Interview with Tracy
Read an interview with Tracy about how she began and what inspires her.
Why did you go Freelance? What do you think the advantages are?
I was at the Royal School of Needlework for a little over 10 years. After completing the three year apprenticeship, I continued to work there as a tutor and in the workroom, and then became the Apprentice Coordinator. It was a fantastic place to work and learn traditional embroidery techniques, but after 10 years I needed to move on professionally, as I felt I had achieved everything I needed to. Now I am freelance, I have the best of working for the RSN, whilst pursuing my own interests.
Your Studio is a dream workspace. How would you describe it? How did you hear about Fowlers Yard? Why did you choose Durham, and is it a good location for your business?
It is a great workspace. I heard about it from Durham City Arts, through a Durham County Council women-in-business initiative. It is an excellent location, very close to a main rail line station, which runs from London to Edinburgh, and cross country, providing easy access for visitors and students. It is situated on the banks of the River Wear, well positioned by the world heritage site of the castle and cathedral.
What and who inspires you?
Many things inspire me - fashion, architecture, contemporary modern design, ecclesiastical, fine art, nature, modern living and life, etc. I try to keep an open mind, but I do have a love of beautifully finely worked embroidery, with excellent skills in technique. I admire many embroiderers, artist's craftsmen including Beryl Dean, Margaret Nicholson and Jane Lemon, as well as more contemporary designers and artists too.
Are there any rules which apply to embroidery?
There are different approaches to different techniques, and rules to remain respectful to with historical craftsmanship. However, whilst I do remain true to traditional design and technique, I would also experiment, play and develop ideas.
Does your work include both traditional and contemporary designs? Do you combine them?
Define 'traditional' and 'contemporary'? I try not to see these two aspects as two opposing ideas but more on how they can complement one another other. Traditional and contemporary can be determined in terms of design, technique, or the materials used. However, it is possible to work a traditional design with contemporary materials, or use contemporary materials but work with them in a traditional style!
Do you hand draw your designs from real life objects?
I draw ideas from all different points of view, from life, from sketch from my thoughts having collected information from various sources such as clippings, the internet, postcards, etc. I am happy to sketch and create and work my own style.
Do you create your own designs?
Absolutely yes - always!
Do you ever use Photoshop for design?
Not particularly for design as I prefer to be hands on, but I do use Photoshop for editing images, for posting on my blog, etc.
Do you use a lot of mixed media in your work?
It is something I am fascinated with and something I have pursued and will experiment with further in the future. I have joined workshops run by other notable freelance embroiderers or textile artists including Gwen Hedley, Alison King, Francis Pickering and Mandy Pattullo, which are very inspiring, and have given me a lot of food for thought.
Your work seems to involve a lot of hand embroidery do you use any machines at all?
I did start off my career with a sewing machine so I am very familiar with it. My work is mainly hand stitching but I can and do use machine embroidery which I apply my own style to. However, hand embroidery offers something which machine embroidery does not and vice versa as they are two very different disciplines, depending on what it is to be achieved of course.
Do you have a favourite sewing technique?
I generally avoid sticking to one technique as there is a lot to explore! I do however enjoy free style hand stitching using basic stitches such as seeding, couching and stem stitch which I feel I can express and experiment with, otherwise I love it all.
What determines the stitch you use? Do you practice first?
It very much depends on what I am doing and what it is for. If I am required to work a technique, then I will, but if I want to do something for quickness, then I will think about my approaches to working an idea. I do sample if appropriate, as I consider this a good test to see if material, fabric or thread will work. Sometimes the sampling is the best bits!
Do you think anything can make a difference to the quality of work you produce such as tools, equipment, materials?
Yes, everything from the thread, fabrics, and materials I use, to the frames and needles I work with. I have experimented enough over the years to know what works for me and what I dislike, but there are always new products out there to be tried and tested. I am very particular about needles including the sizes and types and impart this on to my students. I tend to use John James needles which I feel are well polished British manufactured needles.
Is it important to always push the boundaries?
Yes - definitely! It is important to experiment and find your own ideas on design, technique and be original, inventive, and make your own mark.
How would you describe your work?
Refined, detailed, technical, contemporary and traditional . . .
Do you work with any associations?
I still continue to work for the Royal School of Needlework, and I am a general member of Embroiderers' Guild as well as an honouree member of the City of York branch of the Embroiderers' Guild.
Do you follow any journals, magazines?
Selvedge, Embroidery, Stitch and World of Interiors; and various blogs . . .
You have studied at various colleges, studying pattern cutting and fashion, how did you get into embroidery?
I started out on an Ordinary National Diploma in Pattern Cutting and Garment Construction at Leeds Jacob Kramer College. On completion, I returned home to pursue a City & Guilds part 1 in embroidery, as I had my heart set on a Costume making course in London, rather than continuing in the field of the fashion as a technical pattern cutter. Finally after completing a Costume making course at London College of Fashion, and a short career working for a freelance business, I then went onto study at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace.
Have you exhibited, if so where?
I have exhibited in the past for the Embroiderers' Guild 'Art of the Stitch' Bi-annual exhibition, and I had my own solo exhibition at the DLI Museum and Art Gallery, Durham in the late 90's. I have rarely exhibited as I have concentrated on other aspects of my career, but if I did, I would like to think I could give more quality time to creating. I do however; 'exhibit' my work on my blog.
Do you think there are any important events which are not to be missed out as an embroiderer, nationally or internationally?
The Knitting & Stitching Shows, at Alexandra Palace, Dublin and Harrogate; and the ICHF Fashion, Embroidery and Stitch show at the NEC Birmingham, as well as the Embroiderers' Guild regional days and other such events. I think they are all important in building a freelance career in the UK. There are of course, other international exhibitions which can be pursued.
Are you asked to do a lot of commissions? What kind of commissions are you asked to do?
I am constantly asked to do commissions, but they are not always viable as hand embroidery is a slow process even for a professional who has confident skills, nor are they sometimes jobs I am necessarily interested in. I rarely do commissioned work now due to lack of time, but I have worked on some smaller jobs, and other simple embellishments.
Are you working on anything particular at the moment?
I started a blog to experiment with ideas and push my creativity. So my blog shows my latest ideas and thoughts, based on what has inspired me. It is very much my own work which I love to do.
How do you sell your work? What do you think works best?
I don't really sell work, but I have in the past, and I do get asked. I now sell the products of my business such as books, threads, materials etc, which I generally sell to my students and clientele, but I do have passing trade, and it is advertised through regional websites such as This is Durham as well as my own, and more so by word of mouth.
You are Head Broderer for Durham Cathedral. What does that entail?
The Broderers have been established for sometime, before I came along. It was started by Phyllis Richardson who was the wife of the Dean of York in 1978. The group is supported by the Friends of Durham Cathedral.
You run workshops and teaching sessions from your studio, what programmes or levels are they accredited to?
I run my own programme of workshops, the Royal School of Needlework certificated course (the first to do so outside RSN HQ since 2003), and since 2006, levels 1, 2 and 3 City & Guilds and master classes through STITCHBUSINESS which I co-founded with Julia Triston.
Do you get the opportunity to travel?
Earlier in my freelance career, I travelled a lot around the UK, but as I built on establishing myself with classes and courses in Durham, I travel less and tend to be more stationed in Durham city. I have been privileged to travel to New Zealand and Canada and I would not rule this out for the future, but these big commitments need much forward planning. At present, I am happy to be travelling less as I have more time to work on my own ideas.
What couldn't you live without?
Professionally speaking - my career!
What do you like most about your career?
The 'control' I have, and that everything is what I want to do as I now know what works for me and what doesn't.
If you could change anything about your career what would it be?
More time - but every creative person must say this! More space would be nice too, but it is good to be limited.
What would you say makes the biggest income?
Teaching and selling.
What would you say are the most important qualities for your job?
Are you always busy?
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
To be fortunate to continue with what I have and build on this for the foreseeable future. I am very lucky to have a job I love, and which continually inspires me, which does come with practicalities, administrative work, a business mind, as well as a lot of hard work.