I'm not always sure what people mean when they say 'hand made'. I was talking to someone recently who said their clothing was all hand-made, because it was guided by hand through a sewing machine - which would make almost all clothing in the entire world 'hand-made'. To me, at least, saying clothing is 'hand' -something is to say it's made by hand in the most basic way possible, where the gesture of the hand is evident in the work left behind. Our hand-spun garments are made from cotton turned into yarn by hand creating an uneven texture. Our hand-woven garments reflect every hand movement including all the little pauses where say a cup of tea was taken on a break. Our hand-dyed garments all have an ever-so slightly different shade, the colour judged by eye and touch. You get the idea.
Hand-embroidery, for us, is possibly the purest reflection of hand-work. Every stitch is a feature and left by the movement of a hand using just a simple needle as a tool. It's fine and artistic work and it takes an incredible amount of time and skill.
When we approach an embroidery design the first step is always to make up a sample - this is almost always done by Katy, but I have been known to do a few too (one, I think).
This is what buyers invariably see at shows and likely what you see too because we shoot our lookbooks with our initial samples. Once we've taken orders for the season we instruct our dye house to begin making the fabric and send on the embroidery sample to the lovely ladies who do the work. From SS17 we began working with a very special set of women who Katy (to my chagrin) calls 'The Embroidery Nuns', even though only one of them is actually a nun. At first it was a slip of the tongue, then it became a habit which she discovered irked me - now its on purpose.
"The Embroidery Nuns" (actually one nun and a lot of non-nuns)
Augusta has been a nun since her youth, and joined the convent while there was still a strong group of French nuns worshipping in the building. In her time she's seen them come and go, though largely go, until several years ago she found herself the last remaining warden of the once fully-stocked nunnery.
Having learned needlework from the original incumbent nun (a Parisian whose name I sadly can't remember) she reached out to the community, inviting in ladies who would otherwise struggle to make a living and simultaneously raise a family, to learn the craft. Before long the nunnery was turned into a series of workrooms and Augusta was able to secure work for the ladies adding embroidered flourishes to tablecloths and clothing.
We had a long chat with her last time we visited - the ladies were used to mainly floral illustrations and had absolutely no idea what on earth our design was. Explaining that it was a wave of bacterial fermentation didn't really help. She also stressed the importance of this kind of work for these ladies, not just as a means of supplementing family income but as a reason to "get dressed up and hang out with other ladies in the town".
This is a theme we see so often with our production, whether it be hand-dyeing, knitting, weaving or embroidery - the community spirit is the happiest byproduct. Those working in and around it feel like they're cultivating a niche, or sharing in a sort of art form no matter how under-appreciated their efforts have been in the past. The craft they practice is like a dying out language - they're the last remaining speakers sharing meaning through a group of sounds incomprehensible to most, but dripping with history, hope and culture. Not to be too grandiose but keeping these precious languages alive is so important, and passing them on to new generations is incredible. The only way we know how to make it attractive is for outfits like us to show these guys and girls how much their work means to us.