4th June 2020
First published in Inspirations issue #104 in October 2019, written by Ansie van der Walt
‘As a child, I often imagined myself to be a famous explorer hunting the neighbourhood for exotic creatures. Armed with a bucket I would head over to the large pond and try for hours to catch the many frogs that lived there. I was rarely successful and often soaked through by the end of my exploration, but it sparked off a fascination with frogs.’
Today Georgina Bellamy’s frogs sparkle and are much shinier than those she hunted in her neighbourhood pond, but they still hold the same fascination and still keep her busy for hours. Although Georgina comes from a creative family who instilled in her a love of creating things by hand, her interest in stitching only came later in her life. Her job at a dry cleaner was to prepare clothes for the tailor. That meant unpicking seams and taking clothes apart. Out of pure boredom, Georgina took some leftover fabric home one day and made a jacket for her young son. That one random decision set her life on a course she would never have imagined.
‘My son’s embroidered jacket got many compliments and I decided to go for a short course in fashion with a view to starting a children’s clothing label. Every piece of clothing I made was covered in embroidery. I’m not sure why–I had always played with stitching as a kid. Nothing amazing, just a time-passer.’
Fate stepped in again when the examiner at Georgina’s short City and Guilds course turned out to be Anthea Godfrey, a former lecturer at The London College of Fashion. Both her tutor and Anthea thought Georgina had a special talent and encouraged her to do a degree in fashion.
'I had never been told I was good at anything before, and here were two really important ladies holding me up as an example. At that point, I was so flattered I’d have agreed to pretty much anything!'
Her tutors encouraged her to do a BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) course in fashion to qualify for university, but Georgina was adamant that she wanted to focus on embroidery rather than fashion so decided to do a year’s worth of City and Guilds courses instead.
‘It was a big risk as these courses are not recognised by UCAS (University and Colleges Admissions Service) but looking back it was one of the best choices I made in my life. I learned every technical skill I have – quilting, machine embroidery, hand embroidery, stumpwork, goldwork, innovative embroidery and fashion embroidery.’
Georgina’s risk paid off and she was accepted at London School of Fashion to study Surface Textiles. It took hard work, many sacrifices and pure determination but Georgina succeeded.
‘Well, more than that, I excelled. In a room full of students using machines for their embroidery or glueing down beads (oh the horror!), I was the only student working solely by hand. People often asked me where I learnt the skills and every time, I was reminded how glad I was that I listened to myself and took the chance on City and Guilds.’
Today Georgina is so much more than an embroiderer, finding as much pleasure in designing as in stitching.
'I enjoy the process of realising an idea from a scribble on paper to full goldwork embroidery. It is important to constantly challenge myself and create new ideas and shapes in goldwork. It is crucial for me to know my craft inside out and the constant process of creating new original designs allows me to attain this knowledge.'
Georgina is known for her 3D and semi-3D embroidery designs that are influenced by her admiration for fashion couture embroidery, that has a high level of detail and often a 3D quality. ‘I like the constant questions 3D work poses – you really have to think about your subject from all angles. I feel like I really get to know an animal when I start to create their structure. I also like the reaction my work gets. Many people have a perception that embroidery is old-fashioned. It is always a pleasure to show them that embroidery is so much more than that – it is an art form in its own right.’
Like many other contemporary embroidery designers, Georgina believes her career would not have been possible without social media. After graduating from university, she worked for several designers and artists, but it was social media that allowed her to venture out on her own. ‘Before building my Instagram profile I often found it difficult to get recognition for my own embroidery work – quite simply because not enough people knew who I was. It was holding back my ability to advance my personal art.’
Georgina believes social media changed the game. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow art to be seen by many people and allow embroidery artists to put forward their own designs and sense of style.
'Everything I am currently doing in terms of career has been sparked by social media. It is very important for the future of my business.'
When it comes to inspiration, for Georgina, nothing beats the animal kingdom. By watching nature programs or looking at images online, Georgina can be captivated by a particular pose or facial expression that will spark an obsession that can last for days, weeks or months.
'I love figuring out how to recreate a creature in 3D embroidery.'
Another source of inspiration for Georgina is different styles of embroidery. At the moment she is fascinated by Spanish and Russian 3D goldwork embroidery. ‘Much of it is created over card and contains lots of patterns within the metal thread work. Much of the embroidery is worked separately and then layered to create a 3D scene. I particularly love how the Russians use pearls with their goldwork and I have found myself using them in my work now.’
Georgina is also falling back in love with Elizabethan embroidery techniques, practising braid stitch or Ceylon stitch.
'I love so many of the techniques involved and they spark off new ideas and design directions.'
Being the eternal artist, Georgina has more ideas and plans than time to do it all. She wants to get back into fashion and is working with a boxing club to create embroidery for their sporting clothes as they turn professional. ‘It is the perfect area for goldwork to shine as the boxing world already has a great love for embroidery.’
Georgina dreams of solo exhibitions in art galleries and publishing a book but for now, teaching is her biggest commitment and she has many plans to expand on this.
'I would be very sad to see my beloved goldwork die out and firmly believe it needs more promotion to keep it alive for the next generations. Because of this, I set up classes to allow people to come and learn. My ultimate goal is to have a school of my own, but I think that would be many years in the making!'
Just like that little girl who hunted for frogs in the neighbourhood pond, Georgina still loves exploring. Just like her lifelong fascination with frogs, she has a lifelong fascination with shiny embroidery, whether it is 3D goldwork, fashion embroidery, teaching, or exhibiting and she will continue until she is soaked through yet again, from knowing her beloved subject inside out.