I’m a huge fan of Alison Cole’s embroidery and stumpwork, so just as I did with Trish Burr, I made a pest of myself and asked Alison for a little information on her experiences in the needlework world! I think it’s neat to hear about the adventures of needlework designers and book writers, and it gives (to me, anyway!) a whole new perspective on the needle arts. So, without further ado, here’s a bit about Alison, and I’ll follow this up with her book-publishing experiences.
Alison Cole’s Background in Needlework
The pictures below are recent projects that are not yet on the Alison Cole Embroidery website. I’ve left some of them larger so you can click on them to see the details upclose. Instead of paraphrasing, I’ll let Alison speak for herself here!
I was born, educated and married in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. I have always been around embroidery, as my mother was a professional seamstress. I have fond memories of sorting her threads and swapcard collection into colourways. I moved to Melton in January 2003 with my husband Stephen and two children.
It was when I was eight years old that my mother first put a needle in my hand and taught me to mend my teddy bear. From there she taught me to make a patchwork pillowcase which went on every school camp, but it was not until I was 12 that I took up embroidery. It became a passion for me – I used to stitch on the school bus to and from school, in my free periods and at lunch and recess. My friends used to laugh at me – always carrying around some piece of work.
Even when I starting dating – if my boyfriend wanted to sit beside me on the couch – he had to have my tapestry frame over his legs while I was working on it (one of my frames was over four feet long and took up the entire couch).
I worked in an office – working my way up to administration manager – and always stitched in my breaks. One time – while at lunch and stitching at my desk – some smart man said to me ‘you have a good job’. Over the years, this became something that I heard regularly – sometimes, if I didn’t want to be bothered with the smart remarks, I would stitch in the boardroom if it wasn’t in use.
I joined the local branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild and maxed out on classes – from Crazy Patchwork to Schwalm and everything in between.
After leaving work to have children, I started part time work at one of the local embroidery shops, where I was encouraged to teach and pass on my skills. I was told that I was already teaching – helping the customers with any problems that they had with their embroidery was teaching. And so I designed and taught classes in basic stitches, Stumpwork and Goldwork and loved every minute of it – as I still do to this day.
The more people that I taught, the more that word got around. I taught at my branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild and then at other branches and at Guild Headquarters. I was asked to teach at conventions and seminars and find myself these days fully booked almost two years in advance, teaching all around Australia and New Zealand.
Through the years I have furthered my studies in embroidery, gaining an Intermediate Certificate through the Embroiderers’ Guild in Melbourne and completing numerous other courses including Train the Trainer Adult Education Course and Art for the Stitch – a design and colour course for embroidery artists. I am currently working on a long term research project that I started some years ago, which will culminate in another book.
I have been the recipient of a local Embroiderers’ Guild Branch Scholarship and the prestigious Ethel Oates Scholarship, of which I used part to research the history of metal thread embroidery. I have also been the recipient of the Florence Monod Award for Excellence – the top prize awarded at the Royal Melbourne Show – judged over 150 categories. These days I am a sponsor of the Melbourne Show, supplying an award for the Best Piece of Stumpwork or Raised Embroidery.
I am a regular contributor to Embroidery and Cross Stitch Magazine and, to a lesser extent, Australian Country Craft Magazine. I have also had projects appear in Handmade Magazine and UK Publication Stitch with the Embroiderers’ Guild. For three years I provided Christmas decoration projects for the Country Womens’ Association Magazine.
Achievements in 2005 included receiving a Commendation for Stitching Excellence from the Embroiderers’ Guild United Kingdom for their ‘Picture This’ competition and the People’s Choice Award at the Embroiderers’ Guild Victoria Annual Exhibition for the piece Jacobean Elegance. I also created a three dimensional floral arrangement of Goldwork Liliums for display at the Johnston Collection’s exhibition ‘Taking Tea with English Bodies’ and I am also represented in their collection of decorative arts.
During 2006, I was a featured artist at the Craft and Quilt Fairs, touring Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide, exhibiting, teaching and promoting the art of Goldwork. It is amazing how many people said to me ‘Oh, this is new’, only to have me cheekily reply ‘Yes, these techniques are only about four hundred years old!’ To the people that told me Goldwork was too difficult for them to try, I asked if I could borrow their grandchildren, and invited the kids to apply some purl in an area of chipping on my work.
2007 saw me participating as Artist in Residence for a group project with the South Western Branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild of Victoria, creating two panels 30 cm x 75 cm in memory of two of their members that are local benefactors. 2007 also saw me being commissioned to embroider a piece of Goldwork for the front cover of the UK magazine ‘Stitch with the Embroiderers’ Guild’ for their 50th issue. This was also the year that I had my new studio built. A purpose-built studio with work room, store room, wet area and toilet – and more cupboards and shelf space than in my house!
2008 has seen another People’s Choice award at the Embroiderers’ Guild Victoria Annual Exhibition with the piece Gloriosa Lily and the release of my second book ‘The Midas Touch’. My first book ‘All That Glitters’ was released in 2006.
Alison is one of the foremost teachers of stumpwork and goldwork in Australia, and from what I’ve heard from readers who have taken her classes, she is a delightful teacher. Her books are excellent – if you haven’t seen them or added them to your collection, you may want to put them on your list!
If you haven’t perused Alison’s website, you really should! Her projects are stunning!
You can read all about Alison Cole’s adventures in publishing needlework books here, too. Lots of insights to the publishing world!