Today is my 100th Blog post! You may remember that shy first approach when I put out my first blog post in May 2010 – I will never forget how many of you responded with words of encouragement which gave me the impetus to go on. So to celebrate this momentous occasion (:) I am going back over the years to give you a behind the scenes look, how it all started a walk through time – you can read all about it below. Meantime wherever you are have a wonderful week. Trish
A Walk Through Time With Trish Burr.
I was born and bred on a farm in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time). As a child I attended an Irish Catholic boarding school and was classified as an academic which meant that while all those lucky girls who did domestic science learnt to cook and stitch I was destined to chant Latin incantations! So no, I did not learn to stitch at school but I did do art and would have loved to pursue a career in the arts but my parents could not afford to send me to Art College in another country so I did a secretarial course instead.
Like most girls at the time I was married at 23 but did not have children until a few years later as I battled to fall pregnant. Although I still worked as a secretary I satisfied my artistic cravings by doing crafty things part time. I painted, tried patchwork, decoupage, sewed and knitted – each time I tried to justify my creative urges by making money out of it. My husband was always very supportive of my endeavours but having spent many hours standing at Church fairs trying to sell my wares without much success, I eventually became discouraged.
Then one day in about 1995 my cousin, Gilly who was a fantastic seamstress, asked me if I would buy her some DMC embroidery cottons for cross stitch while we were on holiday in South Africa. When I walked into the shop and saw the vast array of colours and all the cross stitch patterns available I was hooked.
Embroidery thread was non-existent in Zimbabwe and we had drastic foreign currency restrictions so I decided to spend my precious travel allowance, (the equivalent of about US$25 at the time) on threads and patterns. That was the start of my love affair with fabric and thread. Of course I could not just stitch things for myself so made gifts for friends and family and eventually started taking orders for commissions.
In about 1998 I approached DMC in France with a view to importing the range of DMC stranded cotton – my family and friends thought I was mad to pursue such an undertaking but I saw a gap in the market and instinct said go for it. After lengthy negotiations DMC agreed and allowed me to have the agency for Zimbabwe. There was one small problem due to the foreign currency restrictions in the country, I could not get approval to make payment so I spoke to my Dad who was a farmer and he allowed me to use part of his foreign currency allowance for “tractors and spare parts”, and so it was that the first consignment arrived in the country. It was so exciting and the response was immediate – I supplied every shop and department store in the country with threads and this little business grew and grew until I had to employ others to help. Sadly when we left the country, due to the political climate, in 2002 I had to sell the business as they had an established agency in South Africa.
There are two particular customers who stand out in my mind – the one was the Sisters Of Charity. These dear Italian sisters ran an Aids orphanage in a rural part of the country and stitched the most exquisite table cloths for sale – the proceeds of which enabled them to build houses for the orphans. They were given a foreign currency allowance by the Vatican which they would spend on threads and fabric. Of course I was the recipient of the proceeds, via the Pope himself! Once a month two nuns would arrive at my house, agree on a rate of exchange for their currency and leave laden with embroidery goodies.
The other was Maureen who owned a little embroidery shop, BJs in Harare – because she couldn’t afford to stock the full range of thread I sold through the shop on a commission basis. We became great friends and even when I left the country and could no longer supply her she made a plan – last I heard she flew over to the UK, bought all the stock from a shop that was closing down, packed it into a large suitcase and brought it back to replenish her shop!
So thread was now available, but patterns were scarce, so at this stage I decided to design my own range of cross stitch patterns for sale and this lead to my book African Cross Stitch Collection, which is another story for another time.
Meantime, I was trying my hand at surface embroidery. While on holiday in South Africa I bought one of Collen Goy’s Roseworks kits and became fascinated by long & short stitch and the painterly effect it could achieve. I did not have any instruction books so developed my own style, painstakingly copying little pictures from greeting cards and magazines. In 1998 I was invited to visit the DMC factory in Mulhouse, France. Whilst there we discussed the possibility of producing a book for them on flower projects in embroidery, which I agreed to and started work on my return. When the contract for the book arrived I noted that it was to be published in French only – a long discussion ensued but they were adamant that it could not be published in English. So I declined the contract and sent out my completed manuscript to various overseas publishers, one of whom was Sally Milner Publishing in Australia. In 1999 they offered me a contract and I have been publishing with them ever since, a total of 7 books to date.
As I was self-taught and had to overcome serious difficulties with obtaining the right materials I was able to put myself in the shoes of my readers and determined that my books and instructions would be simple to follow, like a good recipe no ingredient would be left out. Having had no formal training I was not regulated by rules of any kind and hope that my method of long & short stitch allows for a certain amount of freedom which helps people to overcome their fears of the technique. Since I began teaching I have learnt that anyone is capable of producing a beautiful piece of embroidery with the right instruction and a certain amount of effort.
My journey to needle painting has developed over the years to include an instructional DVD, teaching and a range of kits. After teaching a particularly large class one year I determined that there had to be a better way of demonstrating to several students at one time, rather than them all peering over my shoulder and having to repeat the demo several times. So I set about establishing a method of using slide shows and video in the classroom. This has had such a positive effect on my workshops that the students are now able to achieve 70% more stitching in a class than before. Obviously it is not always convenient to lug heavy projector equipment from class to class particularly when teaching overseas but the positives outweigh the negatives and allow for a more visual experience for the student and more time for me to give extra individual attention.
There are numerous people and events that have influenced my career in the last few years, too many to mention individually but below are a few photos of classes, talks and friends that I would like to share with you.
Of course I am still learning and evolving in my craft today – I don’t profess to know it all, but if a student produces excellent work (often better than my own) and I have played a small part in it then that’s great! Students often say to me, “But Trish in your book you say we should do it this way…..” and I reply “Well I changed my mind!” I think it’s referred to as creative licence? Each book is a reflection of my work at that period, what I have learnt and what I feel works best, and of course technology has advanced so much that the quality of pictures, diagrams and print has improved greatly. Work as a designer is not based on stitching alone, one needs to develop an understanding of graphics, illustration, computer software, websites, blogs, payment systems, printing, publishing, shipping, bookkeeping imports, exports etc. There is never a dull moment and I love it all of it (well most of it)!
Looking back, does my need to share evolve from my need to justify what I do by making it into a business rather than a hobby? To be honest I really couldn’t tell you, but I do know this, that everything I stitch has to have a purpose, has to be shared, has to bless others, or it is meaningless. I could no sooner sit down and stitch a piece just for me than fly to the moon.