Kate Sproston's products as seen at the 2023 Embroiderers Guild 30 year retrospective exhibition

Embroiderers Guild 30 Year Retrospective

Every so often an opportunity comes along that I can't quite believe I am lucky enough to take part in. This year marked the Embroiderers' Guild 30 year retrospective of their Graduate Showcase, and I was delighted to be asked to exhibit some of my current work.

I originally took part back in 2009 when I first graduated from Birmingham City University. Unbeknownst to me at the time of my final show, a member of the Embroiderers' Guild had visited the exhibition and spotted my final project piece. This was a printed and goldwork embroidered corset depicting an image of the virgin with child, which went on to be exhibited at that years Knitting and Stitch shows in London, Harrogate and Dublin as part of the Graduate Showcase.

Detail of hand embroidered corset featuring an image of the Virgin with Child by Kate Sproston
Close up detail of the hand embroidered corset which was my final project piece 

Fast forward fourteen years, and the retrospective has given me a chance to share how far my work has come, and meet some of the other fantastic embroiderers that are still practising within the field.

Embroidered products by Kate Sproston displayed at the Embroiderers Guild Graduate Showcase 30 Year Retrospective
An obligatory awkward photo to prove I was part of the 30 year retrospective!

I also got the chance to do some stewarding at the show in Harrogate, and sign copies of the Showcase guide. It blows my mind that my work is now part of such a prestigious book and strangers asked for my autograph!

The Embroiderers Guild Graduate Showcase 30 Year Retrospective companion book cover
Embroiderers Guild Graduate Showcase 30 year retrospective companion book featuring work by Kate Sproston
The double page spread featuring my work in the showcase companion book

I was also lucky enough to check out some of the other work on display, and came home full of inspiration. There was such a wide array of techniques and styles of work, that I wanted to share some of the artists I have followed and some of the new creators I have discovered.

First up is Richard McVetis who creates stunningly intricate monochrome embroideries which explore the themes of geology, cosmology, the language of time, permanence, and impermanence. The images below do not do the piece justice as it is hard to see the minute size of each seed stitch.

Embroidered Artwork by Richard McVetis

 'Grains' 2020-22, hand embroidered seed stitch in cotton thread on a wool canvas by Richard McVetis

Another artist who very much compliments Richards work, and who was a fellow graduate exhibitor in 2009, is Roanna Wells. She showed two pieces of her recent work, one of which was stitch and the other painted using watercolour. Roanna focuses on mark-making and repetition, both structured and random, to produce each piece using two very different techniques.  

Painted and embroidered artwork by Roanna Wells
Left: 'Diffraction' 2022, watercolour painting on cartridge paper by Roanna Wells Right: ‘All The Little Boxes’ 2023, hand stitch on wool by Roanna Wells
The next piece I spotted was this hand embroidered entry for the Embroiderers Guild members challenge. The prompt was 'Fit for a King' which inspired this hand embroidered piece by Fiona Gill. Featuring the face of King Charles III emerging from the flowers of this printed linen fabric, the colours of the stitch compliment the floral motifs perfectly.  
The Gardener King embroidered artwork by Fiona Gill
'The Gardener King' 2023, hand embroidered portrait created with cotton threads on linen by Fiona Gill

Another participant of the retrospective was Alex Vincent, who is a master of manipulating natural and foraged fibres. Below are two detailed snapshots of the sample panel he created especially for the show. I love the imagery used within the piece, and although the stitch is very simple, the technique has been executed incredibly well to form a detailed motif.

Embroidered mixed media artwork by Alex Vincent Textiles
'Ramblings' 2023, mixed media and embroidered sample board by Alex Vincent Textiles
One of the things I was pleased to see was the use of digital embroidery within some of the pieces. As my work now centres on digital embroidery, it was nice to see appreciation for the technique. For a very long time after I started my business, I experienced a strange internal struggle, feeling that I could no longer class myself as an embroiderer, as each stitch wasn't done by hand. It is nice to see how other embroiderers are pushing the boundaries, and that there is a place for computer aided embroidery within the discipline.
The work of Liss Cooke really caught my eye, whose embroidered panel was mostly digitally embroidered. Below are two details from the finished panel, the sun, moon and disco ball being my being my favourite elements.
Details of embroidered fabric panel by Liss Cooke
Details of embroidered fabric panel 2023, by Liss Cooke
One of the most innovative pieces was by Isobel Currie, who uses fly stitch and drilled Perspex boxes to create 3 dimensional artworks reminiscent of landscapes. The image below is not the piece that I saw on display, as my photographs did not capture the artwork very well at all, but it is an example of her previous work which is absolutely stunning and well worth a look.
Embroidered 3D artwork by Isobel Currie
'Fly Stitch Autumn Landscape' 2017, by Isobel Currie
Finally, I wanted to share some of the entries into the 2023 Hand & Lock prize for embroidery, the winners of which were on display at the show. Not only was each piece a work of art, but the stories and inspiration that drove the narrative for each design is an education in itself. If you love embroidery you will not be disappointed by the sheer skill and talent of all the winners. 
A selection of the Hand and Lock Prize for Embroidery entrants 2023
Left: 'The Uncovered Secret Sin' 2023, by Madelaine Atkinson. Centre: 'Cease and Desist: The Sin Eater 2023, by Teresa Burrows. Right: 'Linking Realities' 2023, by Vella Akhtimer.
Needless to say I really did have a fantastic time in Harrogate, and felt honoured to be part of such a special group of embroiderers. I hope you enjoyed discovering some new artists, and you never know, I might pop up at another Knitting and Stitch show in the future.
Kate x
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