Interview with Trish Burr (for an overseas publication).
Tell us briefly about yourself and personal life?
I am third generation, born and raised on a farm in Zimbabwe. I am married with 3 girls aged 26, 21 and 9 years. My youngest still keeps me very busy and involved with homework! We moved to Cape Town, South Africa in 2005 after our family farm was taken over by the government and it became difficult to stay in the country.
When did you start embroidery and how?
I started embroidery later in life about 1990 when I saw my cousin doing cross stitch and became interested. Before that time I had done a lot of sewing, knitting and painting but then became addicted to embroidery! I obtained the franchise for DMC threads in about 1995 and was supplying the whole country as the sole agent. I did a lot of cross stitch at first but then became more interested in long and short stitch.
Where did you train?
I had no formal training I taught myself from a book and then just practised a lot on little pieces of fabric till I got it right.
Did you learn from your family?
I did not learn from my mother or my grandmother – they were not very interested in embroidery. I did not learn at school because I was an academic student and we did not have access to domestic science, although I always envied the children that did do cooking and sewing!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get a lot of my inspiration from artist’s paintings especially Botanical paintings. I approach the artist and ask for permission to use their work to reproduce in embroidery and most of the time they will allow me to use it although sometimes they are not so accommodating. I found the portrait of Elise on Deviant art on the internet – this Lebanese man had painted a picture of his sister, I thought it was perfect for embroidery. The birds I get from professional photographs and again I get permission from the photographer. Sometimes I have to pay a fee to use them.
Do you have any interests in other embroidery techniques?
I am interested in all form of embroidery and have many books on the subject. I love white work embroidery especially the French white work done in satin stitch. I find that the precision of satin stitch is good for my long and short stitch. I also have done a lot of crewel embroidery in the past but now I mainly specialise in needle painting. I think it is good to concentrate on one style of embroidery and do it well. I tell my students that they are too easily tempted by all the different types of embroidery available and will never master one style!
How did you become passionate about long-short stitch embroidery?
I used to paint and draw pictures before embroidery and I think that is why I was attracted to long and short stitch because it is more like painting. The thing I love most about long and short stitch is the shading. I want my embroidery to look alive and by using contrasting shades of colour we are able to give our work a three dimensional appearance. If we are only using one colour it can look flat. I think that we should use shading in all our embroidery even if it is cross stitch or some other work.
As we see from your designs and books, you prefer flowers and birds mostly as themes for your embroidery. Where does this come?
Yes I do love flowers – I think everyone does, they are so beautiful and diverse in their colour and structure – perfect symbols of our creator. But flowers are not necessarily an easy subject to translate in embroidery it is quite difficult to get the lightness in the petals without it looking too stiff. I love stitching birds but it is a challenge to make them look alive, I think it is in the eye of the bird, if the eye looks life like than the rest of the bird will normally follow.
I enjoyed stitching the portrait of Elise but am not sure how to give instructions to others for stitching portraits as it is just something that unfolds while you are stitching – like a painting. I would like to try and do more animals and wildlife when time allows.
I like to share my projects with others but sometimes it is a challenge to give directions like what thread colours to use and where to put each stitch, it just gets too complicated, so I use simpler subjects such as flowers for projects with instructions.
How do you feel when you see your designs are stitched by people from foreign countries?
Wonderful and very humbled that they would want to stitch them! One day I hope to visit a lot of these countries and do workshops with the people themselves but right now I have commitments as a mother as well as a designer.
Long & short stitch embroidery is painting with threads, therefore some people call it needle painting. It is an International embroidery but your style and artistic use of colour is unique. What is your secret?
I have spent many years practising long and short stitch and creating my own unique style. It is probably not the formal method but it works for me and I am able to show others how to do it also. I think my secret is to use a lot of different shades to create interest in the picture and also to place a contrast of shades from light to dark so that it looks as though it has light and shadow in it.
How many published books do you have and do you offer kits or other materials?
I have 4 books on the market and another 2 due for release soon. I have been with Sally Milner Publishing for many years now, since they were willing to publish my first book when I was in Zimbabwe. They took a chance on me even though I was not a well know embroiderer or author at the time and I have continued to publish books with them since that time, even though they are in Australia and I am in South Africa I believe they produce some of the finest craft books in the world.
I have a DVD called The Long & The Short Of It. I produced this with a media company to demonstrate the actual stitching of the technique. It is my most comprehensive work to date and has helped many people to understand the technique better, because they can see for themselves how it is done. Yes I do offer a small range of kits for sale.
Do you think to stitch scenes or panoramas as a theme?
No, this is not something I would like to do, I would find it boring! I like subjects that have life in them such as people, birds, animals, flowers, plants etc – adding small details such as hair on a stem or tiny little bird feathers gives me a lot of pleasure.
Which thread do you mostly use in your designs and why?
I use DMC/Anchor stranded cotton. I have tried a lot of other threads such as silk and wool but now I only use stranded cotton. It is fine enough to achieve the right effect and also I need a lot of colours so use shades from each range to find the colour I need. I sometimes use Chinese silk which I separate down to one hair’s width to add in my fine details.
Do you have your own embroidery courses? Is there interest in long & short stitch embroidery in your home city and overseas?
Yes I do run embroidery courses. I do a few live workshops every year when I get time from my books and other works, but I also run online classes to help those in other countries who are unable to attend my workshops in South Africa. There is a great demand for online classes but they are very different from live classes because I have to use visual techniques and computer diagrams to explain.
I also give talks and lectures at the embroidery guilds in South Africa and have a blog where people from other countries can ask questions and interact.
What is your advice for people who are willing to start embroidery?
Start with either the DVD or the beginner projects that are available in books or kits and once you have a good idea of the technique you can move onto more advanced projects. Use the best materials that you can afford, using inferior materials will show in the finished result.
Don’t be in a rush, take your time and be prepared to practice, practice and practice some more. Any craftsman/ artist must first practise the fundamentals of his craft before he can create a masterpiece!
With modern technology we are used to getting instant gratification, but this is one area of your life where you can sit quietly, relax and enjoy the journey away from all the problems of everyday life!
Thank you for inviting me to do this interview I have enjoyed sharing my experiences with you.