Nicola Jarvis - Artist, Teacher and Academic

Historic Stitches

Currently known for her bird embroidery kits decorated with William Morris-inspired patterns, Nicola has been teaching hand embroidery for over twenty-three years since training at the Royal School of Needlework.

Ultimately she is an artist who uses embroidery in a range of art and design applications. She has made embroidered samples for British fashion companies, assisted in designing, launching and running the RSN Foundation Degree curriculum, and written and delivered numerous independent site-specific embroidery courses in stately homes and museums across the UK. Over the last eighteen months Nicola staged and has been touring her hugely successful collaborative exhibition ‘The Art of Embroidery’, which was launched at the William Morris Gallery in 2013.

From September 2013 to May 2014, Nicola ran a series of six Historic Stitches day classes at the Embroiderers’ Guild Headquarters in Walton-on-Thames, inspired by a selection embroidered works in the guild folio collection. Well attended and popular with members in the South East region, the course has received requests to run in a location further north. The Embroiderers’ Guild and Nicola will be repeating the course from her stunning Warwickshire-based studio in September 2015 through to Spring 2016.

The six workshops will explore a range of techniques to include Counted Stitches, C17th style Crewel Work, C18th style Silk Work, Metal Thread Work, C17th style Raised Work and C19th style White Work respectively. Antique examples from the folios are studied alongside working the embroidered kit project in order to create an interesting discourse and to further understand how specific stitches have been constructed, used and/or interpreted on the historic pieces.

Nicola’s studio is based on the outskirts of north Leamington Spa, Warwickshire and is a beautiful, bright and inspiring space to work.

For more information on Nicola's workshops in 2015 and 2016 please see the heading EG Workshops with Nicola Jarvis under Workshops & Courses or you can click here to take you straight there.

Historic Stitches at the Embroiderers' Guild by Rosalind Dyer

One of the students fron Nicola's workshops last time wrote an article based on her experience:

Last winter I spent many enjoyable hours at Embroiderers’ Guild House in Walton on Thames attending the historic embroidery workshops with tutor Nicola Jarvis. I didn’t go to the first one of the series on counted stitches but I now very much wish that I had. So I wasn’t able to see the historic examples from the folios.

The first one I signed up for was on Crewel Embroidery. I enjoyed it so much that I signed up for the rest of the series. At each workshop, we started off by looking through the Guild folios on the type of stitching and Nicola would talk us through the different historic pieces. We would then proceed to working a design that Nicola had created to provide practice in many of the types of stitches that were representative of that style of stitching. The small number at the workshops meant that we all got plenty of individual tuition as well as plenty of class demonstrations. Nicola is a marvellous and inspirational tutor and we all learnt a great deal.

For the Crewel Work day, after viewing examples of 17th and 18th century Jacobean- style crewel work, we stitched a beautiful acorn taken from one of Nicola’s William Morris inspired designs. This piece involved many stitches including long and short, trellis work, laid work, satin stitch , encroaching satin stitch and buttonhole stitch

The silk work piece we stitched in November was of leaves and berries in a suitably Christmassy green and red. Long and short stitch is not a stitch that I find easy but Nicola convinced me that I could do it reasonably well. We also used padded satin stitch and stem stitch. The silk shading in the samples of 16th and 17th century work we saw in the folios was wonderful. It was so fine and delicate. People must have had wonderful eyesight in days gone by.

In February, the subject was metal thread work. Thankfully it was held in a week when there was a brief respite in the flood waters. It was one of the few days that I could drive along the A308, although it was a bit tricky coming home after a day of rain. Our project this time was a gold work crown which gave us practise in couching Japanese thread and Grecian twist, stitching down pearl purl and purl chips, several types of padding and some cutwork, with crystal sequins and spangles for decoration.

Our subject in March was raised work. Normally we could only study the relevant folios. However on that day, the Curator was there so that we were allowed to view some of the wonderful work in the collection itself. It was a real privilege to be able to study the exquisite 16th and 17th century work which included garments, gloves, a mirror frame and a casket. It made stitching Nicola’s pea pod design so much more special having seen the original from which the motif had been taken. The main stitches used for the pea pod were detached buttonhole variations, decorated with spangles, bubble couching and silk wrapped purl. That day was the final day for judging the entries for the AGM competition and as an added bonus we were able to view all the pieces once the judges had finished.

The final session was on white work and Nicola had designed a lovely white work bird which gave us practice in lots of techniques, including pulled work, darning, eyelets, padded satin stitch and a number of outline stitches. Again the samples in the folios were exquisite, many so fine that it was difficult to image how the stitchers could see to work. We saw examples of Ayrshire work, Richelieu embroidery, Broderie Anglaise, cut work and some modern samples and could see how the nature of the work varied from different places and over time.
The whole series of workshops introduced us to the historical context of all the stitching methods and showed how these developed with changes in fashion and materials. It made me far more interested in the history of embroidery which is a subject that I would like to continue to explore. Nicola was a great tutor (both fun and patient), showing us the correct way of doing things, passing on tips and inspiring confidence in our abilities. It also gave us an opportunity to visit Guild headquarters, view whatever work was on display, look round the library and get to know those working there. It certainly made me feel much more part of the whole Guild. It was good to see the resources of the HQ being made directly available to the members. I would certainly recommend going to future workshops there. For anyone interested in the Nicola Jarvis historical workshops, they are, I believe, being held again at Nicola’s workshop in Leamington. I am sure that the details will be on the Guild website.

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