Embroiderers’ Guild Graduate Showcase

The idea for an Embroiderers Guild Graduate Showcase came about in the early 1990’s alongside a Graduate Showcase for Knitting Graduates at The Knitting and Stitching Shows. The bodies caring for Embroidery and Knitting were to select the very best graduates and Twisted Threads (now Upper Street Exhibitions) were to provide free exhibition space at Alexandra Palace, Harrogate and Dublin

It was felt at the time that the very best of the textile graduates each year should be showcased in such a way that their work would be more widely exposed and celebrated across the UK.

Those who have been annual visitors since the early days will remember that The Knitting and Stitching event started as supplier’s shows. There had never been a show before that exposed textile enthusiasts to a wide variety of inspiration such as the work of established artists and groups alongside specialist collectors, booksellers and inspirational exhibitions. The shows became the ‘must see’ events on the annual calendar

Whilst established textile artists became visible and celebrated, it became increasingly important for emerging talent to be exposed too. However like anything new, the graduate take-up was tinged with suspicion. In fact it took three years for graduates to recognise the importance of the annual approach of the judges.

The benefits of taking up the invitation spread like wild fire amongst the student body. Eventually It was considered a ‘no-brainer’ to accept free exhibition space in three venues where they would be exposed to up to 100.000 enthusiastic craftspeople. They would meet students, Guild members, teachers, artists, members from the industry, journalists, and commissioners. Where else would they be exposed to such a cross-section and be exposed to so many networking opportunities?

The Embroiderers Guild selection process takes place in June and July each year at the appropriate, Final Year exhibitions and The New Designers Exhibition at The Business Design Centre in Islington London. It is extremely difficult for the selection committee to visit all the shows so they concentrate on visiting New Designers where the majority of colleges present their best students. Selected textile artists are assigned to colleges that are not represented and they are asked to provisionally accept students who send a small selection of representative photographs electronically to the Chairman of the committee. A final selection takes place and the finalists are invited formally by The Embroiderers Guild and Upper Street Exhibitions (formerly Twisted Threads) to commit to exhibiting.

Graduates are encouraged to exhibit at all three events but two events is the norm. They are given a great opportunity which would usually cost them a great deal of money. The space, lighting and staging are free but whilst the Guild provide up to £150 towards travel to the venues and accommodation any balance is funded by the graduates themselves. However they are encouraged to sell post cards or small pieces of work to cover their costs.

When the invitation to attend goes out to the selected Graduates, they receive access to the Embroidery magazine archive and current issues for a year,, YE information, a request to supply information for the Embroiderers Guild and a confirmation of the EG expectations.

Graduates are selected on the basis of their work, their communication skills, their motivation, their design processes and ideas and their willingness to become a EG ambassador.

Over the years members of the public have come to look forward to seeing the cream of the crop each year. However with the demise of many of our famous HE Embroidery courses and the amalgamation of others there are less and less colleges teaching pure embroidery and as a result there is a smaller pool from which to select. Whilst it is liberating for students to be able to move between disciplines and afford themselves the opportunity to make new and exciting things happen, without the skill base things can become more and more restricted. There is a danger that as the skilled staff retire and are not replaced, the quality can reduce, and fewer and fewer students will work in this area. Wherever possible we must encourage colleges to offer embroidery as a specialist degree. There is no substitute for one to one specialist teaching and practical experimentation/realisation. Research in a library is a poor substitute for the real thing

At the moment it is still easy to find the best but things have changed and will change before people see the light. There is a sea change however in the Fashion Industry, designers are demanding specialist embroiderers to help them realise their potential in surface decoration without going to India or China for their production. Colleges need to respond!