A Walk Through TIme

Hello Everyone

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 momentus occassion (:) 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.

My Dad & Me on the farm 1964

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.

My Wedding 1982
Me with my daughters about 1989

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.

First cross stitch pattern

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.

Maureen’s Shop
My first class in dining room Harare.

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.

My Mum selling kits at a craft fair.
One of my first cross stitch designs

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.

Early piece of crewel work
One of my first embroidery pieces
Book – Redoute’s Fnest Flowers In Embroidry

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.

From Crewel & Surface book
From Long & SHort book
From Colour Confidence book

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.

Norma Young who introduced me to the embroidery guild in South Africa, with Leslie Anne Bickle.
Merle who helps me with classes and editing


Cape Town Embroidery guild
Workshop in Durban South Africa
A workshop in Johannesburg South Africa
BATB & Inspirations magazine in Australia.

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.

48 thoughts on “A Walk Through TIme”

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us through this blog, your work and books. I’m just starting my adventure with embroidery (I mean, I’ve never done anything more complex than some cross stitch when I was about 9) and I happened to come across your “Needle Painting Embroidery” book. And from the very first separate shaded petal I did for practice I was hooked. I’m working my way through the book at the moment and my mind is already teaming with ideas for patterns I want to do in the future, when I’m a bit more confident in my skills. You have no idea how much this little book of yours is helping me through what is a particularly difficult period in my life, when I’m struggling with illness and depression. Things have been so bleak but now, whenever I feel down or unwell, I just pick up my embroidery hoop and get lost in the process, and at the end of it, I come away not only with something pretty, but also with a calmer mind and heart. Thank you again and all the best.

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment I am so pleased to hear your embroidery is helping you through a difficult time and I know from my own experience that this can often be the start of something really creative and wonderful in your life, so keep going! Trish

  2. Hi Trish , thanks to share wit us your experience in starting the embroidery career . I have one of your books and hope to start this summer to work from it. Your work is amazing and I love to follow it closely . Thanks again Renata

  3. Trish, you are one of the people in my life who help to make Life beautiful. I know that not buying anything YET doesn’t help you financially but I’m still looking for the time and occasion when I will gift myself with your creativity – perhaps I’m afraid of failure.

    Thank you for persisting and for sharing so much of yourself.

    Gentle as you go,

  4. A Wonderful Story, Trish. I (and I am sure, many many others) are so very happy that you kept on battling to get yourself, your skills and your work “out there”, so we can benefit so greatly. Thankyou.

  5. Thank you, Trish, for sharing your life like this. Your story is so interesting !
    I have bought several of your books. I really enjoy them and learn a lot from them.
    My “stitching life” began 4 years ago. I have learned stitching with a teacher who is M.O.F. ( Meilleur Ouvrier de France).
    All the best.

  6. Congratulations on your 100th post. I’ve been enjoying it very much over the last couple of years. I’m so glad you found your way into embroidery. You and your work have enriched many lives.

  7. Thank you Trish for sharing your journey.I have found being part of this worldwide embroidery web so inspirational and have learnt so much from you and others it has really enriched my stitching life.Thank you from the bottom of my heart

  8. Hello Trish, I’m a great fan and your blog today really tickled me. I too was schooled in Rhodesia and turned out to be a secretary instead of being encouraged in art. We lived in Zambia at the time, so it was boarding school for us. I moved to the UK 4 years ago and miss South Africa and my needlework friends desparately. I hadn’t realised the Redoutes Flowers was your book, it is one of those on my wish list. When I came over to England I wanted to stay involved with needlework and have been thinking of writing a blog but nervous to get started, many questions going round in my brain, would I always have good content, would I be fast enough to make things, good enough to pass on my knowledge? I have the agency for Colleen Goy’s kits in England, due to financial difficulties it is presently going slowly but I’ll get there in the end. Her work is so beautiful and so worthwhile doing. Seeing your photos of the Guild meetings just made me so homesick, I haven’t met a proper group here, I don’t have a car and most groups meet in out of the way places which is difficult when you’re disabled. But I have joined a Stitch and natter group on Thursday evenings and have great internet groups that are inspiring and encouraging. Thank you so much for a wonderful post, you bought back so many lovely memories. May your work continue to be blessed. Kind Regards Mandy Currie (

    1. Thanks Mandy. What a small world it is and amazing that we had such similar backgrounds! Wonderful that you have the agency for Colleen’s kits and think it would be a great idea for you to start a blog. It will help you gain a sense of being in touch with the outside world, the internet allows us to meet people regardless of our situation. Best of luck to you. Trish

  9. What a fabulous story, Trish. I sincerely hope your journey will be continuing for a long time yet. It is such a pleasure to follow the progress of your work and all of us at CB are always eager to see ‘what comes next’. What you are contributing to the contemporary embroidery scene is just fantastic. Look forward to working with you for a long time to come. Anna

    1. Thank you Anna I hope you realise how much you and the team at Inspirations have been a part of the journey. Being invited to contribute opened many doors for me and I will always be grateful for the opportunities you have afforded me. I feel as though we are old friends now. Trish

  10. You said you wanted to do an art course in another country and your parents couldn’t afford for you to do this .Your mum mentioned your latent talent raising its head,a possible reminder of your past desire to express yourself in an art form.I can only say had you gone on the road to your overseas art courses,you probably would have fulfilled your creative desires .But by the road you ended up travelling you have fulfilled ,hundreds of creative needs for folk who may never have been given an opportunity to produce a beautiful piece of art,even if they only produce one.Your business is a pathway to others .

  11. Trish, thanks for sharing your life like this. It was fascinating to me. What a meaningful and purposeful journey you have had. I know you have affected my stitching life tremendously and I know many would say the same. Thanks for the early pictures. I just love looking at things like that. You have a lovely family. You were a really beautiful bride, too.

  12. A memorable journey through the years —-a very proud mother whose prophsey is where there is a will there is a way—and hard work never killed any one !!! All this will be proudly remembered. Well done and carry on the latent talent is still raising its head.
    Love you and we are very proud MUM and DAD

  13. Very interesting indeed, Trish, thank you!

    I can’t tell you how good it was to read your last comment about needing to have purpose in your stitching work. I’m exactly the same and, without it – be it as a gift, for a course or something like that – I just can’t find the motivation to do it, regardless of how enjoyable I find it!

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have just started the craft and happened to find your book on Amazon!

  15. I enjoyed a lot to read your post. It is so nice to see the person’s history behind a business-artist-writer woman. Thank you for all the beautiful books and embroideries you provide us.

  16. Congratulations Trish!
    What a wonderful blog and to step back in time, was a great experience.
    I enjoy your books!!! Real treasures for me!
    Thank you for sharing your talent with us.

  17. A wonderful story, thanks for sharing. I’m doing my first needlepointing in your butterfly online class – another technological advance!- and loving it!

  18. I’ve been following you from the start Trish and as you know I love your work. You have inspired me. I’m so glad you walked into that shop all those years ago. Congratulations.

  19. Hi Trish

    What a journey and the success is there for all to see in your wonderful books and I was so privileged to be able to do a course with you last year and I am still amazed with the results!! May you go from strength to strength and know that we love all that you do and it is so good to be able to share it with you. I always look forward to your blog.
    All the best as always.
    El x

  20. What a wonderful journey that you’ve just shared. I haven’t followed you for very long…but I love your books and kits. (I have several books and 1 kit). I am still aprehensive to putting needle to fabric with the kit…I am hoping to do so this winter after retirement. My attempts so far at needle painting are pitiful. I just keep practicing. Keep doing what you do as long as the love is there.

  21. Dear Trish
    What a wonderful journey along the (embroidered) pageant of life!! I have fond memories of being put in touch with you (in Zimbabwe) when I asked the Embroiderers Guild of America who else in South Africa was doing the crewel work course. It took my letter some 6 months to be returned to me, undelivered, and then “finding” you in South Africa. Thanks for enriching so many people’s lives with your wonderful work and contagious enthusiasm. Marie Hillhouse, South Africa

    1. Thank you Marie, you reminded me of the EGA course which was another enterprise along the way. I know you have finished the course and are doing beautiful work. Trish

  22. Thank you for sharing your journey. I have followed you for many years since our first conversations on “direction” to go. You made the right decision and I wish you well in the future. Your books are in my library, though I only work with silk and metal techniques, loving it as your do the crewel. Treasures just the same. I find so many embroidery techniques from other countries have a common thread that joins us all together. My best to you as you continue on with your journey. May it be a long one.

    1. Thank you Tonie you were certainly one of the people who mentored me and helped on this journey. I have not forgotten your encouragement and help. Trish

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