Having started stitching at just age 3, we turn the spotlight on 3rd year RSN Future Tutor, Anita Harrison.

My love of hand embroidery started at the age of 3 when my mother taught me simple embroidery on Aida fabric using a large blunt needle. I began to knit at 4, crochet at 6, and started making my own clothes at age 10.

Following a Fashion & Pattern Cutting course at Art College where I gained an ‘A level’ in Embroidery Art & Craft and also won several prizes including Best Manufacturing for Imbex Menswear Competition, and Most Commercial Glove design, I embarked on a successful career in the hand knitwear industry working with major yarn spinners and publishing houses for whom I designed knitwear and wrote knitting patterns. I also worked within the publishing industry as a Section Editor on a craft publication and wrote a book on Ribboncraft, which included some Ribbon Embroidery. Life sometimes takes a few turns and after many years as a successful Knitwear Designer, I followed different and interesting career paths including as an Executive PA and a Sports Massage Therapist.

A few chance meetings led me to visit The Knitting & Stitching Show, London, and then shortly afterwards to attend a RSN ‘Introduction to Hand Embroidery’ Day Class. Following this, I had the opportunity to work as a RSN Volunteer and, whilst volunteering, I started working part time in an administrative role for the RSN. This is when I truly reconnected with embroidery. Prior to joining the Future Tutors programme, I attended the Certificate & Diploma in Technical Hand Embroidery and I felt like I had ‘come home’!

I was thrilled to be able to join the Future Tutors programme. As a ‘mature’ student, I was a little apprehensive about returning to full time education for three years, but these were soon put aside as I settled into the course. There’s no denying, most Future Tutor students accomplish the high standards of work by stitching for many, many hours to achieve the timetabled hand-in dates. I am highly critical of my own work while I’m stitching however, despite the constant (but enjoyable) pressure that I put on myself, on completion of every piece I experienced a massive sense of pride and accomplishment. The expert guidance of our wonderful Tutors should not be undervalued. I was amazed at the standard of work I have been able to achieve with their teaching!

I love Canvas Shading! I started stitching the Avocado stone, unpicked and then re-stitched the stone in order to perfect the shading. Once I got that right, I worked the Avocado flesh, then the skin. The project just flowed, but then I really enjoy stitching with wool and, over the last three years, I have sampled various different types of wool threads on numerous fabrics.

The techniques used for Stumpwork Figure just clicked with me, especially Needlelace. I loved working out my golfer’s anatomical pose and the construction of her clothes, especially her jacket. I was delighted when I managed to create her leather-fringed Brogues! I also relished the challenge presented with working her knee length socks in Ceylon stitch – it was extremely time consuming but also back breaking as I spent so much of my time stitching them at an awkward angle!

I also really enjoyed learning the processes required to stitch both the designs of Goldwork Symbols (an RSN standard learning design) and Coronation Goldwork (my own design but worked to a brief). I particularly like the effects I was able to achieve for the cutwork thistle on my Coronation Gold piece, which was inspired by the embroidered thistles applied the Queen Mother’s Coronation Dress.

I learnt a lot but also had great fun during our Art & Design Classes. With the help of our talented RSN Tutor, Nicola Jarvis, I found these classes were particularly beneficial to helping me draw and, furthermore, understand my observational drawings in detail, which in turn enabled me to transfer these designs into stitch.

In addition, my other favourite pieces include:

The Silk Shaded ostrich (‘#bemorelikeMartha’), partly because of the colour of the silk I worked it on in combination with its composition, but also the way I have been able to achieve the quirky character of the bird.

I love my Fine Whitework piece called ‘Cornish Surf’, and I also love my Broderie Anglaise & Richelieu bird. Although I initially struggled with the Whitework technique (I swear the first Whitework class I attended was taught in Martian!), with subsequent classes taught in the English language, I quickly grew to understand and love all aspects of the technique, especially the counted stitches, trailing and eyelets in all forms!

During their independent visits to the RSN, I have been privileged enough to meet and shake hands with both HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and The Queen of Malaysia.  I have also been honoured to experience working with the RSN BA (Hons) Hand Embroidery students on the RHS embroidered textile commissioned by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge for her garden ‘Back to Nature’ at the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival 2019.

Alongside my Future Tutor studies, I have designed and taught short 90-minute Learning Curve classes for the RSN at The Knitting & Stitching Shows, as well as assisted in class on RSN Day Classes, Tour & Taster Classes and Family Stitch Workshops. I have also assisted on the Certificate & Diploma Summer Intensive programme at Hampton Court Palace, and demonstrated Silk Shading at the Florilegium Mother’s Day event, Hampton Court Palace in 2019.

Whenever I have had the opportunity to teach during the Future Tutor training, it has been the enthusiasm of my students that has been my inspiration! I’ve had the joy of teaching students of all ages and nationalities. I love seeing their sense of achievement, which inspires me and is the reason I enjoy teaching embroidery.

To date, I have thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of my experience in the RSN Embroidery Studio during my 3rd year. Sadly, this has been interrupted during the second term due to the Covid19 lockdown crisis. As a Future Tutor in the Studio, we learn on items that have been donated to the RSN. Very occasionally we are able to work on a customer’s piece with their prior and express permission. Learning from the experienced, professional Embroiderers working in the Studio, I learnt new techniques such as veil repair and altar frontal construction, as well as how to apply the techniques I learnt during our Future Tutor course and how to combine them with my previous sewing knowledge.

Many of the items worked on in the Studio are much larger than we are used to working on as a student. I found working on one large slate frame alongside other Embroiderers a new and novel experience – it’s also not possible to just turn over the work to check the back when you’re working on an altar frontal measuring 3.5m x 1m

Looking back over my three years as a Future Tutor student, I’m proud of all my completed pieces of work, but I am especially proud of the student feedback I’ve received when I’ve been assisting or teaching in class.

My embroidery has kept me somewhat sane throughout the Covid 19 lockdown. Creating with threads and yarn has been a lifelong passion of mine and is now engrained in my DNA. During tough times in my life, I have found it very soothing to sit quietly and create with textiles, so I am not surprised that in these unprecedented strange times, many people have turned to being creative to fill their time and to calm their minds.] I’ve seen a huge surge in the popularity of online courses and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be involved in the early stages with the RSN Online Day Classes. As my career progresses, I hope to be able to continue to offer online classes to students who might not be able to visit the RSN classroom.

As life begins to return to normal, I hope my career can combine conservation and restoration work in the RSN Embroidery Studio, with an online shop, and online classes alongside classroom-based teaching.

I’m keeping details of my Signature Piece (SP) close to my heart for now. As part of my 3rd year course requirement, my SP will be entered into the 2020 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery, and their brief for this year is ‘The Poetics of Colour’. I have an affinity with nature and I have dreamed of going to see the Aurora Borealis one day soon (otherwise known as polar, northern or southern lights). I also like fashion accessories. My SP combines both of these!

When I started to look for inspiration that fitted the brief, I came across many online photos of the Aurora Borealis. The wonderful array of colours and patterns within this Spector provided me with a great source of inspiration! My research has been in the form of sampling various stitches in various threads on various fabrics to find the right combination. I have also spent a lot of time researching, sourcing, ordering and sampling various ‘hardware’ to ‘test’ whether it’s suitable for my project.

Watch this space!

You can follow Anita on her Instagram page.