“There are two things I love most about what I do – the stitching itself and teaching my students.”
Lizzy Pye is a professional embroiderer from England and a teacher at the RSN. She teaches it, lives by it, writes about it and creates wonderful patterns.
Photos – © Lizzy Pye – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
“I’ve been making textiles of one sort or another for as long as I can remember.” As a child, Lizzy loved making friendship’ bracelets (“I can see them now: piles of stranded cotton being transformed into pretty patterns in any number of colour themes”), toys and clothes. Later her grandmother taught her how to knit and crochet. Then the films The Lord of the Rings came out and this world with their amazing costumes became “a bit of an obsession of mine”. She wanted to work in that line and even did a work placement in the costume department of the Royal Opera House. But “that wasn’t my path in the end, as it turns out I am more driven to teaching than the competitive and fast-paced world of costume!”
“I think the drive to teach has been with me all my life. I was the child who helped others learn, who was always driven to learn new things herself. I couldn’t break the teaching habit if I wanted to. So, in that way, my skill told me I could tutor professionally. I had an inkling from the get-go that I would be good at the technical embroidery.”
In 2009, after graduating with Distinction from the RSN Apprentice programme, she created her own business and wanted a name that had no relation with her own as she didn’t feel confident enough to use it. The Lord of the Rings came to the rescue and Laurelin was born (Laurelin is one of the two Trees of Valinor).
As an RSN tutor, Lizzy can teach all sorts of technique like Crewel work, whitework, goldwork, etc. But there is one that comes with mixed feelings: blackwork. She didn’t really like stitching it the way she was taught (creating shaded picture) but she admits loving teaching it – “Now, when I design blackwork, my style is worked in the modern stitches and method of working, with something of the spirit of more historical work.”
She is always eager to learn more and would like to “look more deeply into historical goldwork” for example. And she has all the supplies for bobbin lace “just waiting for me to retire!”.
As many embroiderers, she is a perfectionist. But she finds that leaving mistakes can actually teach how to avoid them in the future: “My motto is “leave it and learn from it” because you will learn more from a mistake you can still see than one you unpicked. Of course, sometimes one must unpick – I certainly don’t leave a mistake in a client’s work – but when you are learning it is so heartening to see the improvement in your skills.”
I often ask the artists how their workshop looks like. When she stitches, Lizzy try to have a tidy place, with just the tools, threads and books she needs for a current project. But another part of her business involves a messier aspect: making kits, packaging orders, keeping on top of stock and accounts. Then the studio tends to be quite crowded.
Does she work with music or in silence? “I have a terribly busy mind, so sometimes I will simply work in silence and zone out while I stitch. Other times I want to drown out my mental to-do list, so you will find me listening to podcasts, usually about science – I am fascinated with medicine and psychology.”
In 2012, Lizzy published her first book on embroidery, RSN Essential Stitch Guide: Whitework. The RSN has a whole collection about different techniques, each book written by one of their tutors. In 2020, she published her second book, Goldwork Embroidery, Techniques and Projects. She worked with two publishers in a very different perspective: “The two books I have written so far were totally different experiences, driven by publishers with different approaches. My book RSN Essential Stitch Guide: Whitework was very much defined by what the publisher and the Royal School of Needlework required, which makes it, on the whole, a very polished and concise book. I had lots of fun writing it and working with the team at Search Press, who are experts at their craft and lovely to be around. The whole thing was a collaborative effort and that was great. On the other hand, Goldwork, Techniques and Projects with Crowood Press was a huge adventure. It was a lot more work on my part, but it is also a longer and more detailed book. I had more creative control over the content, so the limiting factor was my own time rather than publishing constraints. It was a real struggle to know when to stop – other than the fact I’d gone past my deadline twice (I did have a baby halfway through the process). I think I have another book in me, but who knows when that might come to be.”
She does find it easy and quick to write her instructions – after all, she is a real pedagogue – but creating a whole book was both very long and draining as well as rewarding. “I love the idea that my books might reach people who will never get to come to me for a class, and they might help someone in their own embroidery journey.”
On her website, she offers some embroidery supplies she mainly sources from the UK (Scottish linen twill, English metal threads, etc.). She also offers the same tools that she uses as well as hard-to-find fabric. “A good proportion of the products I stock are made by independent producers, some large and some small. One of my favourite products is the Renaissance Dyeing crewel wool which is hand dyed by a wife and husband team in the south of France, using all-natural dyes.”
With the pandemic, there were no more direct classes available and as many other teachers, Lizzy had to get used to online classes: “Teaching online has opened the world of embroidery to an audience I never thought I could reach. It has allowed me to teach more advanced techniques in a time frame that is affordable, which I hadn’t thought possible. Before my first online class, I was so nervous – would my plan for the timings work? Would the students be able to see what I was doing? Would we feel relaxed and have interesting conversations like we do in the classroom? The answer to all these was yes! In fact, in some ways my students can see more of what I’m doing as I can film so close to my hands. I can also record video so it can be played back after class. The virtual classroom is just as friendly and welcoming as the bricks-and-mortar version – after all, it is the people and not the walls that make the class. It has been a fantastic opportunity and I will continue to teach online after we return to ‘normal.’
She has a few secret projects to look for in the coming months. She just finished a whitework project for the Embroiderers ’Guild of America (course for 2022). She is also creating a Goldwork Club (September) and is working on a goldwork project for it, etc. She has just too many ideas and not enough time for all of them! She is also looking forward to pass on her family legacy to her son who is already asking to sew with her.
Her Instagram account