Local couture embroiderer Chloe Savage on reviving a lost art, Hollywood commissions, and working for Chanel

While the ancient art of embroidery is one that has been passed down from generation to generation, from time to time there has been concern that it’s a craft that could die out. But with embroidery having enjoyed a surge of popularity in the fashion world, and the likes of Royal School of Needlework graduate Chloe Savage doing their bit to keep the love alive, we’re feeling pretty positive about its fate. We caught up with the local creative as she launches a range of embroidery courses…

TBM: How did you get into embroidery?

CS: I began sewing from a very young age – my mother is a trained fashion designer and couturier. But my grandmother taught me the basics of embroidery when I was seven. I didn’t really take it seriously until I was made redundant in 2010 – I decided that secondary school science teaching was dominating my life too much and so I changed career and began to train with the Royal School of Needlework and the Ecole Lesage in Paris.

How do people perceive embroidery now? We love the embroidered and cross-stitched political messages we’ve seen doing the rounds recently!

Unfortunately embroidery is still seen as rather twee and something Grandma did (floral tablecloths or needlepoint cushions). Although, more recently, it has seen a revival – the explosion of embroidery work on the catwalks has brought it more to the forefront. Social enterprise Fine Cell Work is also working with prison inmates to create embroidered pieces, and currently trains 250 prisoners in 24 prisons – 97% of whom are men – in paid, skilled, creative needlework. Pieces like the hand-embroidered Magna Carta and ‘The Whitewalker’ have increased embroidery’s visibility to a younger audience, too.

Chloe Savage

What are you up to at Tyntesfield?

I started my embroidery company a couple of years ago, and after a lot of begging by friends and acquaintances, I am now launching a range of beginners’ classes through Stoke Lodge and Tyntesfield. The classes at Tyntesfield will be based on the huge textile collection held at the house.

Tell us more about your work with the National Trust. What are the challenges that come with it?

I am one of the textile conservation team at Tyntesfield – we are responsible for the entire textile collection. This involves cataloguing, assessing, cleaning and conserving. Currently we are working on the curtains from the house, but we also work on the furniture, clothes, military uniforms. The challenges are, partly, the size of the collection and, quite often, the size of the pieces we have to work with. We deal with a lot of light damage and moth damage, where the fabric has completely degraded and needs to be supported or, in some cases, just packed away carefully for posterity.

Which piece are you most proud of?

I think my favourite couture piece would have to be for Chanel in 2015. Gold beadwork on a red jacket and skirt. I had the privilege to – if only briefly – work with the best of the best.

Chloe Savage

How long does each piece take?

This depends on the technique. Crewel work (wool on linen) is much quicker and forgiving than goldwork (couched thread and wire) due to the preparation of the padding that the gold is couched over.

What’s the trickiest part?

That, again, depends on the technique being used. Personally, it’s silk shading – which is basically painting with thread. It can be a challenge to get the colours to blend well and the direction of the stitches correct.

Any new projects in the pipeline?

Currently I have a commission that will be auctioned at the Globe Theatre in London in October.

What’s the studio like?

I have a small studio in the garden at the back of the house. It’s rather full of boxes of thread, beads, fabric and my slate frames. Currently it’s taken up by an applique piece (entomology cabinet) and the commission for the auction. I have a large number of daylight lamps to help me match colours correctly and I have a radio in there, as I love to listen to audio books and theatre while working. My desk is covered in designs and samples for up and coming kits.

Have you had any special commissions?

I have had several commissions from the Middle East, all in gold. I have been mentored by Karen Nicol and also had the privilege of creating pieces for Daniel Craig.

Who is your favourite embroiderer?

That’s a hard question. Michelle Cariger, who does the Game of Thrones embroidery, is one of my favourites, but I also love Joe Mitchell’s embroidery, and Charlotte Bailey is an extremely talented, up-and-coming embroiderer.

What’s the best way for us to get kids involved with the skill?

By letting them experiment with large needles and colourful thread – once they have the ability to thread their own fine needle, bring them along to classes.

Should it be taught at schools?

I am very involved with the Campaign for Creativity, which is working to bring these basic skills back into the school curriculum. According to a recent heritage skills report, embroidery is now an endangered profession.

What benefits does embroidery have?

Because it is a slow hobby, it takes you away from technology – allowing you to slow down and take your time. This is invaluable to your mental health. It also improves self-esteem as you make something beautiful. It can also often be a social activity, allowing you to mix with like-minded people and get out from behind the TV and computer screens. Learning a new skill like embroidery improves mental function and helps keep those hands supple.

Which other Bristol artists do you admire?

I am a fan of Rebecca Dorsett. I love her exploration of the detail in images, but using very simple materials – pen and pencil.

To find out more about Chloe visit chloesavageembroidery.com