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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Sarah Maddison – Stitching my way through life

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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!
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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

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.

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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.

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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:



Karen Lane – textile artist and inspiring felt maker

Karen Lane – textile artist and inspiring felt maker

My F-Plan Diet – Fabric, Fibre and Felting

Karen Lane

It is always fascinating to hear how people developed their interests and on Monday we were lucky  to have a talk on Zoom by Karen Lane.   It was  great opportunity to make online contact with Karen up in Lincolnshire and our members in Wiltshire.  My dear friend, Pascale also joined us from Luxembourg.

Karen started her talk by explaining that to begin with she had only a basic knowledge of sewing and no background in textile art. It was not until 2014 that she discovered textile art and Feltmaking, joined her first textile group, attended workshops and began taking part in challenges.

David Hockney

One of the first Karen mentioned was a challenge set by Lincolnshire Quilters to create a work inspired by David Hockney.  Another challenge with LINQS was to create a quilt inspired by the life or work of Sir Isaac Newton. Karen chose to represent his research related to alchemy. Her design was based on an alchemy poster with night & day, heaven & earth and symbols relating to Newtons discoveries including the apple tree as the tree of life.


Karen was invited to join another group and she took part in a challenge based on poetry and created a colourful felted piece with a web and the wording “Oh what a tangled web we weave”

Karen was very generous in sharing the materials she has used over the years and showed us a design in which she used vilene to cut out tree trunks and a number of beautifully created leaves using lutradur and tyvek.  Cobweb scarves using viscose fibre and light weight silk to make beautiful nuno scarves.

As time went by felting became an important part of Karen’s life and she attended workshops with International tutors to develop her skills. She showed us wonderful neck pieces, bags and scarves which were inspired by the seashore and a fantastic head she created after attending a mask making course with Gladys Paulus.  We were shown examples of felt creations using different techniques.  Differential and directional shrinkage and rolled edge collars used to create neck pieces.

Feb KL 11 Sculptural masks workshop Gladys Paulus
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Karen now offers a wonderful variety of workshops in her studio in Lincolnshire and can also discuss visits to interested groups around the country.  Details can be found on her website (link below)

Thank you so much for your inspiring talk Karen and we hope that one day we can arrange for you to visit us to pass on some of your exciting felting skills.


Report by Ros

Photos from screen by Ros and also thanks to Karen


Karen’s website:

Lincolnshire Quilters:

Gladys Paulus:

Kennet Valley Guild – Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Kennet Valley Guild

The Kennet Valley Guild – Weavers, Spinners and Dyers was formed over 40 years ago and two members, Lynne & Jennifer kindly brought along a wonderful selection of wools, equipment and finished projects to share with our group.


Jennifer talked about the different types of wools that are spun and mentioned – sheep’s wool,  alpaca, white nylon tops, silk, cashmere, cashmere silk, mock cashmere and soya bean tops.   I was particularly interested to see a camel mix amongst their display.   In the past Lynne and Jennifer would spin wool themselves from fleeces but nowadays they buy wool tops often from a fibre shop in Yorkshire. 

Jennifer showed us how to card the wool, the different spindles for hand spinning and two spinning wheels one of which she uses when she travels to shows and exhibitions.

It was interesting to hear how Jennifer finds a knitting pattern and then has the skill, knowledge and equipment to make her own wool for the project.  She talked about the ratio of the wool or in other words the number of twists per inch which was something I knew nothing about.  There was a great selection of teddy bears, ponchos and hangings for us to look at.

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Lynne then went on to talk about weaving.  She explained the terms, warp and weft and asked what is weaving? Using pieces of paper she demonstrated a few of the numerous possibilities that could be created.   Lynne then went on to show us a variety of looms, some quite basic, some for making flat braids and circular Japanese kumihimo for round braids.  She talked about how weaving developed with lifting the warp to enable people to weave more quickly and how multiple shaft looms are popular to enable more intricate designs.  Lynne showed us a 8 shaft loom which had enabled her to create double and treble weaves.

Each time Lynne spins a different wool she makes a sample coat for a sheep and she brought along her wonderful collection for everyone to see.  She also brought two hangings which she had made completely, by weaving the fabric used and embroidering the designs.

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Thank you Lynne & Jennifer for sharing your passion with us and for giving us the opportunity of hearing about this traditional craft.

The Kennet Valley Guild – Weavers, Spinners and Dyers meet on the first Saturday of each month at Greenham, Newbury and you can find more details on their website.



Facebook page:

Report & photos by Ros

Aunties – Sheila Davies shares her memorable childhood

Sheila Davies

Aunties – Sheila Davies shares her memorable childhood

Sheila arrived with her husband, Rob from Wales for a two day visit to Marlborough with a car loaded with colourful, exciting textiles with lots of stories attached.

Sheila started her talk by telling us she lost her father as a young girl and was brought up by her mother together with what seems a wonderfully talented group of aunties, some related, some not.  Each time Sheila mentioned an Auntie she showed us examples of their work and various tales about their background.  Sheila’s mother was obviously a very tidy lady and I found it amusing to hear that as a child, she loved to visit untidy houses and those with lots of animals.

We were introduced to Auntie Emma, who ran a Guest House in Devon, two Auntie Lil’s, one who taught Sheila to tat and another who was a dressmaker and was very untidy.  Then there was Auntie Peg who was a Head Teacher and enjoyed embroidery.  Auntie Zilla enjoyed crocheting and Sheila explained that she would send her work to Ireland to be made up into table clothes with Irish Linen.  To her joy she is now the proud owner of several of these table clothes.  Auntie Bula was Shelia’s Godmother and she lived in an untidy house with lots of animals.  Finally Shelia talked about Auntie Blod who was a quilter.  She looked after children and had the first bathroom in the street. 

Sheila went on to become a Primary School teacher but continued her love of embroidery at Barry College.  As the years progressed it was obvious where her true interest and talents lie and Sheila followed a City & Guilds course and then went on to teach herself.  Sheila has developed her own very distinctive 3D style and now offers talks and workshops.  We were fortunate to learn some of these amazing techniques and stitches when she returned the following day to show us how to make her colourful 3D Jungle bags.

Write up and photos by Ros


Sheila’s website: