Glenys Grimwood, a Dulwich Society member, and distinguished designer of ecclesiastical vestments talks about her work:
Embroidery has been a major part of my life for over 50 years. I had been introduced to it in primary school but my real interest developed after I passed the entrance examination to the Joseph Wright Junior Art School in Derby. Art, and design, together with craft skills were a central part of the curriculum. I learnt to observe, draw and design which for me form the foundation for a successful piece of embroidery.
After teacher training I taught in north London and several years later began to attend courses run by Constance Howard who was for many years the Head of Embroidery at Goldsmith’s College. She was one of the main influences in my development as a designer and embroiderer. I was involved, together with a group of her former students, in founding The New Embroidery Group in 1968 and have exhibited regularly with the Group.
I developed an interest in ecclesiastical embroidery in the 1980s through studying the history of the subject and then taking a course in contemporary design for church textiles. During the course we were directed to visit our local church, study its main architectural features and design a chasuble and stole incorporating some of these features. I drew inspiration from my own church, St Faith’s, North Dulwich, designing and making a Festal chasuble and stole which the church now owns. This was followed by a commission from St Faith’s church for a green altar frontal which, together with a matching lectern fall, was completed in 1989 and is still in regular use.
In 1987 I was elected a member of The Society of Designer Craftsmen. Shortly after this, some of my early work was seen by Beryl Dean, a prominent ecclesiastical embroiderer. Miss Dean was planning an exhibition which she described in the exhibition catalogue as, ‘The best of British ecclesiastical embroidery gathered from all over the British Isles’. The exhibition, ‘British Ecclesiastical Embroidery Today,’ took place in 1990 in St Paul’s Cathedral. Two pieces of my work were selected, the first was a stole, the second was the St Faith’s altar frontal which was photographed for inclusion in the exhibition catalogue. Later that year I exhibited work in Coventry Cathedral in a Festival of Ecclesiastical Crafts. During the Dulwich Festival in 1993 and again in 2000, I held exhibitions of my commissioned work in St Faith’s Church. The items on show ranged from a red altar frontal loaned by Dunstable Priory Bedfordshire to a festal cope and a set of stoles for St Barnabas Church, Dulwich.
Most of my commissions have come from clergy and churches in south east England. I have had regular commissions for stoles as ordination gifts for new clergy but my main work has been in designing and making vestments and altar frontals for churches. The design is developed in cooperation with the sponsors. It can be inspired by architectural features such as a chancel screen in the church, lettering such as Biblical texts, plants or flowers like the Passion flower. After the details of a commission have been agreed I spend time in the church, photographing the interior and sketching any special features which may provide a basis for the designs. Colours that I plan to use in the commission have to be tested to check that they will show up inside the building.
The Church of England uses a different colour to denote each season in the liturgical year. White is used for festivals such as Easter, purple for Advent and Lent, red for Pentecost and green for general use (known as Ordinary Time). The design and the colours used in the embroidery must be strong enough to be seen at a distance in even the largest church and also provide interesting textural detail close up.
The commission for Christ’s Chapel Dulwich is an example of how the process works. I met the vicar and Chapel representatives in June 2005 to discuss the brief and the budget for a green set to be completed by June 2006. The Set consisted of an altar frontal, pulpit fall, veil and burse, bible marker and a stole. The design was to be based on the cornflower which has associations with Edward Alleyn. This immediately presented a challenge as the colour blue recedes, especially on a green background.
My first task was to select a suitable green fabric for the set. I chose a silk fabric similar in shade to the green in the stained glass window above the altar because it would stand out clearly against the oak panelling of the altar and the surrounding walls. I could then plan the design and started by drawing cornflowers and analysing the colour of the petals and leaves. A visit to the De Morgan museum in Putney to study the repeat patterns on the ceramic tiles gave me the foundation for the final design which was worked as a repeat pattern along the frontal, enlarged for the top of the pulpit fall and scaled down for the smaller items. The final designs were drawn quarter scale on A1-size cartridge paper.
Samples of the design were then worked in fabric and thread. Bright blue and mauve silk was used for the cornflowers which were outlined in pale mauve rayon thread with additional edging in silver and gold. The leaves were worked in a multi-shaded green rayon thread. All the embroidery was stitched by machine. The design, together with the embroidery samples was then submitted to the Chapel representatives in October 2005. They accepted the designs and sent them to the Southwark Diocesan Advisory Committee for its approval and by December 2005 the designs had been officially approved and returned. I then had six months in which to embroider and make up the set.
This commission and my next one for Holy Trinity, Wimbledon, were examples of the commissioning process working well. Communication was good. Both churches knew what they wanted but were willing to take advice. My designs were scrutinised, approved and sent to the diocese without delay. I was able to begin the embroidery while the designs were still fresh in my mind. Not all commissions proceed so smoothly!