Needleartist Profile | Susan Davis
15th May 2020
First published in Inspirations issue #104 in October 2019
My mother was a Domestic Science teacher with an interest in embroidery. With 5 children at home, she had little time to do more than dream about embroidery, but as a young girl I spent hours poring over her Needlewoman and Needlecraft magazines. My secondary education was at a Technical College where for the first 3 years, needlework (dress making and embroidery) were favourite subjects. I still have the embroidery samples that I created in those classes. We were introduced to a wide range of embroidery techniques, including historical English styles, such as blackwork and crewel, both of which fascinated me.
I finished my secondary education having specialised in science, but retained an interest in the creative arts. This led to a year studying fashion design, but in the end I felt I wasn’t creative enough to succeed and went back to science.
I commenced work in hospital pathology laboratories while studying part-time, eventually completing a degree in Medical Laboratory Technology. I had little personal time, but knitted and worked small embroidery kits – mostly cross stitch.
Once my mother had more time to herself, she had joined the Embroiderers Guild Victoria. My interest in embroidery had never waned, so for my 40th birthday my parents gave me a membership to the Embroiderers Guild. It has been the best birthday present I have ever been given. After a slow start, I launched myself into an attempt to ‘learn everything there was to learn’ about embroidery. With small children of my own this often meant late nights and early mornings stitching. It wasn’t unusual to be up until 1 or 2 in the morning to complete homework before a class.
The 23 years since then have been very busy. Apart from fun project classes, I have studied Japanese embroidery; ten different traditional techniques at Intermediate
level (6 classes over 6–8 weeks); crewel and goldwork masterclasses (15 lessons, spread over eighteen months). The availability of the internet has allowed me to participate in a number of wonderful online embroidery courses. I have also spent years studying drawn thread work and have amassed an inspirational collection of examples from tablecloths and tea-cosies, to aprons and handkerchiefs, with the oldest items dating to the late 1800s. Although I have finally conceded that I won’t ‘learn it all’ I have had a lot of fun trying.
When I was younger and very shy, I could never have imagined myself teaching, but after being given the benefit of the knowledge of so many wonderful people I now feel it is time for me to give back. In recent years I have started teaching blackwork, drawn thread work and some aspects of goldwork. I love seeing students in my classes develop their own skills.
I still continue my own embroidery studies, preferring to concentrate on historical styles of embroidery, such as traditional samplers, blackwork, drawn thread work and goldwork. My family is grown so I am able to travel a little. I have participated in several embroidery related tours and enjoy private research visits to view embroidery within various museum collections. There are so many inspirations – I will need another century at least! Embroidery has exposed me to many amazing tutors and mentors. I have developed lifelong friendships and been stretched creatively and personally in many ways. It has helped me through some very difficult personal times, and will continue to be a passion for as long as my eyes and hands allow.
Embroidery is my happy place.
Susan was the winner of the Inspirations 2018 Stitch Your Heart Out International Needlework Competition with her superb piece of or nué (Above). Susan’s design ‘Paisley’ is an adaptation of her winning entry.