Zinaida Kazban is a bright young star in a new generation of hand embroiderers emerging from the Royal School of Needlework's Future Tutors Programme. She is also our 2018 "New Talent" selected by the School to be sponsored by Lady Anne's Needlework Retreats in her graduating year and as she makes her first steps into the wide world of professional hand embroidery.
Our RSN Lady Anne's Retreats New Talent Programme was launched last year and saw the very first sponsorship awarded to Auburn Clair Lucas. This year, we are so very delighted that the school has introduced us to Zina, yet another incredibly promising needlework talent.
Zina teaching at the Totally crewel Work Workshop in Appleby in Sept 2018
Born in the USSR, Zina didn't grow up with the kind of opportunities or resources many artists of her calibre are afforded in Britain. Luckily for us, she has chosen to move here to pursue a passion that has clearly always been dear to her heart. Zina's work speaks for itself but we thought we would give her a chance to talk in her own words about her experience and about what brought her to this stage in her career.
What inspired you to first start stitching and how old were you?
Through my childhood I was always surrounded by embroidery. When I was a toddler, I had embroidered bodysuits embellished by my great aunt, and later my mum started to dress me in handmade dresses that she made herself. Every dress was unique and was decorated with hand or machine embroidery. Watching my mum spending all her free time at her sewing machine or with a needle in her hand certainly helped me to form an emotional attachment to embroidery.
Pearl Embroidery by Zina
Then, when I was about five years old, our family went to live for a few years in Mongolia. My parents worked for a gold-mining company there, and the mining site was so remote from any town that the only public transport to get there was a small airplane. There we had a chance to blend with locals who lived a simple life, and one woman showed me something that was similar to punch embroidery where you use a special needle and get a result similar to what you can have with a Turkey rug stitch, but much quicker. They used hand-made needles, very fine wool for stitching, and horse hair for threading the wool into the needle. The lady who taught me gave me a whole bag of materials to practice with which I could not use up for a long time – that is how big the bag was! I must say I enjoyed the stitching a lot! It was like colouring in but using threads instead of crayons. The technique is so quick and effective that it worked for an impatient kid like me. One of pieces I made using a Mongolian punch needle was a parrot. Actually, my sister has found it recently in her home in Russia, and she promised to give it back to me when I see her next time.
I do wish I still had one of those needles in my hand.
Embroidered Flamingo by Zina
What project are you currently working on and where did you find inspiration for it?
Currently I am focused on designing my embroidery kits for short classes I am teaching later this and next year. Most of my current designs are inspired by nature. I love watching wildlife and often incorporate such themes into my pieces.
I always try to find time to stitch not just teaching samples, but also something challenging for myself. One of the last pieces was a handbag I made for a Swarovski-sponsored competition in Russia organised by Green Bird shop. The theme of the contest was impressionism, and everyone had to use the same selection of Swarovski crystals in their creations. Inspired by impressionist musicians and artists, I made a vinyl record handbag featuring Claude Monet water lilies. The record name ‘Reflections on the Water’ is taken from an album by an impressionist composer Claude Debussy. My handbag made it into the final which I was delighted about given that there had been about 250 applications from all over the world.
Music of The Impressionists hand-embroidered bag by Zina
In your wildest dreams, where do you see your career in 10 years? Do you hope to continue in hand embroidery?
I had a simple dream to keep going with embroidery in my teenage years. I was born in the USSR which collapsed shortly after I started school, and we lived in the country which was in constant economic crisis throughout 1990's. You were lucky if you simply found a paid job, let alone one you can enjoy. It was never a question if I could do any art or work in a creative field. In fact, I have got a degree as a software developer, but it has never really worked for me. So I got my first job as a receptionist and I started looking for options of what else I could do. Later I got training in HR and worked in recruitment for five years. Fortunately, I was able to leave that profession and focus on my humble hobby and gradually, I worked my way to being a full-time professional hand embroiderer, tutor, and textile dyer.
As a recruiter I asked applicants so many times about their five- or ten-year professional plans to understand their intrinsic motivations. Almost always I heard that they wanted to move on after some time, be managers of large teams, and generally climb up the career ladder. As for me, I would like to stay broadly where I am and work as a freelance embroider and tutor. I spent so many years looking forward to this so I simply want to enjoy it as long as I can! I am grateful for all the experience I had, thanks to my previous education and career, as it helps me a lot in my chosen field, but I think I have finally found what I want to do. I would like to continue developing my design skills and mastering stitching techniques through working on fulfilling embroidery commissions, but I also love teaching and spreading the art of embroidery.
Advanced Goldwork by Zina
What are your favourite techniques to teach?
I love all embroidery techniques, and it is a joy to teach all of them. When I teach, I like to break a technique or a stitch into small logical steps, so it is easy for my students to remember. In a way, it is like programming a computer, which I was taught how to do, but working with people is just so much better. It is so rewarding to see a student doing a stitch which they had struggled with before the class. Such things make me happy.
It is also interesting to teach historical techniques or designs based on historical pieces as it brings a very special atmosphere into the class. Last summer I taught two such classes for the RSN Summer School in the USA. One was a broderie anglaise technique and the other was based on traditional Russian pearl embroidery. I did a lot of research on both techniques before even starting to design the pieces to make sure they were historically accurate and that the classes covered the most, if not all, the stitches typical for the techniques.
Applique embroidery by Zina
Did you enjoy, and how did you benefit from, the RSN Future Tutors programme?
I did enjoy my time as a student at the Royal School of Needlework. It is a very full-on course with a very little time off from stitching - we routinely worked on our homework through weekends – but I have never regretted that I joined it. In those three years I learned so much about embroidery and produced a significant number of works that improved my stitching skills and speed, which was also very important. Most of us learn how to stitch from our grandmas, and we have a basic understanding of embroidery which is enough for everyday life. However, for me it was important to learn its professional side, and that was what attracted me to do the course in the first place. We were taught by the best RSN tutors with many years of hands-on experience and immense knowledge of the subjects, and that makes this programme one of the best professional embroidery educations.
Talking about benefits, if I had not done the course, I would have never got a chance to teach on your amazing crewelwork workshop, which I enjoyed a lot. It was a fantastic opportunity, and it is so generous of you to support freshly-graduated RSN tutors at the beginning of their career.
Bunny in a Magic Forest by Zina
What will you be working on next?
I have plans to make a few works based on historical pieces, and I am researching this subject and looking for inspiration. However, it might not happen very soon as being self-employed means that often I must to put off things that I planned in favour of unexpected jobs or commissions, sometimes at short notice.
Zina teaching at our Totally crewel Work Workshop in Appleby in Sept 2018
I stitch just for fun too as a hobby. I entertain myself by making small embroideries in my spare time and share them on my Instagram page. They are mainly illustrations in threads of anything that has inspired me recently. I love doing that as, thanks to the tiny size, it does not take a lot of time to finish them.
Besides teaching, I work as an embroiderer in the commercial studio of the RSN where we do conservation and restoration work, as well as new commissions. I also have a small hand-dyeing business, and I produce and sell online hand-dyed silk ribbons for ribbon embroidery and do bespoke ribbon dyeing.
Blackwork embroidery by ZIna
Where can we expect to see you teaching next?
You will definitely see me in the RSN at Hampton Court as there are a lot of my day classes scheduled for this and next year. I also occasionally teach in central London, both classes and private tuitions. Hopefully there will also be an opportunity to come back to one of the upcoming crewelwork workshops!
Thank you so much Zina for giving us a peek into your life of embroidery and how you are creating the conditions for success within this industry.
Zina's talent is clear to see but it is obviously her determination and hard work that has seen her into the position she now finds herself, professional hand embroiderer with a bright future ahead. It is our privilege to help support that future in any way we can and to give Zina every possible chance to continue to make her passion a full-time occupation. Thank you to the Royal School of Needlework for creating the conditions to make this possible and for driving the future of our art form.
Zina will be joining the impressive line-up of tutors for our 2021 Lady Anne's Needlework Festival in Appleby. The festival is not yet open for booking but you may express your interest here. More dates with Zina will be announced through our mailing list. Sign up here.
Susan Kay-Williams, Chief Executive of the Royal School of Needlework handing Zina a cheque for £500. The remaining funds are donated directly to the Future Tutors Programme to support all the students equally.
If you would also like to donate to the RSN, you can do so here.