We are delighted to introduce Nicola Fairhurst of the Royal School of Needlework as a Lady Anne's Needlework Tutor. Nicola is our 2019 New Talent!
Nicola recently received a donation from us to support her studies and help launch her career as a fully-fledged professional embroidery tutor. We do this for a new student each year as part of our New Talent Programme to support the brilliant work the RSN does in finding and coaching new talent and to help them "keep the art of needlework alive and thriving", which has been their core ethos for nearly 150 years. We hope our small contribution of £1000 helps to build the momentum of support for our joint passion.
Nicola’s passion for hand embroidery started after graduating from Nottingham University in 1985 with a pharmacy degree. She was looking for something relaxing to do in the evenings.
Nicola said: “I started stitching at a very young age, but it was more dress making, through my mum and my grandmother. I also tried knitting, crochet, tatting and bobbin lace.
“It wasn’t relaxing sitting at a sewing machine in the evening, so I wanted something I could do by hand. I walked past a local shop and picked up a cross-stitch kit. This was 34 years ago!”
Nicola worked on cross stitch until a friend took her to The Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, London.
Nicola added: “I saw a piece of Counted canvaswork which was very new to the UK, but very expensive as kits were being imported from America. At that time, with no internet, you had no choice but to buy the kits from this company. When I went on holidays to America, I would stock up on kits and do more and more of the Counted canvaswork.”
During a sabbatical from her work as a pharmacist, Nicola started producing her own Countedcanvas work designs, selling online as Needlework by Nikki. She became a member of her local Embroiderers’ Guild where she became hooked on hand embroidery, following workshops run by RSN Tutor Shelley Cox. When she returned to work, she negotiated a day-off per month so she could learn with Shelley.
After 30 years working as a Community Pharmacist and branch manager of a high-street chemist, Nicola’s career ended when she had a fall in the snow, damaging her back.
Looking for a career change, Tutor Shelly encouraged Nicola to apply for the RSN Future Tutor programme. Her application was accepted and she started at the RSN in September 2016.
Nicola said: “During my pharmacy career I would call my evening stitching my ‘sanity’, as it gave me the ability to relax at the end of what can be very stressful days.”
Now her hobby is to become her new career.
Nicola added: “The Future Tutor Programme has opened my eyes to what is available - the opportunities you are given to learn such a variety of techniques to such a high standard. I am so lucky!"
Nicola received the Clothworkers’ Award for the top student on the Future Tutor Course in July 2017 and is balancing studying and home life with the support of her husband.
Nicola added: “My husband is extremely supportive and is aware that daylight means homework. It’s hard work and there are a lot of extra hours of stitching at home. I also have a long commute of 2.5-3 hours each way, three days a week from home to the RSN - but it’s all worth it.”
Throughout the three-year course Nicola has covered a wide range of techniques, however she does have her favourites.
She added: “I tend to gravitate towards counted work, probably down to the amount of counted work I did before, such as Blackwork, Canvas Stitches and Whitework. I also enjoy Crewelwork and Goldwork. There have been some techniques that have found to be more challenging, such as Silk Shading because it is not natural to me.
“I have also enjoy the opportunity to use photographs that either my husband or myself have taken and convert them into embroidered pieces. A holiday photo of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain was used for Canvas Stitches. A greenfinch in our garden was used for Advanced Silk Shading and a photo of my piano was converted into Blackwork.”
Now Nicola is about to embark on her new career as a RSN Tutor, and she is looking forward to helping more people discover the pleasures of hand embroidery.
She added: “There are many people that would like to learn how to stitch and do not have the ability or confidence to learn from books or kits. I would like to give the opportunity to more people to discover, learn, achieve and produce beautiful hand embroidery.
“I also hope to be able to introduce stitchers to some of the less commonly found embroidery techniques, especially Whitework techniques. There is also a long list of techniques that I have learnt that I want to study further and there are always new techniques to learn.
“Everyone says, 'I can’t do that' and I also thought that in the past, but it is possible, look at me!”
Nicola will have her first outing as a Lady Anne's Retreat Tutor during our Scottish Highlands & Islands Tour in August this year. We can't wait to see this exciting young talent develop.