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.

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.


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.

Lizzie G 12

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

Lizzie G 18

For further information and research –


Lizzie Godden:

Alice Fox:

Jenny Dean:

Jan Beaney & Jean Littlejohn:

Summer Party with a difference!

Summer Party with a difference!

We are coming to the end of our second year as an independent textile group so this was a great opportunity to have an informal get together and a good old chat.

The tables were beautifully decorated with summer flowers and a salad lunch was provided followed by delicious selection of puds prepared by members.



Summer Party with a difference!
Summer 23 1
Tase Xmas 10
Tase's favourite quilt

Now you will understand why I have entitled this post, Summer Party with a difference.  It’s July and here we are now talking about Christmas.

For those who really adore Christmas, forward planning is an important part of their lives so I had to chuckle when, after lunch, Tase got to her feet and started telling us about her collection of Christmas quilts.   She had brought her treasured quilts in the most enormous blue suitcase and by all accounts, a few were still missing.

Tase explained that each quilt had its special place in her house, some covered tables, some hung from the walls and some had practical jobs – place mats or tree skirts.  She has still got her kid’s stockings even though they are grown up and have children of their own!

Tase Xmas 2

Members, do remember to put the date of Monday 16 October in your diary because Tase will be leading a workshop entitled Christmas  Mug Rugs.  So what is a Mug Rug?  Well, according to Tase it is a mini quilt, large enough for your mug of coffee AND a slice of Christmas cake.  We live and learn!

You will be notified when bookings open for this workshop.

Thanks Tase, it was a fun afternoon!

Photos by Ros

Wendy Hermelin – textile artist & dance teacher

Wendy Hermelin – textile artist & dance teacher

Wendy’s talk this week entitled “Dancing into Textiles” was very different to ones we have had in the past as there was a lot of audience participation.

Wendy started by explaining that, as a child she loved to play her mother’s Russian ballet LPs, and music and movement on the radio became very important to her at Primary School.  Later a PE teacher had introduced her to Rudolf Laban and this master of movement became an important part of her life.  In addition to her love of dance Wendy was taught many skills by her mother and enjoyed embroidery, knitting, crochet and dress making and she went on to follow a City & Guilds course in Creative Embroidery.

Wendy was fortunate enough to get funding from the South West Arts Council for a year’s project entitled Threads of Memory, Footprints of Time.  Children and adults were invited to dance and react to their surroundings and interpret their findings in stitch.  For example a gorse bush was spiky and sea was calm and sparkly.  Wendy showed us a finished piece which showed the interpretation.

Wendy Hermelin

Much to our surprise we were then asked to pair up with our neighbour and get involved with movement.  We had to make hand movements to show the petals of a flower and then move as if we were running stitches and twist like we were forming a French knot.  This caused a lot of laughter and many of us were out of our comfort zone!

During the Covid lockdown Wendy made a wonderful variety of cloth books which she had on display.  One was called “Seasons” and another had weather isobars stitched on it using twin needles.   Each book had a piece of drift wood attached. 

In addition to nature, Wendy gets inspiration from text and she read an extract from “The God Beneath the Sea” which is a children’s novel based on Greek mythology.  

I particularly enjoyed seeing Wendy’s collage pictures which she had turned into stitch.

In conclusion Wendy showed us four embroideries which had all been inspired by the full moon.  She has also experimented with tryptic landscapes and these have been very successful and sold well at exhibitions. 

Tomorrow Wendy is going to lead a workshop entitled “Fabulous Fish”.

Thank you Wendy for a fun afternoon.

Report & photos by Ros


Wendy Hermelin:

Rudolph Laban: –

Michala Gyetvai – “The Poetry of Materiality”

Michala Gyetvai – artist and textile artist

I first discovered Michala’s work in a Stitch magazine in 2009.  There was something about it which just lifted my spirits and said something to me so I was excited to see her name on our programme.

Michala arrived with a wonderful selection of her work.  Examples of all dimensions – wall hangings, smaller pieces, brooches, cards and of course her amazing sketchbooks.  So much to see that her visual presentation was not really necessary.  Michala started by telling us about her happy childhood when she played outside with her sister and how she would often pick wool off fences to use in her projects .  At school her A level course was a combination of fine arts and embroidery and after leaving school Michala worked for Laura Ashley for 16 years. 

Michala Gyetvai

The inspiration for Michala’s work comes from landscapes and she left several of her sketchbooks out for us to look through.  The paintings are then translated into textiles.  Poetry and music are also important to her and Michala read a poem  entitled, “thank you” and another which was about the felling of Dutch Elms and the emotional effect it had on her.


Michala won a competition in Coventry and  the prize was to put on her own exhibition in 18 months’ time.  This was a wonderful opportunity but quite a challenge as she had to design much larger creations.

The practical side of  Michala’s work was of great interest to us and she explained how she gets into the zone when stitching and the large hangings can take 2 or 3 years to complete.  She has a wonderful selection of machine and hand threads and talked about using shiny and matt threads to get the desired effects.  She uses different weights of woollen blankets as backing and therefore they move and distort with increased stitching.  Michala held up a number of her wall hangings and talked us through the story behind several of them.  A trip to India to visit her sister completely changed her colour palette on one of the hangings.

MG 24 May 23
MG 12 May 23

During lockdown Michala drew her garden each day and ended up with a visual diary of drawings which she shared with friends and family.  She is giving a digital copy of the diary to Coventry University for their archive as a record of the time when people could not venture out.

Over the years Michala has displayed her work at a number of exhibitions and has exhibited alongside the sculpturer George Wagstaffe.  Under the art exchange scheme, Michala has worked in Dresden in Germany which is linked with Coventry, close to her home town of Kenilworth and in August she plans to return.

MG 11 May 23

Thank you Michala for a fantastic afternoon and I know a group of our members will have a wonderful time at your workshop tomorrow.  I am so pleased I treated myself to one of your brooches as a happy reminder of your visit!

Report and photos:  Ros L

Michala’s website:

Warwickshire Open Studios:



Fabulous Festival Costume – Ruth Smith

Fabulous Festival Costume – Ruth Smith

The Miao & Dong ethnic minorities of South West China

Ruth Smith has travelled extensively in Guizhou province in south west China which is home to many ethnic minorities including the Miao and the Dong.  She told us that it is a very mountainous area with lots of rain and the people wear over 100 different costumes. To show us examples, Ruth brought a great variety of photographs and embroidery samples beautifully displayed for our members to enjoy.

RuthS 21b

During Ruth’s presentation we were shown village scenes and pictures of women working in fields wearing their local costumes many of them with children and babies strapped to their backs in embroidered baby carriers. Market days are special because it is an opportunity for the women to wear traditional costume and show off their embroidery skills. At festival time silver head dresses were worn in the more affluent villages and Ruth showed us photographs of the Long Horned Miao Festival and explained that the ladies would wrap their hair and wool around a wooden structure to create an enormous and spectacular hairstyle.  

Indigo is harvested each September in the area and made into a paste which is later re-constituted.  I was particularly interested to hear that the Miao like a distinctive shine to their fabrics and this is done beating egg white, seeds and even water buffalo blood into the indigo dyed material.  We saw photographs of young girls wearing this shiny fabric.  Once the fabric is prepared a wax resist is added.  Paper patterns which can be bought from the market, are laid on the fabric and then embroidery is stitched over the paper.   A lot of the designs are quite narrow so can easily be added as borders to jackets and skirts.

Braid is used a lot in the embroidery and Ruth explained how two ladies would twist horse hair with silk using a weight to create a thread.  The Miao used braid pleated up to create traditional patterns especially  dragons.

Ruth edited a book on Gina Corrigan’s Chinese collection and the traditional textile processes.  Part of the collection is in the British Museum and Ruth has become particularly interested in what she calls, “Folded Secrets”.  Ruth showed us several of these folding books which were created by the Miao for storing threads, embroidery and precious family mementoes.  She has subsequently gone on to write four books giving instructions for creating these.

Ruth concluded her talk by bringing us up to date and explaining that technology has taken over a lot of the processes now.  Computerised machines create some of the embroideries, silver head dresses are hired for festive occasions and ready made costumes are available to buy in the shops but I do hope that the embroidery skills and techniques are passed down from one generation to the next and that family heirlooms are not lost for ever.

Thank you Ruth for an inspiring and informative talk and we hope that you will get the opportunity to return to China one day.

Pinterest link to Ruth’s book – Miao Embroidery from South West China:

Instagram – Folded Secrets:

Book review:  Folded Secrets:

Text: Ros

Photos:  The majority of the photos were taken by Ros with Ruth’s permission however a couple were taken from the presentation and were taken by Gina Corrigan and P. Cross

Mair Edwards – Memories remembered & lost

Mair Edwards – Memories remembered & lost

After our online Zoom meeting in February it was so enjoyable to meet up earlier this week when a hall full of members, heard Mair Edwards’ talk entitled “Memories remembered and lost”.

Mair Edwards - Memories remembered & lost

Mair grew up in the Rhondda and it was obvious from the beginning that her family were important in  her life.  On completing her City & Guilds and working with Julia Capara, Mair decided she wanted to use childhood memories as inspiration for her next project but she struggled with colour. She was reminded that black and white are colours so that is what she chose for the majority of her work.

Sketchbooks were created with ideas relating to different members of the family and their possessions.  The first sample of work which we were shown related to Mair’s mother who unfortunately suffered with dementia.  Every two weeks Mair would visit and she recorded their conversations on strips of organza.  It was noticeable and moving to see decline in exchange as the weeks passed by. 

Another project also related to the family and showed the different female generations ending with Mair’s grand-daughter and in a second, memories were recorded on strips of organza which were knitted.

It was only on close inspection that we discovered a child’s “Sunday coat” was made from Welsh Hymn books with wonderful phrases relating to Mair’s memories.  “Smells of cooking”, “Sunday lunch”, “Rice pudding” “Chapel” “Sunday School”, “No shops open”, “No playing outside”.

Mai March 2

Mair created several pieces of work for exhibitions relating to DNA and she showed us a wonderful selection using her distinctive black text on white.  I was amazed to see groups of people had been machine stitched, cut out and then sewn onto the background which must have taken hours of fiddly work.   The topic of ancestry was used for another exhibition and I particularly liked one entitled “How many ancestors I have”.

Mai March 4
Mai March 28

Finally Mair showed us her work for Newbury Embroiderers Guild.  In 2021 they had an exhibition in the Control Tower at Greenham Common.  One exhibit was called Protest and the coloured one, which was stitched during the pandemic, was called Leisure. The Newbury Embroiderers Guild has now been renamed Newbury Creative Stitchers. 

I wonder if introducing colour was a turning point in Mair’s creative journey.

Mai March 18
Mai March 19

Thank you Mair for sharing your amazing work with us and for giving us an insight into your family memories.

Report by Ros

Photos by Ros with permission from Mair


Newbury Creative Stitchers meet every second Monday of each month at 7.30pm at St Francis de Sales Church Hall RG14 6NH: