We are delighted to welcome Hazel Blomkamp as a tutor for the 2021 Lady Anne's Festival. Hazel will teach three fantastic designs during the retreat, all of which are brand new and feature Hazel's unmistakable style.
In this post we introduce you to Hazel and to the embroidery world she has created for herself from her home in South Africa where she "combines her two passions - a love of needlework and great big slobbery dogs".
Like many professional and amateur embroiderers, Hazel's interest in needlecrafts started when she was a child. Then, when her children were born her interest providing a break from life with toddlers and, as she says, an evening reward for making it through the day with her sanity intact. Thereafter her interest was a passion.
Now her children are all grown up, she still embroiders in front of the television every night with her team of Boxer dogs lying at her feet.
As well as enjoying the practice of needlework, Hazel has also been designing for the past 25 years.
We love to showcase other Crewel Workers out there and Hazel has to be one of the most flamboyant. Her designs are unique. She pushes the boundaries with every design by combining traditional techniques with other forms of needlework.
Hazel runs her busy website from home and travels across the world teaching embroidery passing on her knowledge and passion. She is a regular contributor to embroidery magazines both at home and abroad and has written eight books on needlework.
Why and how did you become a needlework tutor? Did anyone or thing, in particular, inspire you?
Becoming a tutor started about 30 years ago when the shop I bought my threads asked me if I would do some workshops, using my original designs, for their customers. I would often take the project I was working on with me to help me choose thread colours and it would be admired. This admiration became requests to teach, which I then started doing. It grew from there!
What is your main needlework interest?
Jacobean or my style of ‘Crewel’ embroidery. Every part of every flower, leaf, bird, even stem is a canvas waiting to be filled. It provides endless scope for creative stitching and colour combinations.
Do you have a favourite stitch?
I have favourite stitches and useful stitches. Things like buttonhole stitch, chain stitch and trellis couching with their endless variations are useful stitches that I probably use more often than most others.
If I were to choose favourites, however, I would probably have to say my modified needle lace and needle weaving techniques. Depending on how you use them, there is no end to the combinations that you can dream up with the needle lace techniques. The modified loom weaving patterns that I use for needle weaving create a pattern that looks like a piece of fabric and it is so satisfying to watch that develop, to see a gingham or a houndstooth say, slowly appear as you work.
If you had to choose one needlework possession to save in a fire, what would it be?
I would have to say the projects that I am working on for the next book. I guard those with my life until the photoshoot has happened and have often had thoughts of what would happen if I was almost done with the stitching part of the book and all of the projects got stolen, burnt, whatever. They stay together in one place so they can be grabbed in a hurry as I rush out the door or climb through the window with flames licking at my feet. I do have to say, though, that I would make sure my dogs got out first.
When developing your designs, which activity takes the most time?
Definitely the stitching. That involves hours, days, weeks and months on any one design. That is closely followed by the illustrations. I do all of my own digital stitch illustrations and some of them can take up to three days to complete – particularly any that involve needle lace.
How much time do you spend stitching each day?
Other than when I am away from home, anything up to 8 hours a day every day and even over the weekends. I’ve developed a daily routine of working on my computer in my studio, getting orders out, ordering in stock, etc. from 8 to 1. At 1 o’clock, I shut down and leave my staff to carry on. I go into my house, ensconce myself in my big armchair in front of the telly and, other than taking breaks to feed the dogs and sort out supper, I’m there until I go to bed at night. As time goes on, I find myself being resentful of interruptions - say a plumbing disaster - because it is the best part of my life - just stitching for hours.
What is the best piece of advice about needlework you have been given and can share with our students?
It’s hard to remember any advice that I have been given because over the years that has blended with advice that I give when I am teaching so I would have to stick with advice that I give. That being the case, the one thing that I always bang on about is using a hoop to keep your fabric taut while you are stitching. You always get a better result. There are lots of other things that I could suggest but that is the one thing that stands out for me because there are so many people who don’t use a hoop - and it shows if they don’t.
What advice would you give to students to get the most out of their workshop experience?
Come with an open mind. I don’t follow rules, I develop my own techniques or my own way of doing existing techniques and I love it if students can take that attitude on board so that they can blow away indoctrination and free themselves up to open the floodgates of their own creativity.
Also, for my Festival workshop design, students will also require a tailor’s awl or stiletto.
What is your inspiration for your Festival design?
Phillipa asked me to do something that was loosely related to heraldry and having recently completed my Crewel Creatures book that featured African animals, which were still very much in my head, it seemed that a lion was a good thing to do. So that’s the one design that I am teaching. The other is a fanciful phoenix or firebird which will feature in my forthcoming Crewel Birds book - a bird also used in heraldry.
What materials are you using in this piece?
Both designs use stranded cotton, perle cotton, dentelles threads, Miyuki beads, Preciosa crystals and metallic threads. The lion is worked on a natural coloured cotton-linen blend fabric and the bird is on pure cotton.
What stitches are used?
Phew. Many, many. I can’t seem to help myself. In both designs, there is a wide variety of crewel stitches and their combinations along with my modified needle lace and loom weaving techniques. They also feature bead embroidery and attaching flatback crystals.
What do you love about your Festival design?
That’s hard to say. I love every design I do because if I begin to fall out of love with it while I’m doing it, I make significant changes, do lots of unpicking, get it back on track, as it were. I will say though, I particularly enjoyed the stitching of the lion - it’s smooth and effortless (which, believe me, isn’t always the case). I am not completely sure why that should be so - it could be that having just done 6 birds designs for my forthcoming book, I was delighted to be doing something different!
Have you taught at Phillipa and Laura’s retreats before?
No, and I’m really flattered to have been invited. I am looking forward to it - assuming that lots of students book on my workshops and my attendance can be justified.
You can find out more about Hazel and her work on her website at www.hazelblomkamp.com.
Hazel has published the following books:
- Crewel Twists
- Crewel Intentions
- Hand Stitched Crazy Patchwork
- Crewel Creatures
- Needle Weaving Techniques for Hand Embroidery
- Needle Lace Techniques for Hand Embroidery
- Freestyle Embroidered Mandalas
- Crewel Birds will be published in the first half of 2020.
All of these books are published by Search Press and are available through the normal book channels - Book Depository, Amazon, etc.
To add value to the publications, print and materials packs for all of the designs featured in Hazel’s books are available on her website. You will also find a host of other designs, not featured in any of her books. These designs come with extensive instructions, colour images, stitch diagrams with instructions and materials.
Hazels Festival designs are not available for sale and will not be taught anywhere until after the festival itself. Images will be added here soon.