Nicola Jarvis is well-known in the needlework community for her beautiful designs featuring animals, birds and flora. You may remember her Dove Cottage Sampler from the 2018 Spring Residential, the theme of which was the life of William Wordsworth, or have even stitched one of her iconic bird designs, which showcase her immaculate and creative modern crewel work.
Nicola trained at the Royal School of Needlework before spending 10 years working in the British fashion industry as a sample embroiderer for many big high street brands.
With her fellow Spring Residential tutor Jenny Adin-Christie, Nicola is proud to have been one of the team members who created the lace for the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress for her wedding to Prince William on 29 April, 2011.
Nicola is a world-class designer and embroidery tutor, which is why she is a regular tutor at our Residential Retreats each year. Phillipa explains: “Only the best tutors are invited to lead our workshops on our tours and retreats. Nicola is a talented and experienced professional hand embroiderer, a world class expert who is popular with our guests. Her charisma encourages everyone to achieve their best and her exceptional embroidery provides the high standard for them to aim for. Together, Nicola and Jenny deliver the top notch workshops year after year."
During the lunch break at the Retreat, we asked Nicola about her 2019 design Hill Top Queenie.
- What was your inspiration for this design?
The inspiration for my modern crewel work project was Beatrix Potter’s later years as a farmer on the high fells of the Lake District and her passion for breeding and conserving the indigenous Herdwick sheep.
Beatrix purchased many thousands of acres of farmland in the central Lakes region, and brought these hitherto neglected lands and the failing sheep stocks up to a high standard once more. In buying these extensive tracts of land she was also preventing the land from being developed and preserving the beauty and accessibility for future generations, finally through the National Trust. As she became more knowledgable about breeding Herdwicks, she started producing prize-winning specimens. ‘Hill Top Queenie’ was one of her beloved and multi rosette-winning ewes.
My project is a celebration of this later part of Beatrix’s life and her legacy of re-introducing the endearing Herdwick sheep to the region. These sheep are integral to the ecology of the fragile Lakeland landscape. Their grazing patterns help to manage the delicate balance of the area’s natural history. Because the Herdwicks’ wool is used to make a course but beautiful tweed and knitting wool, I decided to create a wool embroidery of ‘Queenie’ situated in a garland of Lakeland flowers.
- What materials and stitches did you use for the design and why?
My friend and fellow embroiderer Victoria Laine hand spun 2ply and 3ply Herdwick wool yarn on her drop spindle. I asked her to do this especially for the project and some of this wool is used in the stitching of ‘Queenie’. The majority of the areas on ‘Queenie’ and the flowers are worked in Appletons wool. The rose leaves and foxglove petals have highlights of C21st Yarn (a hand dyed highly twisted stranded cotton thread) amidst the wool embroidery.
The decorative patterns on Queenie’s fleece are inspired by Beatrix’s extensive collection of hand-painted Georgian bone china displayed at Hill Top Farm. Some understanding of light and shade, and colour mixing in crewel work and surface stitching would be helpful in working this design. However, the stitches are core crewel and surface stitches including Split Stitch, Stem Stitch, Satin Stitch, Long and Short Shading and French Knots.
I have taken many photographs of the Lakeland flora over the last eight years, in addition to many studies of the intriguing Herdwick sheep, as we holiday in the Lakes every year. So when Phillipa decided to make Beatrix Potter the theme for this year’s retreat, I already had a deep love of the region, a huge admiration for Beatrix (a childhood hero and enormous inspiration) together with an extensive body of visual imagery to work with.
- What level of stitcher is this design suitable for?
My kit is aimed at the Intermediate to Advanced level embroiderer.
- How long did it take to complete the finished piece and did you encounter any difficulties along the way?
It is almost impossible to quantify the amount of hours invested in this particular piece, but the actual stitching of the A3 size embroidery took approximately two weeks to complete. The shading of the foxglove flowers are rather intricate and require a painterly approach with the Long and Short Stitch.
- Will the kit be available to people who didn't attend the retreat?
We have prepared 20 kits to be available to our mailing list to be released soon. You can sign up to the mailing list here. Then at the end of April the kit will be available on Nicola's website. 5% of all sales will go to the Herdwick Breeders Association.
Nicola will be teaching again for Lady Anne’s Needlework Retreats next year during the Stratford-Upon-Avon Residential Retreat, in 2020 during the 4 Nations Tour, and also during the Lady Anne’s Needlework Festival in 2021. Sign up here to express an interest in our festival and other retreats.
Nicola's Hill Top Queenie Sampler was created exclusively for Lady Anne's Retreats.