From Costume Assistant in the entertainment industry to RSN Tutor, Jessica Ingram shares with us her love of a technique she initially grappled with for which she got top marks!


The first time I came to the RSN was in June of 2016, when I signed up for Tutor Heather Lewis’s Day Class, ‘Jacobean Crewelwork Parrot’. At the time I had been working as a Costume Assistant in the entertainment industry for several years and was looking for a fun activity to do in between jobs.

Previously, most of my experience had been Cross Stitch and I had done some hand embroidery/embellishment during a BTec in Theatrical Costume. However, I enjoyed the class so much that I booked myself on to another one, this time an ‘Introduction to Whitework’ with Tutor Rachel Doyle. Not long after this, I heard about the Future Tutors Programme. I had been thinking for a while that I wanted to move on from Costume, so I applied and was lucky enough to get in, and I started the course in September 2017.

Whilst the course has definitely been intensive, I have really enjoyed learning all the traditional techniques. The first technique we studied was Jacobean Crewelwork and, even almost three years later, it is still one of my favourite techniques. I love how the huge variety of surface stitches can be used to create so many interesting textures and patterns. Another favourite is Blackwork, which was quite daunting to begin with, as I could not comprehend how I was going to recreate a black and white photograph realistically in stitch. However, as the piece progressed, it was fascinating to watch the photograph of my Mother slowly emerge as I stitched. It has become one of my favourite pieces of work, and I was really proud that it was exhibited in the ‘Faces & Figures in Stitch’ exhibition at the Palace.

Whitework was a technique I had been really looking forward to ever since my Day Class with Rachel and, having done both Basic and Fine White I still love it, so much so that the majority of my Signature Piece has involved Whitework techniques! Goldwork, much like Whitework, encompasses several techniques at once, of which Or Nué is one that we only had a small taste of during out first Goldwork module, but it was one that instantly fascinated me, and I could not resist experimenting with it as part of my Signature Piece, alongside the Whitework.

Overall, I have always felt more comfortable with the counted techniques like Blackwork and Whitework, and Silk Shading is a technique I have grappled with throughout the course. This has, however, made it undeniably more rewarding, as it led to the pieces I am most proud of, namely my Silk Shaded ‘Pig’s Ear’ and my Tapestry Shaded Figure of ‘Lady Sybil’ (from the TV programme Downton Abbey), for which I received my highest marks on the course. This is probably thanks mostly to the fantastic and very patient teaching!

What I have enjoyed most about being in the RSN Embroidery Studio in third year, is putting into practice the techniques we have learnt, and adapting them to a commercial setting, as well as learning conservation and restoration techniques, such as veil repair. The variety of projects we have had the chance to work on has been fascinating and I am looking forward to when we can return to the Studio to complete our studies. We have also been working on our own Day Class designs, to teach once we have graduated. I have really enjoyed the process of designing my own kits and I am looking forward to teaching them starting from September. Especially, my Blackwork ‘Sailing Boat’ which was initially designed for the USA Summer School 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky, which was unfortunately cancelled, and will hopefully happen next summer instead.

Alongside working in the Studio, I have also been working on my Signature Project. This year the brief for our project was taken from the 2020 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery brief, ‘The Poetry of Colour’. The inspiration for my piece came largely from my love of vintage books. I have always been interested in books and stories and have done book binding in the past; I even made some miniature books as part of my Creative Box module! Historically, embroidered book covers have been around for centuries, a famous example is a book given to Katherine Parr by the future Queen Elizabeth I, entitled ‘The Miroir or Glasse of the Synneful Soule’, worked in silk thread over canvas, with Gold and Silver Braid. The book covers were worked in a variety of materials, some of the most ornate involved detailed metal thread work on velvet fabric.

I chose to make an embroidered dust jacket for a book, but I decided rather than making a decorative cover, I wanted to recreate the embossing and decoration on an antique book using embroidery, so that from a distance it might look like a normal book, until you see it up close. I have been collecting old books for a few years and I chose one from my collection entitled ‘Stories of King Arthur’ by U.W. Cutler, as the Legend of King Arthur is a favourite of mine (my Stumpwork Figure was a Knight!) and I felt it fitted the aesthetic of what I am trying to create. I have used mostly Whitework techniques, including Pulled Work, Drawn Work, Beading and Ladder Stitch, as well as Blackwork stitches to recreate an embossed look. However, rather than working ‘white on white’, the piece is ‘green on green’ combined with gold threads to add detail. The focal point of the cover is an illustration of the Sword in the Stone, worked in Or Nué which, as I mentioned previously, is a technique I have been wanting to explore further ever since I first tried it.

The Or Nué is now complete, I am delighted with the result, and it has given me several ideas for future day classes! I am now focused on completing the main body of the cover, and I am really enjoying the process. It has been lovely to have something to really sink my teeth into during these strange times and I can’t wait for when I will be able to share it with people properly!


You can follow Jessica on her Instagram page.