part of a big group of people who come for a wide range of embroidery experiences. It shows the range of embroidery interests, from stumpwork to Solerosom, crazy patchwork, Japanese beading, crewel work, tambour and more.
Each teacher is free to set up their room with their work - including kits and other supporting bits to sell, On the first evening of my three-day class time was provided to visit other classrooms to look and buy.
Although I have travelled with Phillipa on her first Scottish Highlands Tour, have attended two of her retreats, and booked into another one, I have only been able to experience her teaching in a couple of two hour blocks. This was a chance to spend three whole days learning from her as an embroidery teacher.
I'm so glad I did.
A Jacobean Medley, an elegant design with a good variety of crewel stitches. Philippa is a really good teacher. She is clear and explicit in her instructions. My technique noticeably improves from working with her. Her knowledge and skill come from years of closely examining examples of extant historical crewel work and working out exactly how they were made - down to needle angles, order and short-cuts. Not content with analysis, she practises and perfects the physical execution to ensure a comparable result. She observes and corrects posture & handling techniques in the pleasantest possible way.
I also really like the business model of The Crewel Work Company - the partnerships with museums & private collections. It is respectful, educational and ensures we understand and honour our history. It's why I go back and back.
Most teachers have their preferred hoop or frame. Phillipa works with and sells a seated hoop of the stalk variety- the same model used by the RSN when I was there. I too prefer a sit-on hoop. Mine is (I think!) a 7-8 year old Lacis one. I also have a Nurge seated frame - great for arm adjustment, but the clamp is a bit limited.
The screw holding the stem into my Lacis stand has worked loose in recent years. Tape on the wooden screw has been a fix for a while, but the problem, I suspect, is wear on the thread in the stem of the stand.
When this began to impact my work, I swapped to Phillipa's version. The screw on this one is hardened plastic, which I suspect will hold longer than the wooden version. In any case, it worked brilliantly to hold my work firm - and is continuing to do so as I finish it at home.
The best thing about BATB is the range of students (mostly women). While I recognised several members of my Guild, there are lots of overseas visitors - and a huge number of women from country towns in Australia. I met three Victorian women whose husbands had initiated the visit - they were off exploring the Flinders Ranges while the women were at BATB.
And yes, I have been working steadily on my piece since the class finished. I haven't finished yet, but am making good progress - and I have an idea for using the final product, along with other crewel pieces I have, including a couple not yet stitched.
I am being reminded of how soothing and satisfying crewel work is - especially its capacity to absorb error and enable corrective work over the top rather than by unpicking! It blends and smooths.
There will be more on this as I progress! It's a great privilege, and a lot of fun, to be able to participate in this class in my home town.
I might even join the Guild's Crewel Work group!