Retreating to Embroidery

Last month I took myself away from the noise and bustle of a Nottingham inner city church office, for a three day “faith and embroidery” retreat in east Yorkshire. I had been on one similar some years ago, at Parcevall Hall, run by Revd Leonard Childs of Derby Cathedral Workshop. Since then I thought much of that time, the change of surroundings, the lack of urgent demands on my time, a chance to sit and think, to embroider, to share ideas and thoughts with other embroiderers. Now was my chance to do it all again. Would this make me a better parish secretary, a better embroiderer, or...?

The retreat was held at Wydale Hall, near Scarborough, an area I know very little about, and which, because of thick fog and rain, I didn’t get to know any better! There were twelve of us on the retreat (mostly from Yorkshire, with me having travelled the furthest), led by two embroiderers from the York Embroiderers’ Guild, one of whom is married to an Anglican Vicar. They had put together a timetable of short services, meditations, embroidery and meal times, but we were assured that non appearance at any (or all) would not be held against us. This retreat would enable us to set aside our worries and problems for a few days in order to concentrate on our relationship with God, to thank Him for all he had given us, and to put our lives into perspective, even if only for a short time.

The chapel became a focus for our meditations, which were centred around four beautiful pieces of embroidery, each worked in one of the liturgical colours. In the workroom the leaders had prepared a number of small embroidery projects (particularly Christmas tree and card decorations) to be worked in groups. However, I being a “nonconformist” had brought along a couple of pieces of my own work that I had been having trouble with (in fact they had been pushed to the back of a drawer some years ago!). I was most chuffed to complete both during my time there, and to begin a new piece based on the colours of the surrounding gardens (through the mist and fog).

Embroidery is quite solitary, so it was a joy to spend time with fellow stitchers, to share experiences, problems and solutions. It is very underrated as an art form, and considered by some to be only a “craft”, and therefore inferior to painting, sculpture, and the like. But, like painting and sculpture it takes patience and thought - the needle and thread can be compared to the paint and the brush. It was also fascinating to see how differently we all approached embroidery - from the traditional to the contemporary. I, for example, like to use all sorts of “found” objects in my work, from pieces of metal to cork, string bags, etc., resulting in very 3D work which I don’t like to be constricted by glass or too much frame.

And so we embroidered, meditated, prayed, sang, shared meals, embroidered, talked, laughed (a lot), embroidered, listened, thought, read, and embroidered, until all too soon the retreat was over and it was time to return to the “real” world. I took home with me not only the beginnings of a number of friendships, but also a feeling of peace knowing that many of the tangled threads of my thoughts had been untangled and sorted out – wonderful! A highly recommended way of spending a few days.

Angela Newton

An embroiderer's lament

The fringe on my frontal looks frightful,
The bulge in the burse is much worse,
The tunicle’s less than delightful,
And the vicar’s becoming quite terse.

He tripped on the verge of a vestment,
And strangled himself with the stole
And, somehow, the size of his chest meant
My bold cope had no hope at all.

The alb and the orphrey are awful
My motif misfires on the morse,
The tassels are tatty – a drawerful
Had tarnished and look very coarse.

The maniple lining is sagging,
The veil for the chalice too small,
The dalmatic’s dramatic but dragging
And I don’t like the kneelers at all.

I cannot be ready by Advent
It’s all such a terrible strain
But unclerical things that were said meant
(Thank God) they’ll not ask me again.

Frances Adams
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 10th January 2004