Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Stitching Stories: An Interview with Brendon of Linen and Threads!

For this month’s interview we have a wonderful meet and greet with Brendon of Linen and Threads in Australia!  It is great to hear from one of our gentleman stitchers, and shop owner!  He shows us some of the antique samplers in their collection along with the gorgeous samplers he is working on and tells us about his stitching journey and shop shows and retreats.  Enjoy! 

Brendon, how old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch? 

*My Mum first tried to teach to me stitch when I was little.  Like most kids, I lost interest pretty quickly when the next shiny thing came along. 

Later when I married Karen, her interest in needlework started to rub off.  Initially I started off on tapestry and canvas work, then progressed to crewel work, now cross stitch and I am learning stump work with Tricia Nguyen’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

Do you recall what was the first sampler that you stitched?

*I remember the first sampler I started was “And they Sinned” by Examplar Dames.  This one is still going, I think will be still going for a long while, as someone else always brings out another design that I have to start. It’s one I periodically pickup and add a bit to.
When do you find time to stitch? Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand? 

*My day job has periods of 80-100 hours weeks, then periods of more normal 40+ hours.  So stitching time is dependent on work schedule.  Normally I will stitch in the evening after dinner whilst watching TV.  I’ve got a corner of the lounge room setup with my stitching library, Ottlite and all the projects I am currently working on.  I am normally joined by at least one of our three whippets looking for attention.

Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch?

*I’m a “Stick and Stab” kind of guy. I know it takes longer to stitch this way, but as I use a frame, it is easier, and I find I get a more even, neater stitch.
Do you prefer to stitch in hand, or with a hoop or frame?

*I like a tight work surface, so always use a frame.  I have tried stitching in hand a few times, but grip the linen so tight, I end up with cramps in my hands.  For smaller projects, I like Q Snaps.
What is your favorite linen and thread?

*I really like the look over-dyed threads give to needlework, so tend to be drawn towards Weeks Dye Works, Classic Colourworks and Gentle Arts threads.  I have recently discovered the range of stranded cotton from Valdani, the colours look great and I am going to order some in.

I mainly stitch on 40ct linens, either Antique White or a hand dye, though I have some 56ct I am going to try one day.
Do you like specialty stitches and have a favorite?

*Specialty stitches make samplers interesting, providing a break from cross stitch.  “Miss Mary Ann Bournes 1791” by Hands Across the Sea Samplers has a lot of satin stitch and I am enjoying that.  I also do a lot of short and long stitch, and am currently learning variations of buttonhole stitch as part of the stumpwork course I am doing.

What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?

*It is really hard to pick a period.  I love samplers from the each of the three peak periods for sampler making.  The late 17th Century was the peak of stumpwork, with amazing craftsmanship, hidden political meanings and some truly amazing designs with elaborate embroidered cabinets.  The 18th Century, with naive designs incorporating motifs, bright colours and pictorial samplers.  Then the 19th Century, a more refined period, with samplers featuring ornate borders and grand houses.

Which designs appeal to you the most?

*I am really drawn to samplers featuring Adam and Eve, houses and ornate floral borders.  Also, add a mermaid to a sampler, and I have to buy it.  I also like Dutch samplers and samplers featuring ships.

 Has working with reproduction samplers given you any new insight into the lives of the girls and women in the 17-18-19th centuries that you did not realize before?

*I spend a lot of time researching the history of samplers, recently giving a talk to a group of ladies at a stitching retreat.  It’s amazing when you look at the beautiful samplers stitched by young ladies, sometimes on really fine counts of linen or silk gauze and realise that they stitched by candlelight without magnification.

One surprise fact I found was needlework wasn’t always considered a feminine art.  During the Medieval period, needlework had been practised by both men and women through trade guilds and associations with needleworkers held in as high esteem as famous painters and sculptors.  As time moved on, this gender balance and perception changed.  In the late 19th Century, the Victorians started to redefine gender rolls and femininity.  Rewriting history, Victorians redefined the art of needlework as a traditional feminine art, a legacy still attached today.
How do you display your stitched samplers?  Do you frame them?  Hang them singularly or in groupings?  

*Everything we stitch pretty much ends up as samples in the shop.  The displays in the shop constantly change, as new samples are completed.  Here are photos of same of the samplers at the shop at the moment.

Do you collect antique samplers? Or have any other collections special to you?

*I love old samplers and as funds allow, have begun to collect them.  I’ve been really lucky, getting some great samplers, with 7 in the collection to date, some of which we have started to reproduce under the brand name “Under the Hedgerow”. 

The first one we have reproduced is “Jane Johannah Wilkins 1884 Sampler”.  We reproduced this sampler for our antique sampler retreat last year.

 My favourite at the moment is a little basic alphabet sampler.  What makes this special is that it is a real Australian sampler.  We purchased Emily Trump’s sampler from her family and have been able to track back the slightly scandalous history of the young lady who stitched the sampler, even visiting her grave.   

I recently acquired a really nice Adam and Eve sampler that I really love and have started to chart.

What brought you to opening your own shop?  Where are you located?

*In 2000, Karen was frustrated that she couldn’t get the designs and materials she wanted to stitch.  Rather than continue to complain, we decided to do something about it and began to import from overseas. 

In 2001, we started trading online as Dragonfly Dreams.  Soon we had too much stock to keep at home, so opened a shop.  Unfortunately, once we opened a physical store, the name started to cause a few issue, with some phone calls from people wanting to order Chinese food, and weird men looking for “massages”, so we had to rebrand. 

We have been in our current location for 12 years now.  Linen and Threads shares a little cottage in Katoomba, a small town in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

Do you have shows where you sell your wares?   Please let us know where you are planning shows. 

*As well as the shop, we also hit the road and do many craft shows, guild meetings and retreats.  Each year we have a stand at some of the Craft and Quilt Shows, this year we will be at the Sydney show in June and the Canberra show in August.  We also attend some of the CraftAlive shows, recently we were at Castle Hill.  Later in the year we will be at Orange and Wollongong, and maybe Tamworth.  Next year, we hope to do a lot more shows, getting to other parts of Australia. 

Here is a photo of a recent stand at Castle Hill.

Any guilty secrets to confess? 

*I do everything you shouldn’t when I stitch.  I eat, drink and let my dogs lay in my lap.  So far I have been lucky and haven’t had any major disasters.
What has been your worst needlework disaster?

*My Ottlight has a magnifier.  I stitch near a window, during the day the blinds are normally closed, but once I forgot.  Luckily the cushion on the lounge only had a little scorching and I didn’t burn the house down.  Needless to say, the magnifier now has a sock covering it when not in use.
What sampler are you currently working on now?  What do you most enjoy about it? 

*I have a few samplers going at the moment, as well as some other stitching projects.  As I said before, I am working on “And They Sinned”, will probably still be working on this one in 10 years’ time!

The other sampler I am stitching is by Nicola and Sandra from Hands Across the Sea Samplers, “Miss Mary Ann Bournes 1791”.  I really love the bee skep on this sampler, though it will be a while before I get to it.

What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy? 

*As we live in Katoomba, but I work in Sydney, I spend a lot of time travelling each day.  My commute is 6 to 7 hours a day, so I need something to keep me sane.  Public transport can get pretty crowded and the trains are pretty dirty, so stitching is not an option.  To pass the time, I tend to read, and the Kindle has become my best friend. 

I have a couple of favourite books that I have read a bunch of times, each time finding something new in them.  The first is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and the other is by Stephen King, The Stand.   

I also love to travel, we go to the USA once or twice a year to attend tradeshows and always manage to couple it with a holiday.  I love just getting in the car and seeing the countryside.  I think we have been to over 20 states so far.  We recently got back from three weeks in the UK.  This trip was just a holiday and we managed to pack in lots of history and saw heaps of needlework beautiful needlework, including Nicola’s amazing sampler collection.

Thank you so much, Brendon, for sharing your story and your samplers with us!  Seeing your beautiful stitching and wonderful antiques is such a treat!   Thank you for sharing photos from your shows and retreats.  I am sure we all wish we could spend a bit of time shopping and hearing more about the history of samplers!  Not only have you inspired us to get stitching but also, perhaps, to plan a trip Down Under!  To learn more about Linen and Thread’s offerings, retreats and future endeavors please visit their website at Linen and Threads.