From former commercial negotiator to fully qualified RSN Tutor, we turn the spotlight on 3rd year RSN Future Tutor, Sarah de Rousset-Hall.
I came to the RSN’s Future Tutor course after a career in commercial negotiation and procurement, and spent most of my working life saving money for large corporations. While that was fun and gave me lots of interesting opportunities, as time went on I found it unfulfilling.
Just before I joined the FT course I was living in Dublin (which was great) and working crazy hours as a Senior Manager for a large multinational company (not so great), and after a particularly fraught day at work I booked my sister and I onto a 3 day Whitework course at the RSN. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, as well as spending three lovely days in HCP with the lovely Shelley Cox I found out about the FT course!
It was something in the back of my mind over the next few months, spending most hours I wasn’t working or sleeping with a hoop in my hands. I then went to The Knitting and Stitching Show in Dublin, and spent a very happy time chatting with Tutor Sarah Smith, who was an FT at the time, and Bryna Black, our Head of Marketing. That, along with encouragement from my family, made up my mind: I was leaving the rat race and going to become a professional embroiderer!
Thankfully around the same time, my husband’s company decided to move his team to London, saving me an epic commute, and we were able to move just a few miles from Hampton Court Palace.
The shift back to being a student was a bit of a shock to the system, especially moving from being an expert back to being a novice, but most of all I was excited to be able to shift my career to be able to do something I love. It turned out that being a recovering workaholic was handy, as the course is pretty intense and the hours required at times were huge, especially during the first and second years, with up to 5 projects on the go and some pretty tight deadlines. Compared to my working life, however, almost every hour was enjoyable!
I often get asked what my favourite technique is, but it’s almost impossible to choose. As soon as I make a shortlist of my favourites, it pretty much becomes a list of all the techniques (except Canvas Shading – we didn’t get along!). Most I loved from Day 1, but there were a few techniques that I took time to fall for.
On the first day of Blackwork, I was a nervous wreck – I simply couldn’t see how I could do it – I understood the theory but I didn’t think I’d be able to apply it. Kate Barlow, our Tutor for the module, was amazing and supported and encouraged me all the way. David Bowie is without doubt one of my favourite pieces, even if I’m still not entirely sure how I managed it!
Silk Shading similarly was a challenge – and there’s a theme here, I’d always been more of a technician than an artist but, with the wonderful stitch teaching from Marg Dier, and Art & Design Classes with Nicola Jarvis and Caroline Homfray, I am now an artist and a technician.
Some of my other favourite pieces are my Fine Whitework of a vintage Formula 1 car in the Monaco Grand Prix, my Appliqué piece which is a tribute to 50 years since the first Concorde flight, and my Stumpwork Suffragist for the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage.
In the 3rd year, we switch focus from working on specific techniques to working in the RSN’s commercial Embroidery Studio (home to the fabulous ‘Wall of Wool’). Here, we learn how to handle, assess, conserve and restore the beautiful vintage textiles that are the core of the work that comes into the Studio. Mostly we work on pieces from the RSN Collection, including how to wash Whitework, repair wedding veils and make up pieces into banners.
Our final two terms have obviously been disrupted heavily by the Covid-19 lockdown. We are unable to work on vintage textiles at home as we lack the specialist equipment and materials, and we obviously wouldn’t want to damage the textiles by moving them into our homes without the correct storage facilities. I am looking forward to getting back to the Studio as soon as it is safe for me to do so, to finish our learning.
I’ve continued my work on my Signature Piece at home – which I’m keeping details of under my hat for the moment as it will be entered into the 2020 Hand and Lock Prize for Embroidery. My inspiration for it came from their brief, ‘The Poetics of Colour’, as well as an idea I had for my final piece before I had even joined the course, based around Titania and Oberon in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. The plan has changed a few times over the course of the project, and I am really looking forward to being able to reveal more in a few months’ time!
My time at the RSN so far has been a wonderful experience, and occasionally surreal, from RSN Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, joining an Art and Design class to HM The Queen of Malaysia asking me if I used the wooden bar I was resting my elbow on to bop people on the head if they made a mistake – I’m 95% sure she was joking!
I’ve also been lucky enough to work on some interesting projects including an embroidered textile commissioned by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge for her garden ‘Back to Nature’ at the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival 2019 and helping to restore and conserve beautiful Arts and Crafts banners from a church in Oxford.
Teaching, however, has been the thing I have loved the most – being able to pass on the skills I’ve learnt over the last three years has been great fun. From 90 minute Learning Curves at The Knitting & Stitching Shows to assisting on the RSN Degree Programme and C&D Summer Intensive Programme via Emoji Buttons for the Family Stitch Workshops and demonstrations during Florimania at Hampton Court Palace, it’s been fabulous.
So, being asked to be the Tutor for the very first RSN Online Day Class is a huge honour as, by a quirk of fate, my first Day Class kit design is a rainbow motif. The Class was scheduled for the autumn term at Hampton Court Palace which I hope will still be able to go ahead, but it’s really exciting to be able to teach in a new way for the RSN and I hope it’s something we’ll be able to do more of, even after lockdown ends. It’ll be especially good to expand our teaching reach to people who wouldn’t normally be able to come to one of our classes in person.
Post-graduation I’m looking forward to more teaching and developing my online teaching skills for both the RSN and other places. I was due to be teaching at the 2020 USA Summer School, and hoping that this will go ahead next summer instead as I have a lovely Goldwork class based on the Queen’s Coronation Robe I’m itching to teach!