Claire Fitzgerald says that the RSN is the ‘Gold Standard’ of hand embroidery and has completed the RSN Certificate and Diploma in Technical Hand Embroidery, graduating this summer 2020. Here, Claire explains her pathway to completing the Diploma and what the future beholds.
In the summer of 2016 a friend of mine took me to see the Traditional Latin Mass for the first time. This was on a pilgrimage to Walsingham, the Catholic National Shrine & Basilica of Our Lady, in Norfolk, England. Even though I grew up as a Catholic, I didn’t know about the Latin mass or even that there were Catholics all over the country (all over the world in fact) who are dedicated to preserving the traditional mass and liturgy, as was the norm before the 1950s.
It was at this time I saw the beautiful vestments; chasubles, stoles, burses, copes etc. with the most exquisite embroidery I had ever seen! It was like I was elevated to heavenly realm filled with angels, the sound of Gregorian chant permeated my ears and I encountered something that was truly sacred and divine. When I returned home I was motivated to learn embroidery so that I could be part of this movement to preserve the traditional vestment and furnishings of the church.
With a bit of research I discovered the RSN and came to realise it was the ‘Gold Standard’ of hand embroidery and so the answer to enrol was simple. I enrolled in the Jacobean Crewelwork module in January 2018 and to be honest, there was something inside me that thought I wouldn’t be able to do it and I would drop out after 2-3 lessons. However, my Tutors were very supportive and encouraging and I couldn’t have asked more. They were also incredibly experienced and I knew I was in safe hands with their guidance. I knew, if I followed their guidance, they would take me where I wanted to be. This is not something that is easy to find these days so I knew I was in a special place and for that I am truly grateful.
Now I have finished the Diploma and looking back on all the modules, I would say that Goldwork and Whitework were my favourite techniques. I love the powerful, jaw-dropping designs you can create with Goldwork and the impact it has on the viewer, my piece is entitled ‘Baroque Flowers’. I was inspired to design this piece based on some Baroque flowers I saw at the Brompton Oratory in London, that were carved into the stonework on the outside of the building. I love the combination of Goldwork on velvet as can often be seen on vestments, liturgical furnishings and processional banners. I also, quite unexpectedly, developed an appreciation for Whitework and needle lace. Since leaving the RSN, I have pursued this further by taking lessons in bobbin lace. I would eventually like to learn Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire laces, in order to preserve the traditional craft in Britain.
I now work mending, repairing and creating vestments for churches. I feel the course developed my confidence especially in design work, for example, knowing what shapes work well and how to create a balanced design. I can confidently pick colours based on what is pleasing to the eye and I enjoy selecting appropriate fabrics and textures that emphasise what you are trying to say to the viewer. The RSN mounting technique stood me in good stead for constructing vestments, knowing which stitches to use for structural purposes and those for aesthetic purposes. And I ended up loving the curved needle! It’s now an essential part of my embroidery kit.
My advice to anyone starting is – don’t give up! Start collecting images of work that you like and fabrics that inspire you. And with lots of focus and dedication you will be able to create the designs that you love!