The History and Workings of Whitchurch Silk Mill

The History and Workings of Whitchurch Silk Mill – talk by Deborah Wheeler

Whitchurch Mill

Deborah Wheeler from the Whitchurch Silk Mill spoke to members at our February meeting.  She displayed a number of samples of the mill’s woven silk materials together with silk cocoons, silk waste, silk cones and silk on a shuttles.

The mill has a long history going back to 1813 when it was built on land owned by the Dean and Chapter of Winchester, by business man Henry Hayter and his son William.  Another floor was added by the next owner, silk merchant William Maddick.  Local families named Chappell and Hide have also owned the mill and in 1956 silk manufacturers Stephen Walters and Sons stepped in to buy the mill to ensure production continued.  Ede & Ravenscroft, makers of academic and legal gowns, bought the mill but by the mid 1980’s the mill had fallen into disrepair.  It was rescued by Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust and in 1990 the mill was opened under the management of the Whitchurch Silk Mill Trust. 

The History and Workings of Whitchurch Silk Mill

The mill is situated on the River Test, a chalk stream and has 6 sluice gates which control the water mill.  Today Whitchurch Silk Mill is open to the public six days a week thanks to 12 staff and a group of 70 volunteers.  The silk mill produces silk for the public, for film sets, the theatre, television, the National Trust and the Historic Houses Association.  Thanks to a Heritage Lottery fund grant the mill now has a looms to make scarves and stoles..

We were shown the life cycle of the silk worm and some silk cocoons.  It was explained how the silk is spun, how the warp threads are set up on the loom and how the shuttle weaves the weft at speeds of about 30 mph.  Until recently silk hanks were bought direct from China but now cones are bought through Stephen Walters.   I found it interesting to see the sample cards of between 150 to 200 threads per inch which are used to create new designs.  The chosen design is then recorded in the weaver’s diary.  It was very encouraging to hear that the skill of spinning and weaving silk has been passed on to the next generation but alarming that there are only 5 such people in the country with 3 working at the Whitchurch Silk Mill.

We all agreed this would make a wonderful day out in the summer especially as the mill has its own restaurant so hopefully we would be able to see one of the talented people at work making silk and silk ribbon.


Report and photos by Ros

Whitchurch Silk Mill Website giving details of opening hours, location and their shop:

Silk thread, hand dyed cocoons etc:

Silk thread, hand dyed cocoons and silk waste:

Amanda Cook – “From fiddle fingers to artist in residence”

Amanda Cook – from fiddle fingers to artist in residence

Before starting her talk Amanda changed into a beautifully embroidered dress and full length velvet cloak which we later found out to be her wedding outfit. 

Amanda Cook in her wedding outfit

 As a child Amanda loved to fiddle with things.  She told us she has always been addicted to fabrics and threads and above all, she loved stories.  Amanda saw an end of year diploma show and decided she wanted to follow an art foundation course and introduced her love of textiles into her work.  After a life changing event, Amanda’s love of stitch helped through difficult times and enabled her to gain understanding by weaving stories into their creation.

Amanda brought along a wonderful selection of quilts and clothes which she had made over the years and during lockdown.  She held each up in turn telling us the story behind its creation.  Her wedding dress had been made from some old curtains and the lining of the cloak was a patchwork of silk which Amanda had bought during a visit to India.  I was particularly amused by the story behind an apron and Amanda read the text which she had embroidered onto the ties.  Always searching for unusual items to include in her work, Amanda appliqued lost property onto a skirt and decorated another with labels inferring, “don’t label me”.   As time went by Amanda created many items of interest and in 2021 she was asked if she would like to display them in an exhibition.

Prior to leaving her job, Amanda was asked if she would like to become an artist in residence.  Jumping at the opportunity to spend a year researching and creating, she decided her theme would be based on trees.  Amanda showed us her sketchbook and a beautifully embroidered dress and  jacket.  This jacket had been made from two school coats and it was embroidered with flowers and insects.  The cuffs on each sleeve had been embroidered and the embroidery on a cumber bund represented the forest floor.

In addition to her textile creations, Amanda also runs the Overton Framing Studio.

Amanda, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us.  Many of them are very personal so I have not included them but we were truly inspired by all your creations and are grateful for having the opportunity of seeing them.

Amanda’s 2021 exhibition:

Amanda’s 2022 artist in residence write up:

Overton Framing Studio:


Report by Ros

Photos by Ros

Michele Carragher – Game of Thrones embroidery

Michele Carragher – Game of Thrones embroidery

I have to start by saying that Michele was such an interesting speaker; obviously enthusiastic about her craft, I think it’s safe to say she captivated us all with the descriptions of the productions she has worked on and the processes followed.  She began with an overview of her background; she has been sewing since childhood, designing outfits for her dolls and went on to study Fashion & Design where nature, fantasy and literature influenced her designs.

GofT CH 3

After the course, Michele moved into textile conservation, where she developed a comprehensive skill set in stitches, mounting and embroidering on to a foundation; all without stretching the base fabric on to a frame as the textiles probably were often too fragile to do so. This has made her practice more efficient and skilful.

After making short films with friends, Michele moved into costume assisting. Her first professional foray was an unpaid experience with Mike O’Neil, who became her mentor. After working as a costume assistant on ‘Our Mutual Friend’, Michele became the principal costume embroiderer on ‘Elizabeth I’ (starring Helen Mirren) where she had more creative control.

GofT LS 13

To create her designs, Michele ideally gets to read the script first and then meets with the costume designer to discuss approaches to various characters she will be creating embroidery for. Then comes the research; using paintings and other visual references from the correct period to springboard her designs, all of which must be understandable to the audience.

Rough sketches are made (they didn’t look very rough!) along with samples to enable Michele to assess the time it might take to create the embroidery; the time given to create the costume varies between productions! Sometimes embroidered fabric is purchased and extra elements embroidered to reduce the production time. Fabric may also be painted during the process. Michele has found it advantageous to create the designs on organza as the design can be created whilst the costume is being made.

Michele worked with Michele Clapton on Game of Thrones, and she shared some very interesting insights into the costumes and their developments across the series. As an avid fan, I found this all very interesting and now I’m going to have to watch the series for the 4th time just so I see how the costumes developed with the characters! Michele said that this was creatively rewarding, as it was interesting, allowed her to use her imagination and the final outcomes were often exquisite.

For some scenes (particularly death scenes where costumes may become covered in blood!) it is necessary to make multiple copies of the same costume. Photographs are taken at each stage of the initial development so these can be accurately made.

Other productions Michele has worked on include Peaky Blinders, Virtuoso, The Crown, The Nevers and the 2020 film The Secret Garden.

GofT CH 4

There are a few videos of her designs on You Tube and I thoroughly recommend looking her up; she has her own channel MCE Channel, or search Michelle Carragher Embroidery (you will find the clip she played for us in her presentation)

Michelle’s website:

Prior to Michele’s talk members enjoy a delicious lunch organised by the Committee.

My grateful thanks go to Tase W who kindly wrote this post and to Christine H and Lindsay S for taking the photos.

A Fun Christmas Workshop with Lindsay, Nikki & Tase

A Fun Christmas Workshop with Lindsay, Nikki and Tase

In mid November for the last couple of years we have organised an “in house” Christmas workshop.  These events have been so successful and a group of members enjoyed another creative day on Monday.

Christmas worksho;p

Lindsay, Nikki and Tase (and Ann) kindly organised three different activities and members spent about an hour and a half on each.

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Lindsay had prepared felt stockings and members were given a variety of glitzy fabrics and ribbons to decorate them with hand stitching.  

The second workshop was organised by Nikki.  We were given a piece of felt, a choice of sequin waste and then had to assemble and hand stitch decoration on the label.  Once mastering the technique it could be used at any time of the year for a gift.

The final workshop was led by Tase but organised and prepared by Ann.  Members were given painted papers, templates and cardboard to make Christmas cards. There was also a great choice of stamps to add decoration.

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Thank you Lindsay, Nikki, Tase and Ann for organising such a fun day.

Report by Ros

Photos taken by Ros and Lindsay (thanks Lindsay!)

AGM & Eco printing workshop

AGM & Eco printing workshop

Unfortunately the speaker for our November had to cancel her talk and the workshop so on Monday we decided to go ahead with our AGM and members were invited to a general stitch and chat day.

At the AGM Ann Smith, our Chair, talked about the various activities during the year.  She mentioned the speakers, workshops and our successful day out to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.  Our Treasurer, Maria gave a detailed explanation of our finances which was followed by the whole Committee being re-elected for another year.

The following day Ann and Tase organised an eco printing workshop which was well received by members.  

Inhouse Eco 6

Sarah B kindly offered to take some photos and made the following comments in her email to me:

It was a great day. It was exciting not knowing quite what we would find when we unwrapped our creations and finding some beautiful and very varied effects from the different leaves.

Inhouse Eco 5

My grateful thanks go to Sarah B for her photos and I am pleased to hear everyone had a fun day.


Christmas Mug Rugs with Tase!

Christmas Mug Rugs with Tase!

Tase’s passion for all things Christmas is certainly contagious and I think we’ll all be making more mug rugs for our own Christmas or as gifts!

Tase at her Xmas workshop

She had a great selection of seasonal  printed cottons that we could use, as well as festive related templates for our applique.

Tase Xmas workshop1
Christmas images
She explained clearly what we needed to do and helped us individually with placement, stitch choice, and pattern choice.   And even a couple of machine cleaning demos. So much fluff!
She demonstrated mitred corners although I personally feel that a lot of practice will be required.
Tase’s enthusiasm for teaching applique and quilting is obvious. 
Her final words to me were:
They came, they saw, and they conquered!!
Tase Xmas workshop11

Photographs and report thanks to Lindsay S.


Sarah Maddison – Stitching my way through life

Sarah M Oct 2023 11

Sarah Maddison – Stitching my way through life

To our amusement, Sarah started her talk by explaining how she chose the unusual name for her website and facebook page, “SixtyFourpackingcases”.   She then showed us photos of her two aunts and her mum all of whom taught and encouraged her to learn to stitch from an early age.  She made her first dress at the age of 11 and delighted us all by showing a Style pattern which several of us recognised.  Living in East Anglia at the time, Sarah enrolled on a City & Guild course at Suffolk College in Ipswich and her unfulfilled dream was to create theatrical costumes.

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As an Army wife, she travelled to various countries and a lot of the inspiration for her work came from her surroundings at the time.  Sarah was unable to work when she moved to Brunei, so for a year she decided to stitch and often her creations were inspired by the jungle.  Returning to Suffolk she got together with a group of friends and organised an exhibition.  The inspiration for Sarah’s work came from the legend of St Edmund and a sculpture by Elizabeth Frink. 

Military inspired work

Another piece that we were shown was based on a great uncle who died at the Battle of the Somme aged 20 and in researching this topic she discovered 35 soldiers who were killed more recently in Afghanistan at the age of 23.  The work is entitled 35@23.

Sarah M Oct 2023 13

Sarah then went on to talk about the general things that inspire her work and included ancient landscapes like Stonehenge, Avebury, Glastonbury and the iron age fort at Danebury in Hampshire.  The moon, hares, crows and poppies also featured  in her work along with supporting text or poems.  In 2022 Sarah worked with a group to create an exhibition about Danebury Iron Age Fort Past and Present and this was displayed in the museum at Andover.

In talking about how to start a project, Sarah mentioned how she chooses between 2D and 3D and in planning a work about different Borneo tribes, she researched the wildlife, jewellery, tattoos and clothes worn by the people.  She made us laugh when she said, if it doesn’t go to plan – chop it up.  Great advice!

Bringing her talk to a close Sarah mentioned she now stitches with a group of seven other artists and they call themselves The Alchemist’s Needle. Researching their website I found a couple of names that I recognised – Alison Hulme  and Anne Hellyer who have both visited our group in the past.

Sarah M Oct 2023 1 1

In addition to the presentation Sarah brought along a wonderful selection of her work together with samples of purses and bags which she offers as workshops.  There were also a number of beautiful pieces of jewellery based on Sarah’s work and cards for members to buy.  A lot of her work is done as commissions and you can find her website details below.

Sarah M Oct 2023 15

Report by Ros

Photos by Ros with permission from Sarah

Sarah’s website:

Sarah’s Facebook page:

Sarah’s Etsy page:

The Alchemist’s Needle:

SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) – Steam Museum, Swindon

A group of Committee members met on Monday to visit the SAQA exhibition of quilts currently on display in the Steam Museum in Swindon.   

I was interested to see how the members of this group came from such a variety of countries and the only name I recognised was Maggie Harris who used to be a member of our group.

Below you can read about SAQA and the theme for this exhibition which was started during lockdown.

SAQA Swindon 15
SAQA Swindon 1
SAQA Swindon 11
SAQA Swindon 12
Maggie Harris' quilt
SAQA Swindon 19
Playing trains!

For those of you who have not visited the Steam Museum in Swindon, you have to weave your way through the various train related exhibits before and after reaching the quilt display so, needless to say, we all had a bit of fun playing at being train drivers!  The museum is a great day out for all ages with lots of interactive exhibits for everyone.

We all enjoyed looking at the quilts on display, discussing the techniques used and the choice of design.  

The exhibition is on display until 5 November 2023

Report by Ros

Photos by Ros

SAQA website:

Steam Museum website:

Lizzie Godden workshop – An Introduction to Natural Dyeing & Eco printing

Lizzie Godden workshop – An Introduction to Natural Dyeing & Eco printing

Having seen Lizzie’s work the day before, I was very exited to be in the workshop with her! The room layout was a little different to our normal workshops and we were told to work in pairs (sorry, Clare!). The centre table was a mass of lots of types of leaves; oak, sumac, blackberry to name a few, all ready for the day.


Lizzie G ws 1

First Lizzie decanted iron water into washing up bowls and warned us to make sure we wore gloves unless we wanted black fingers for a few weeks! We picked off the leaves we wanted to use and placed them in the iron water as this is what helps the leaves to give a good print. Once covered, the leaves were placed on the strips of silk in a pattern we wanted, rolled around a dowel and boiled in a huge pan.

Whilst that was cooking, we printed leaves on watercolour and khadi paper using the same principle. Pressure is important to get a good print, so the layers of leaves and paper were pressed together between tiles and again boiled. This is a much quicker process, and we were able to see our results relatively quickly which just made us more curious about the bundles that were still boiling away!

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Lunch in the sunshine was a lovely treat! After lunch Lizzie gave us all a piece of buddleia dyed fabric which surprisingly was a beautiful soft butter yellow. After seeing some of Lizzie’s samples, we had a go at shibori, the art of stitching and pulling fabric tight to create a resist before dyeing fabric in another dye bath. Lizzie used onion skins to overdye the stitched pieces, resulting in a rich amber colour.

We were handed our dowels but told not to open them for 24 hours! Torture! (I didn’t manage 24 hours; I think I got to 20…just 😊) And I think we all abided by the gloves rule; not a black finger in sight!

Report  thanks to Tase

Photos thanks to Judy J

Lizzie’s website:


Lizzie Godden – Natural dyeing, eco printing and hand embroidery

Lizzie Godden – Natural dyeing, eco printing and hand embroidery

dyed fabric & dyed threads

We started year three of the Textile & Stitch Around Marlborough with a fantastic talk by Lizzie Godden.  Travelling from the Forest of Dean Lizzie spent two days with us, the first talking about her work and showing us beautiful examples and the second was spent with a very privileged group of members showing them her techniques for natural dyeing and eco printing. 

In the hall Lizzie displayed her dyed fabrics, dyed threads, beautiful hand embroidery, her very precious folders containing formula and recipes for her dye baths and books showing natural dyeing, eco printing and hand embroidery stitches.  To support the talk, Lizzie had two buckets of leaves which she planned to use for the workshop the following day.

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Lizzie started by explaining that she first starting experimenting with plant dyeing in the 1990’s and recommended Jenny Dean’s book, Wild Colours.  She explained that almost all of her plants came from the garden apart from madder which she bought and she showed us examples of over dyeing where the fabric is dyed, tied and dyed for a second time using another plant.  Buddleia and golden rod were important garden plants together with the skins from onions, plants from the hedgerows and leaves from trees.  Lizzie’s folders contained samples to show the shade and colour obtained using various plants.  I was particularly interested when she brought out a knife and sliced the bark off a mahonia stem.  As you can see from the photo, the colour is a deep yellow. 

Everything has been a matter of experimenting over the years and in talking about the materials used, Lizzie said she mainly uses silk material and thread, and woollen blanket as cotton tends to produce less vibrant colours.  Members were particularly interested in the cord which Lizzie had made using dyed thread and lengths of cut dyed stockinette.  In addition she had experimented making cords from plants and mentioned dandelion and bindweed.

Lizzie then went on to talk about eco-printing or printing with leaves.  The leaves are positioned topside up and the natural inks are extracted when the fabric is rolled up and left in position for several days.  You can find out more by reading the details of Lizzie’s workshop but she mentioned the best plants for eco-printing were currant leaves, brambles and her favourite was the smoke bush leaf. 

Another process that Lizzie shared was the preserving of leaves using vegetable glycerine.  Once this is done the leaf is protected, can be displayed and stitched into.

Last but not least having dyed her own fabrics and threads and eco-printed some, Lizzie hand stitches her own designs some reflecting the prints and some using stitch patterns.  She loves using unusual stitches and had several interesting books on display.  Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn’s book, Stitch Magic and the Batsford Encyclopaedia of Embroidery Stitches by Anne Butler.  Another book that Lizzie recommended was Alice Fox’s Natural Processes in Textile Art: From rust dyeing to found objects.

The final pieces of work we were shown was Lizzie’s lockdown project which has certainly turned out to be a family heirloom displaying a wonderful selection of designs and stitches all using natural dyed threads.

Report and photos:  Ros

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For further information and research –


Lizzie Godden:

Alice Fox:

Jenny Dean:

Jan Beaney & Jean Littlejohn: