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Everything you need to know about embroidery course tutor, Susie Finlayson

An example of what a student could learn during an embroidery course. It features a rectangular canvas on a blue background and the canvas had a purple Paisley pear with purple and turquoise flowers.
An example of what you could learn during an embroidery course

From the very start, people wanted to see an embroidery course here at Gartmore House. From 2022, we’re delighted to include it on our course programme and to get people stitching! Susie Finlayson is an experienced embroidery tutor and has been teaching her craft for many years. We had the chance for a catch up with recently to pick her brains about her crafting experience.

1. How did you get first get into embroidery?

My granny taught me to knit before I went to school and she helped me with some needlepoint kits. She was a real sticker for the back being as neat as the front! When I was around ten, I took up cross stitch. It became my go-to craft to relax when I was a student and throughout my working life. Giving up full-time work and having the opportunity to get involved with the Great Tapestry of Scotland in 2012 introduced me to what I thought of as ‘proper’ embroidery. It was absolutely incredible. I never thought I’d be able to do it but a lot of encouragement from Dorie Wilkie got me started and I’ve never looked back! A whole new world opened up to me and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.

2. Has there been a particular project that taught you something unexpected?

I feel like I am constantly learning, especially when groups of people get together to stitch. There’s something about the rhythm of stitching that seems to relax people and often inhibitions go by the wayside. While running my embroidery course, I’ve learned everything from how to remove blood from fabric, to which particular participant had a crush on the local GP!

3. What project are you most proud of and why?

I suppose most people expect me to say that I’m most proud of my work on The Great Tapestry of Scotland and the new Welcome Panel. In fact, I’m prouder of the crewelwork piece I completed for my first module for the RSN Certificate in Technical Hand Embroidery. It was such an intense process from design, drawing, stitching and mounting that I didn’t think I would ever finish it but Helen McCook and everyone at RSN Glasgow was so encouraging and supportive. I look at the finished piece and I know how much blood, sweat and tears went into it (real blood on one occasion) and even though it may not be perfect it means a huge amount to me.

4. Who or what are your biggest inspirations?

I can’t think that there is any one thing that inspires me – I don’t think of myself as being particularly artistic (I was pretty much told never to darken the door of the Art department at school after it was no longer compulsory!) – but I do take a lot of photos on my phone of random things that catch my eye. Perhaps a shape, colour or texture. Maybe a pattern on wallpaper or cloud formations. My phone is full of seemingly random images which i go back to and often use as the basis for designs. I find myself more of then not looking at something and almost

5. Do you have any favourite techniques that crop up again and again in your work?

Embroidery is such a huge area that there always seem to be new techniques to try but I often return to crewelwork. I find the wool very forgiving when it comes to shading and blending and I love the feel of drum tight linen twill in a hoop or on a frame.

6. What are the common misconceptions about embroidery?

Many people have the impression that embroidery is a past-time for genteel older ladies but there are amazing textile artists out there using embroidery in some brilliant, innovative ways. From creative darning to political statements, beautifully intricate gold work, to cross stitch on industrial fencing, it’s a fabulous craft that can be adapted to many different situations.

7. What would you say drew you to teaching embroidery courses?

I have absolutely no idea! I can’t actually remember how my first embroidery course came about but I do know that I now get so much enjoyment from being with people, helping beginners overcome any initial nervousness and proving to people that they can create something beautiful that I can’t imagine doing anything else. During lockdown, I missed teaching the most. So many people come along doubting their own abilities and there is real satisfaction when someone masters a stitch they’ve struggled with or heads home at the end of the day having actually finished something they are proud of (lets face it, we’ve all got one of those drawers at home full of UFOs from craft classes!).

8. What would you say to someone curious about trying your craft for the first time? What should they know before they start?

Embroidery doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive – it can be what you want it to be. And just because you couldn’t do it at school, please don’t think that it means you’ll never be able to master it! There are so many different techniques, just come along with an open mind and give them a go! There’s bound to be something that you like!


And there you have it! Thank you to Susie for taking the time to talk to us and giving us such a lovely look into the world of embroidery. We can’t wait to see what kind of magic comes out of her next embroidery course.


For more information on Gartmore House’s embroidery course visit the course page or contact the team directly.
m: mail@gartmorehouse.com
t: 01877382991

Patchwork quilts and their storytelling potential in Alias Grace

A washing line full of brightly patterned patchwork quilts. Two women hang them up while snow covered the ground.
Patchwork quilts hung up to dry

When you first start watching ‘Alias Grace’, the Netflix adaptation of the novel by the same name by Margaret Atwood, you might not expect a crafting element. Perhaps you expect a murder mystery? Or a deep dive into life as an Irish immigrant in Canada in the 1800s? But it soon becomes clear that’s there’s more to this story than meets the eye and patchwork quilts play a key role.

‘Alias Grace’ fictionalises the story of Grace Marks, a woman accused of murdering her master, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, in 1843. Grace is serving a life sentence when the story begins but a group of social reformers believe she’s innocent and task Dr Simon Jordan with proving it.

So where do patchwork quilts come in?

Well, from the very first episode, we see an emphasis put on patchwork quilts and sewing. During each of Grace’s sessions with Dr. Jordan, she sews, and more specifically, she sews quilts. Why does this matter? In short, the series stitches her life together. We follow her story from her immigration to Canada, through her first jobs, the murders, and everything that comes after. There’s a particular focus on her relationship with Mary Whitney, her first true friend, and Nancy Montgomery. It’s a mystery that, even by the very last episode, still has you guessing. Is Grace a ‘murderess’ or a wrongfully accused victim? We don’t know.

At the beginning, Grace sews a log cabin quilt. It’s one of the first patchwork quilts she sews with its distinctive red square in the middle. Light and dark patches surround each red square, and it is rife with symbolism in the context of the story. In many ways, it could be taken as the truth of the situation, while the white and black rectangles around it are the lies and half-truths Grace feeds Dr Jordan about her life. She stiches them together until they are inseparable and one cannot be extracted from other.

In the book, the quilt metaphor is much stronger. The narrative weaves its way between Grace’s point of view as she tells her story and Dr Jordan’s point of view as he attempts to untangle the truth, layering their present with tales of the past. In amongst this, are poems and new articles that offer yet more perspectives on the murders and those involved. Much like a patchwork quilt, these different elements are stitched together to create a fascinating whole that can’t simply be broken down into its individual parts.

A modern patchwork quilt

Quilts as storytelling

Even in the series, the quilts of Alias Grace function as form of storytelling. They’re a way of preserving history, but more specifically, women’s history, since women traditionally did much of the sewing within a household. According to Grace, a woman should make three quilts before she’s married: a Tree of Paradise, a Flower Basket, and a Pandora’s Box. Although, some versions of this truism replace the Pandora’s Box with a Double Wedding Ring quilt. Thanks to its complicated twists and turns, it’s supposed give the maker all the skills she needs for running a household!

A tree of paradise quilt with a border of snakes and the three triangles of fabric from the three main women in the story.
Grace’s quilt she chooses for herself at the end of the series

Grace spends most of the series sewing for other people. But with her release, comes the opportunity to sew her own quilt. She chooses a Tree of Paradise. Snakes twist around the edges of a huge, eye-catching tree. And in the middle, Grace uses three triangles of saved fabric that connects her with the other two most important women in her story; her friend, Mary Whitney, and the woman she may have murdered, Nancy Montgomery. She preserves their story, and her truth, in her quilt. So although we don’t find out what really happened, we see Grace take ownership of her story. Even if it is just for herself.

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