Celebrating World Embroidery Day

You pass the thread through the eye of a needle, slowly following a pattern etched onto some silk fabric and, thread by thread, creating a work of art…

Embroidery is a skill which, over the ages, has been passed down from one generation to the next and on Saturday July 30 it will take centre stage when World Embroidery Day is celebrated across the globe.

For some, it’s a hobby, for others it’s a job but there are those who do it purely for the love of it.

Toody Cassidy from Rondebosch is one of those embroiderers who has been able to fuse all three together.

Ms Cassidy became one of the founding members of the Cape Embroiderers’ Guild (CEG) in 1984 after being introduced to embroidery by her late mother.

Her love of embroidery, she attributes to “the love of fabric, thread, fibre, colours and design, together with the opportunities I have to stitch and to benefit from being a member of CEG, which simply promotes the love of embroidery”.

Significantly, Ms Cassidy has seen a piece of her canvas work, among many others by fellow embroiderers, being chosen to be featured in Penny Cornell’s book, entitled: The Liberated Canvas, which was published in 1995.

As a member of the CEG, she has also showcased her work at many local and international exhibitions.

“Embroidery is one of life’s very special pleasures. While stitching, designing or following a pattern, your thoughts are focused. The designs, the stitches, of which there are literally hundreds, the threads and the colours can spiral and escalate you up and away and beyond the woes of life and can expose you to the magical, wonder-world of creativity,” says Ms Cassidy.

World Embroidery Day was started in 2011, when a local group belonging to “Broderiakademin”, which translated means “Embroidery Academy” or otherwise known as “Sweden’s Embroidery Guild”, decided to set aside a special day with the sole purpose of celebrating embroidery and soon the event was marked across the world.

One of the world’s most acclaimed embroideries is the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings of 1066.

In our very own House of Parliament in Cape Town, hangs the Keiskamma Tapestry, another piece of history, all created through the art of embroidery.

Since the age of 15, Penlyn Estate’s Linda Dietrich, has been mastering the art of embroidery, so much so, that she decided to pass on her knowledge to senior citizens interested in taking up embroidery as a hobby.

Ms Dietrich became involved with embroidery through her mother, whocreated table cloths, aprons, curtains and other household items to earn a living for their family.

“I would come home each day from school and there would be table cloths and aprons waiting for me, things I had to work on to help my mother put bread on the table.

“It’s more than just a hobby for me; it’s a passion,” she says.

Just minutes before, she had been teaching a class at her Penlyn Estate home.

For the past 18 years, she has been teaching the art of needle painting, which is a more advanced form of embroidery.

Ms Dietrich says the challenges with promoting embroidery is that many young people start showing interest – until time becomes a factor.

“They start off by showing interest and then it dies out due to the time they have available.

“You will find many of the older generation taking up the hobby and more of the seniors want to learn how to embroid, because they do work for their families, pictures, clothing and other items,” she adds.

Ms Cassidy has also made some money using her embroidery expertise, having created her very own hand-dyed threads, fabrics and fibres, and selling them to members of the CEG and even creating and selling her very own silk paper, on which to stitch.

“It is part and parcel of human existence, of our heritage. Embroidery has been with us for centuries.

“It adorns the walls of castles and has been used to decorate christening robes, royal garments, household linen, clothing, as well as church, synagogue and mosque vestments, it has no discrimination, includes all religions, creeds and colours, can be seen all over the world and is still very popular today.

“It spans both ancient and modern traditions. It is for children and adults, men and women,” Ms Cassidy says.

Ms Cassidy says they have young people and men among their members.

And for those who would like to do some research before committing their lives to needlework, books and information pamphlets about embroidery, textile art, fabric artists, needlework and related subjects can be found in the CEG libraries.

* There are online courses, workshops and classes for beginners and experienced embroiderers at the CEG, which is based in Threadneedle Street, Rondebosch.

The CEG meets twice a month, and meets on the first Friday at 9am and second Saturday of the month at 2pm, at the St Thomas’s Church Hall on Campground Road in Rondebosch.

For more information, call 021 685 3424.

Alternatively, visit the Cape Embroiderers’ Guild website and Facebook page for details.

* To contact Ms Dietrich regarding her needle painting classes at her Pennlyn Estate home, you can call 082 412 6055.