July 14, 2015

Diary of an Intern: Julia at Hand and Lock

Some weeks have passed since I completed my internship at Hand & Lock. Now I am back to my old routine in cosy Amsterdam and the hustle and bustle of central London feels a million miles away. The exceptional experience I had during the last few months at Hand & Lock has given me a far greater understanding of the industry of couture embellishment and in particular the various items that embroidery is applied to. Of course, with great effort I managed to pick up new techniques and am at a stage where the more you learn, the more you realise how much you don't know. It is the skill and mastery of craftspeople that I admire so much.

Embroidery belongs to a rich and diverse history which spans across the globe. The spirit of cultures expressed through distinct motifs, designs and even the technique applied leaves traces of a geographical location and tradition. Threads of a memory weave through the fabric, the material worked with the hand, each piece unique, telling a silent story. Perhaps this is an aspect of the handwork which makes it so appealing to both creator and observer alike; the human interaction in creating beauty and art. It is interesting to map how an ageing art form such as embroidery remains fresh and relevant today. Contemporary embroidery reflects and interprets modern day culture and society through themes and style.

German philosopher Immanuel Kant stated that 'the hand is the window on to the mind'. In his book The Craftsman, Richard Sennett discusses this theory that 'making is thinking'. Sennett explains that because hands are our most versatile and dexterous limbs that we can acquire vast and detailed knowledge by using them directly to learn a new skill. The process has a string of steps from initial exploration led by natural inclination, followed by repetition to a point of understanding and confidence in the technique which can then be developed and mastered. Sennett believes that we are all intrinsically Craftsmen or Craftspeople and that it is inherent in us to take pride in doing something well, whether it's baking brownies or developing an app for the smart phone.

This mastery of technique occasionally conflicts with today's fast paced world as it requires a more meditative approach, one of patience and perseverance. Centuries ago Hand & Lock was one of the many ateliers where students would embark in an apprenticeship. Often it could be years before the apprentices were considered competent and on course to becoming a master. 

Continuing with tradition with a modern twist Hand & Lock are currently holding their annual Festival of Embroidery which is a celebration of all things embellished. Industry professionals are lecturing about lots of topical subjects and a variety of specialised workshops are held at the historical atelier.

With communities across the world interacting through the ease of the web, as here on Feeling Stitchy, a new kind of learning is possible. People passing on skills, discussing technique, giving feedback and talking about their experience helps us all become the craftsperson that we are at heart.

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