This is an unreliable memory of my conversation with Rosemary McLeod, writer, crafter and author of With bold needle and thread. Unreliable because due to background noise I had abandoned the recorder, which left me to take notes as we talked, which also failed as I became so engrossed and involved with what we were talking about that I forgot to take the notes!
The first question I asked was about the design of the book. If you have seen it you will agree that it is beautiful. Rosemary had a large part to play in what was included from her vast collection of magazines and other collectables. Jane Ussher came to her house and photographed the collection in natural light so that all the colours were true to the original. The care and dedication are evident, it is a book to browse and enjoy.
Rosemary is a collector of art, pottery, tablecloths, tea cosies, books, magazines, fabric … the list goes on. However once art became too expensive to collect, Rosemary realised that she enjoyed collecting the things that no one else valued. This led to the collecting of women’s craft, or applied art, and this in turn led her to realise that she wanted to make the sort of things she was collecting, and to also use the patterns from the women’s magazines as a basis for her craft.
We talked about the process of making craft, how wonderful it is for dealing with stress. Rosemary had with tongue in cheek suggested that the book could have been called “Better than Prozac”!
Rosemary described enjoying the process of working out how to make something and then deciding on the colours and materials to use, often relying on that wonderful crafters ‘Stash’. Can there be anything more satisfying than finding a use for that tiny piece of 195’s cotton that you bought for 50 cents at the school fair in 1980?
I had been curious for a while about why there was the need to decorate the everyday items that were made. Rosemary described a scheme first started in Scotland in the 1930s called the Needlework Development scheme. This project was to encourage a high standard of embroidery. It was disbanded during the war but started up again in 1945 to encourage women to start making and sewing again, possibly because they had been too busy working outside of the home in the war, and it was time to get back to the domestic again. Craft has always however been about meeting up with other women, company and creativity.
I also wondered if many of those women in the earlier years would these days be at art school, which led her to tell me that in the early 1900s embroidery was part of the Christchurch School of Art, and that if I managed to find a copy of The Studio year book of decorative arts that I would be amazed with what it included. If anyone knows anything further about this I would be very interested. Here is a link to some art, including embroidery that was donated to the Macmillan Brown Library at the University of Canterbury.
We talked about colour and how we both like the old fabrics and colour schemes of the time. I especially love her embroidered flower tea cosy with the pastels and gentle colour combinations. We bemoaned the colours of bought felt in New Zealand, garish primary colours, but I am now off to view Ericas.com who Rosemary assures me stock half-tones that are far more pleasing on the eye.
Rosemary has had exhibitions of her own craft work as well as curating a number of other shows depicting applied arts in New Zealand. Alongside all this she writes her weekly columns. Her parting comments to me were that she would like a couple of weeks off just to sit down and plan her next craft project. I hope she gets time soon as hopefully there might be another beautiful book to come out of it.