Di Van Niekerk

Hello everyone hope your week is going well.

Before I start I would like to say a big thank you to all you readers who take the time to email me or comment on each post. Many of you feel like old friends and though  I may not respond to each comment,  believe me I do read every one of them and take everything you say into consideration.  This particularly applies to the colour schemes – it takes many hours to put together a scheme and if I did not get your feedback (pro or con) I would not know how they were being received.  Do you find them easy to download, are they useful in your embroidery,  do you like / not like the scheme, all feedback is relevant so please keep it coming!

Wherever you are have a wonderful week and happy stitching. Trish


This week we are going to have an informal chat with Di Van Niekerk of South Africa.  You will all have come across Di’s beautiful ribbon embroidery or may have been fortunate enough to take a class with her at some stage as she does get around the world!  I see Di as one of the pioneers of the modern needlecraft industry – she was certainly one of the first to open an embroidery shop in South Africa, maintain an online presence and maker her products available on a commercial basis. She has authored numerous book titles and was one of the first needlecrafters to produce a DVD on her subject and instrumental in encouraging me to do likewise.  Di and I have forged a close friendship and although we don’t see each other often we keep in regular contact by email and phone, she is a lovely person, with a great sense of humour, generous with her time and advice, passionate about her craft and dedicated to sharing it with others.   When I first came across Di’s shop at the Waterfront in Cape Town I was not only in awe of all the beautiful pieces that graced the shop walls but also her generous supply of silk ribbons, threads, kits etc.  I remember feeling that little thrill that children feel when walking into a toy store or sweetie shop!  Little did I know how our paths would soon cross…………..  You can read all about it below.

Di you are one of the fore-runners of embroidery in South Africa and renowned globally for your ribbon embroidery designs.  Please tell us a bit about yourself and personal life – Who is Di Van Niekerk?

(Ha-ha always a hard one Trish :))

I live in beautiful Cape Town with my family and many four-legged creatures. I am a nature lover, love hiking, walking, exploring new places on foot. We have 2 boys, both grown up now… but they are the love of our lives and both live in Cape Town, so we are very blessed.

I love gardening, interior design, love doing up my home and, as you can probably gather, I am happiest when I am at home. I embroider and design, take step-by-step photographs, write books on embroidery, blog, paint ribbons, update my website, upload new kits and panels, supply many shops and online orders from all over the world with printed panels and my own range of silk and organza ribbons. I manage the team that helps me in my studio and we all get along well.

I am fortunate to have a hubby who does all the cooking and the grocery buying. He simply has to, or else we would all starve. I often forget to cook. Sometimes I do remember at midnight … so over the years, all the boys in my life have done the cooking and buying, which really helps me.

I travel far and wide to teach workshops and will soon be leaving for Kiev in the Ukraine, Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia and Dubai. Will be doing a tour with the Koala team in New Zealand and Australia next June and July, and all the kits have to be prepared in advance… so life is quite hectic… all of the time!

Oh Wow, Russia & Dubai thats amazing……….. what a fantastic opportunity!

When did you first become interested in embroidery and did you have any formal training?

I started at a very young age. My mum is an artist and we were always in her studio at home making something or other, but fabric and thread and yarn inspire me most.

It seems your embroidery products have a presence in almost every country throughout the world. What made you decide to start an embroidery business and how did you get started?

I started my business in the mid-eighties when I found I could not cope with all the workshops on my own. So I decided to write instructions and make kits so that the students could learn at home and it worked well. Some of the women started to teach groups of their own once they had learned the ropes. I make my own range of ribbons which is a great help because I can make the colours that we need for this kind of embroidery.

You are so right it is a great way for students to learn at home if they can’t get to a workshop.  Wonderful that you were able to send out “disciples” to teach others.

You have been teaching for many years now, both locally and overseas can you tell us a bit about your teaching experiences and the countries that you have taught in?

I have taught throughout South Africa since the mid-eighties and have also taught in Adelaide at BATB, Brisbane at Koala. Also attended Alexandra’s Palace in London and taught in other parts of Europe in early nineties. As I said above, I will be teaching in Dubai in October, and will be exhibiting and teaching in Kiev, Ukraine at their needlecraft show mid-October. From there I plan to meet with my agents in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and I am really looking forward to it.

You seem to be a very busy lady, how do you manage to run a successful business, teach plus maintain your online presence through facebook and your website? Can you tell us some of the highs and lows of running a needlework business?

I work very long hours and I plan ahead. For instance, we are running an International silk ribbon embroidery competition which took a year to plan, but I think the rewards are going to be great… when we can share with others the embroidered pieces from all over the world — a global collaboration of silk ribbon embroiderers. It’s very exciting. The best pieces will be featured in an e-book — a special project for the first quarter of 2013.

The highs of running a global business: making so many embroiderers happy. Especially those who do not have access to teachers and stock. It’s amazing how many people I have met who just love ribbon embroidery, many thousands of kilometres away… but it does not make an ounce of difference. It’s a global village we live in, that’s for sure. Our teachers and stockists are great and they too work hard to help share the craft and to keep up with the latest trends.

What blesses one blesses ALL?

The lows of running this business: one has to be careful to keep a balance as it can be overwhelming and the hours are very long. That’s when I take off with my back pack and my dogs and I walk or hike for 20 or 25 kilometres. Don’t take a watch and only come home when the sun is setting. It’s a perfect way to unwind and to de-stress. But remember, embroidery itself is not work to me. It’s also my way of relaxing and I love working with new concepts. The instructions, photography and planning of the kits etc….that always takes a lot out of one.

Yes I can identify with that – the instructions are not my favourite part but very necessary!  It is also important to keep up with modern technology, software etc in order to create the best instructions and packaging for our products?  There is a lot more to being an embroidery designer than meets the eye.

Your designs include a screen printed picture on the fabric which is used as a background for the embroidery design.  What inspired you to do this and where do you get your inspiration from?

 I started this in the early nineties when I worked with a wonderful artist, Serena Shaw of Pucketty farm fame in the Drakensberg Mountains. We worked together to launch a range of watercolours painted especially for ribbon embroidery. The watercolours were printed onto pure cotton fabric and silk ribbon and thread was used to build the printed panel. It was a huge success and very popular and I have never looked back. I license paintings from all over the world which are printed onto cotton fabric, ready to embroider. It’s a great way to embroider as you can do as little or as much you like and not one completed piece looks the same — it’s a very creative and dimensional way of doing embroidery.

So the design is ready printed as a background and all you need to do is embroider aspects of it – what an innovative idea.  I remember you saying you had to import a special fabric from Germany that would accept the sublimation for your background prints, I can imagine that there would have been months of research done on this aspect alone?

You have published several books, I think I am correct in saying you were one of the first publishers of needlework books in South Africa, and several of these books have been translated into other languages.  Can you tell us something about these and the publishing process?

 I published my first four books through Delos and Struik publishers here in Cape Town and then I was most fortunate to meet up with Wilsia Metz of Metz Press fame. I have published six books with her and have never looked back. Search press in the UK buys the world rights from Metz Press for the English titles. My books have also been published in French by my French publisher: Tutti Frutti (don’t you just love the name) and in Russian by a few Russian publishers — names I cannot pronounce.

You can read Mary Corbet’s book review here.

You have also produced several DVDs and I know you were instrumental in encouraging me to produce my DVD.  What made you decide to do this and how do you feel a DVD is of benefit to the embroidery student?

 The DVDs have been astoundingly successful. Werner Etsebeth and his brother Desmond have a gift when it comes to videography and I was fortunate to work with them. It was incredibly hard work and one needs a lot of time to do a series, but the rewards are great. So many people have written to thank me for the DVDs and have said that it was a perfect way for them to teach themselves. I have a YouTube channel where clips from the DVDs are shown and there have been almost 4 million views, which goes to show how popular this craft is worldwide.

Yes an enormous amount of work goes into producing a DVD – wonderful that people take the time to show their appreciation, makes it all worthwhile!

What is your advice for people who would like to learn this embroidery technique?

It is easier than you think. Silk ribbon is very forgiving and builds texture quickly with lovely results. Give it a try, you too may enjoy it!

I think thousands of people can testify to this Di, it was lovely to get to know you better and thanks for chatting with us!

32 thoughts on “Di Van Niekerk”

  1. The background prints are the ones that inspires me the most. We don’t get much supplies here in India and I am still struggling with the printing background thing on canvas and cloth. Do you have any online classes going for this one? I feel distance or boundaries are not an excuse for not being able to learn something. Hope you can help me with the printing background thing!

  2. I am totally blown away by this technique! I have studied many different methods of application my entire life and I don’t know if I could have the patience for this one, but it is soooo beautiful!!!!!

  3. Hi tris! I want to learn ribbon embroidery, I want swan cottage, it so beautiful! How to order? Thank u!

  4. Es un hermoso reporte,nos adentramos en los pensamientos de la artista cuando crea,gracias por su reportaje es muy claro y nos hace dar muchos deseos de hacerlo tambien

  5. Thanks Trish I am another who reads and enjoys and doesnt respond So that was a lovely chat with Di I feel inspired to get back to my ribbon embroidery , after I finish my piece that a dear friend brought back from your workshop at BATB for me!!! Isnt it nice to have lovely stitching friends.

  6. Hi Trish,
    Di is wonderful, isn’t she! I love her book on Stumpwork and Ribbonwork techniques combined.
    I’ve just popped in to say Thankyou very much for your comment on my blog. I am literally aching to do a new needlepainting piece!

  7. It has been a great experience reading this post, thank you Trish, and Di.

    I love your work – both of you, but I do wish you wouldn’t put in so many birds. For someone who is ornithophobic almost every page presents a panic attack, which explains why I haven’t bought too many. I have your book of Redoute’s flowers which I love but that is it.

    The colour schemes are a great thing too. Not that I have actually got around to using them but it does trigger one to think about the whole picture rather than just focussing on one part. I have only found 3, is that right or are there more lurking somewhere?

    1. Many thanks for your comment and my apologies that the birds bother you, there are numerous flower and butterfly projects available also. Yes there are 3 colour schemes to date, I am posting one a month but the Olympic scheme was a bonus to commemorate the occasion. Trish

  8. I loved reading about Di and your comments on the book. I am not into ribbon embroidery myself though I think it is beautiful.
    But now I must apologize. Sorry Trish I am one of the culprits that just enjoy your beautiful colour schemes, but never put a finger to the keyboard,to say “Thank You,”

    Thank you so much for every single one. I love every one but the Victoria Falls.
    is my favorite

    Thank you for everything you do to teach me a great art.

  9. Thank you so much for the interview with Di. I was lucky enough to be part of her Thursday morning embroidery get togethers when she first opened her shop at The Rock Cottage in Weltervreden Park in South Africa. Everything I learned about embroidery was from Di. That Thursday group saw me through 2 pregnancies …… those babies of mine are now 14 and 12!!!! My family now lives in the USA, and I’m yet to find a teacher as talented or sweet as Di. I have a number of Di’s paintings that I’ve embroidered and framed hanging on my walls 🙂

  10. Thank you for doing this interview. I was not familiar with this artist or her work. It is so beautiful! I have never tried ribbon embroidery, but the article has inspired me to try! I just bought your book on needle painting, and working on the beginner leaves and flowers. It’s not as easy as I would have thought. LOL. Makes me really appreciate your talent.

  11. Thanks, Trish. It’s so nice to have access to this intimate communication with Di Van Niekirk. I have her book with the Fairies and have branched off of the instruction in that with my own image and am loving it. Love your work and hers. They go hand in hand for me.

  12. Thank you for introducing those of us who are new to embroidery to those of you with such talent and experience, Trish. It is such a delight and joy to “meet” new people from around the world.

  13. Thank you for this visit. I have eyed Di’s books many times, but it looks difficult. I have not ventured out into this arena except on a very few occasions. I think the DVD is my way to go … take that giant step to ribbon embroidery. Thanks again.

    1. Di’s books are not difficult at all. She gives such comprehensive details of all the stitches, even someone who has never picked up a needle before, will be able to embroider in no time. There are diagrams, photos and step by step explanations so you can’t go wrong. 🙂

  14. Di is such a wonderful person and has so much passion for her work. I have had the privilege to meet her in person a few times now and what a privilege it was. She will always go out of her way to help in any which way. I have embroidered a few of her designs already and there is still a few waiting in the wings. Thanks for this beautiful article of a truly amazing person. xxx

  15. I loved reading about Di and your comments on the book. I am not into ribbon embroidery myself though I have done a few cards using it.

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