There’s nothing stuffy and old-fashioned about Amy Burt’s embroidery. She is an avid student of traditional methods, but designs and teaches modern applications of the art. Her take on embroidery is built on creating upbeat designs with impeccable skills, which she passes on to others through her publications and workshops.
What inspires you to create? How did you get started in textiles?
I was really lucky to have two talented Grannies. Both were amazing at needlework. Granny Martyn was an amazing patchwork quilter, while Grannie Burt was a talented seamstress (and cuddly toy maker). I used to go to Granny Martyn’s house in Loughton, Essex for sewing lessons; these would usually involve me practising the core stitches on purple Aida fabric. I even knitted my teddy a jumper! At school I studied Textiles for GSCE’S (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and got my highest grade. Unfortunately the teacher thought I chatted too much and didn’t really see my potential.
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How did your studies at the Royal School of Needlework come about? What are the most impactful things you learned there?
It wasn’t until I was living in Berlin in my late 20s that a family member sent me the BBC documentary on Medieval English embroidery called “The Fabric of Britain”. They visited the RSN and, my soon-to-be tutor & friend Marg Dier gave a demo on Opus Anglicanum. I was hooked. I applied to study on the Future Tutor Programme which is their teacher training course, then left behind my life in Berlin and returned to London
What do you believe is a key element in creating a successful embroidery? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Be personal. Don’t try to let what you see other people doing influence you. I just think “would I want that on my wall?” Yes? Then let’s do it!
I now spend a lot of time teaching, but I also make and sell my own embroidery kits for people to do at home or in my classes. These designs are usually colourful, fun and bold. I’m heavily influenced by my misspent youth in East London and Berlin when I dressed in crazy outfits and DJed in underground bars & clubs. I love anything camp, colourful and fun.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Stitch: Embroidery Makes for Your Home and Wardrobe?
I want anyone who sees the book to think “I can do that!” and then to do it! Many people think of embroidery as stuffy and old fashioned. I’m hoping my book will change their perceptions.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Definitely a mix of the both. I have a lot of ideas in my head that knock about for a long time. But when it comes to actually starting, I get impatient and like to start immediately. I often change designs and ideas mid-flow.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I have a lot of equipment and haberdashery in my studio. I have trunks of fabric and boxes of different threads, but wherever I go somewhere, I take my ‘tin of things’, which is a small metal tobacco tin I inherited from my late Grandma. In it are my curved and straight embroidery scissors, goldwork tweezers (long fine tipped tweezers), thimbles, a stiletto (for whitework) and a mellor laying tool (for goldwork). I have a pouch that also contains different measuring tools, larger scissors, needle case, and bee’s wax.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I’m a recent convert to iPad illustration for my design work. It’s so quick and fun! You can change the colours over in a click and it’s also helping the environment as it doesn’t use paper!
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I have a long love affair with music, but now I love to listen to the radio. I find the background chatter comforting. But during lockdown I discovered I could watch the entire collection of ER episodes. As a teenager I would watch it, and the show is still hard hitting and on-point today! I think I’m on season 8 (there are about 23 episodes in each of the 15 seasons). I can have that playing on my laptop whilst I work as it doesn’t really require my full attention!
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
I was once commissioned to embroider a silk waistcoat using silk threads for the High Sheriff of Berkshire. It was my first big commission after graduating and I totally underestimated the time it would take, I said I could do it in 12 days; it in fact took 19. I was getting up at 7am and embroidering until 10pm. There was also a massive snow storm raging outside called the Beast from the East that was really surreal. When one panel was complete I couldn’t celebrate as I knew I had to do the exact same all over again on the other matching panel.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
I think the biggest challenge is to be seen and to be available for the work.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I do feel you are born with creativity, I never stopped creating as a child. I find from teaching that a lot of people are either naturally creative or technically accurate. Of course creativity can grow over time depending on your experiences.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I teach online Day Classes for the for the Royal School of Needlework and more regularly for their Degree course. I teach private classes online through my own website and also make and sell my embroidery kits on Etsy.
Interview posted June 2021
Stitch by Amy Burt, GMC Publications, RRP $14.99, available online and from all good bookshops. Visit their website https://www.gmcbooks.com/ and follow them on Instagram @gmcpublications to learn more.
Browse through more embroidery inspiration and projects on Create Whimsy.