Rosemary Drysdale can’t imagine her life without stitch. It’s in her genes. Her British mother and grandfather are from a long line of tailors; her Scottish grandparents, and generations before them, were avid knitters. Surrounded by fabrics, yarns, needles and threads from a very early age, she really has no memory of learning how to embroider, sew or knit. She just seemed to absorb it all by osmosis.
When did you first start to embroider and what was the first thing you made?
My parents were tailors, so I can’t remember not having a needle and thread in my hands! I spent hours watching my mother work and was able to pick up so much from her. When my fingers could work with a needle, around age 5, I was able to start on my own.
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Once I went to school, where we are all taught embroidery, my teacher taught me those stitches that my mother didn’t use in her work. My first projects were embroidering on home items—pretty flowers on serviettes and pillowcases; then I moved on to the ubiquitous apron we all made in school.
I was always surrounded by all the accoutrements of the trade; my mother taught me much more than what we learned in class. This fostered my true love for these crafts. Additionally, I learned needlework every year through school. Eventually, I went to college to study textiles and embroidery, which seemed like the natural progression of my life.
You’ve made a long career out of your love for embroidery. How did that happen?
While studying needlework in college I also trained as a teacher. After college, I relocated from England to the United States, where embroidery was experiencing a huge resurgence in popularity. It was such an exciting time. My first job was as an embroidery teacher on Nantucket, an idyllic island off the coast of Massachusetts with a whaling past and a pronounced Anglo-American heritage.
From there I moved to New York and worked as an embroidery designer. My designs were published and sold to embroiderers looking for patterns. Eventually, I became the global embroidery designer for fabrics and embroidery for a European fabric manufacturer and traveled the world teaching workshops and classes. I was known for my cross stitch, blackwork and pulled thread books and brochures—these being my favourite types of stitchery.
What inspires you to create?
Nature. I work in a beautiful studio overlooking my garden, and there are always birds stopping by and gorgeous flowers in the spring and summer.
My husband built it for me many years ago. It’s very organized with a big table for blocking and working. And it’s so very quiet and peaceful. I also live quite close to the ocean where I take long walks year around. With the changing seasons there is always so much to be inspired by.
Did you start stitching from patterns, or did you create your own designs from the start?
I’ve always made up my own patterns. Even as a small child I would sketch flowers and colour them in, then stitch them onto fabric. In my career I was exposed to everything new and trending; so I got to be really involved with cutting-edge materials and design. This exposure led me to see where micro and macro trends were moving to and what was emerging. I was both a leader and a follower, which was unique at that time, and similar to what is happening now with the influence of social media.
As well, I have always loved nature, which has inspired me no matter where in the world I have lived. I have a deep respect for the traditions that have been passed down to us from so many generations. The place in the world that inspires me most is the embroidery archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Do you see a trend among younger stitchers picking up needlearts such as embroidery and knitting? What kinds of projects do they choose to work on?
I follow new designers on Instagram and Pinterest and am inspired by the really vibrant work happening now. I love to see a renewed interest in things made by hand. And I love the quirky designs that are showing up that are relevant to a younger audience. My daughter is great at keeping my eye tuned to what is happening right now!
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Weekend Makes: Hoop Embroidery?
I deeply hope that readers will try something new and find the joy and relaxation that comes with creating with their hands. The designs are fun and simplistic enough that a new stitcher can create something quickly while learning just the basic techniques. So I hope that one easy successful project turns someone into a life-long embroiderer.
What is your favorite technique for transferring your embroidery designs to fabric?
I love to use a light box. A window works too!
Hoop? Or no hoop? Why?
That depends! Some pieces work better in a hoop, especially freehand embroidery. Others are better out of a hoop, particularly counted thread work.
In your opinion, what are the essential supplies a beginner embroiderer should invest in? Which stitches do you think a beginner stitcher should start with and why?
First and foremost, don’t skimp on quality. Fabric should be the best you can afford. Branded threads. A small pair of sharp scissors and a variety of needles. Running stitch is by far the easiest, so it gets results quickly. Satin stitch is also easy and is great for coloring in shapes.
How does knitting fit into your career?
When the interest in embroidery began to wane, I took up knitting again as it was gaining in popularity.
For many years I owned a small knitting store in East Hampton, NY, where I now live. I loved teaching new knitters and providing yarn and inspiration for the local residents. At the same time, I was a contributing editor to Vogue Knitting magazine. So I travelled regularly to New York City to work on magazine issues and contribute to books.
I created hundreds of knitting designs for various publications, and authored several books. The best-selling title is Entrelac, about my favourite knitting technique. Over the last 10 years I’ve taught hundreds of people how to knit entrelac at Vogue Knitting LIVE!
Teaching has always been my first love. I enjoy seeing the pleasure the students get when they master a new stitch or technique. I encourage them to be as creative as possible and find the joy in working with their hands.
What projects would you suggest to a beginner knitter? Do you have specific patterns you would recommend?
Start with either a hat or cowl, or a scarf. Don’t start knitting with a garment that needs to fit. Also try something that you will finish quickly.
Tension can be a challenge. What suggestions do you have for a beginner knitter to get their knitting tension ‘just right’ for a project? Not too tight, not too loose.
Practice. Practice. Then practice some more. That’s seriously all it’s about.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Some people are more creative than others, and it’s usually an innate talent. I think people can learn techniques and be very good makers, but not necessarily be able to invent. That creativity might come with making it their own with personal colour choices. Or they might make slight changes to an original design. I love when I see my designs personalized. It means I’ve stimulated thought and inventiveness and I love that!
Do you lecture or teach workshops? What do you enjoy most about teaching?
After many years of teaching and traveling all over the world, I only teach locally now. I love seeing the pleasure of students when they learn a new technique and seeing them creating something. And I love it when they challenge themselves, conquer any fears they may have and are inspired to keep creating.
Teaching has always been my first love. Students are so happy when they master a new stitch or technique. So I encourage them to be as creative as possible and find the joy in working with their hands.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I prefer to design in silence in my studio where this is a lot of light. In the summer that silence is filled with birds and insects and it’s the perfect background for me. When I do mindless knitting or stitching, I’m happy to watch TV. I prefer British television, even after all these years!
What’s in your future?
I still work in the industry, so I have little time for anything but commissions and a few local classes.
I have found great joy designing and stitching the designs for this book. It was a pleasure to pick up my needle, sort through amazing, colored threads and work on beautiful fabrics. I felt so fulfilled and relaxed and at peace with my embroidery. I love to see this medium flourish yet again. And I am so happy to be contributing to the medium I love.
Updates from Rosemary Drysdale, April 2022
What inspired you to write 100 Mini Cross Stitch Designs?
I have always loved cross stitch, and I have been a cross stitch designer for many years. When the publisher suggested this book, I loved the idea of creating smaller motifs that are quick to make and easy enough for beginners to get into. We decided to show most of the motifs in embroidery hoops. This means you can stitch them in the hoop, quickly finish the back and you are done. Immediately you have a gift, or something you can hang on the wall.
What should newcomers to cross stitch look for in a beginning project?
Look for a project that is small, with minimal colors and less detail. That way there’s less threads to begin and end, and the stitcher can concentrate on perfecting their stitches before they tackle something a little more challenging.
What makes cross stitch unique among the embroidery arts?
Cross stitches are like pixels. Each stitch fills a square with a single color, meaning that any picture can become a cross stitch design. It has so much versatility because it’s simply one stitch repeated, and anyone can do it. Historically, it’s really interesting how different cultures used cross stitches in unique ways—particularly in folk art designs and colonial-style samplers where young girls learned their alphabet.
What is the most complex cross stitch embroidery you have ever done?
Once I designed a tablecloth that had separate sections filled with blooming flowers. The complexity comes about in the design process with getting the shading to look as realistic as possible. Once I chart that and select the colors, the stitching itself just follows a chart. Luckily color families in threads come in many shades so that the colors appear to blend.
Do you have a go-to project when you want to make something quick and easy?
My favorites are sachets and Christmas ornaments. A quick motif stitched onto linen, then hand-sewn into a bag, is filled with a pillow of lavender or potpourri, then tied with a ribbon. Everyone loves putting these into drawers, and they always appreciate them as gifts. I like to make little Christmas ornaments and tie them on to gifts so in the following years they will be added to someone’s tree.
Interview with Rosemary Drysdale posted December 2020, updated April 2022
GMC Publications publishes a diverse range of craft & lifestyle books for all skill levels, written by expert authors with full-colour photographs and step-by-step illustrations, from basic ‘how-to’ to technical guides and creative projects.
Each volume in the Weekend Makes series presents 25 quick and easy projects, including Crocheted Toys, Hoop Embroidery, Patchwork, Punch Needle, Simple Appliqué and Stash Knitting. Visit their website https://www.gmcbooks.com/ and follow them on Instagram @gmcpublications to learn more.
Browse through more hand embroidery inspiration and projects on Create Whimsy.