A Bit of History.....

The Very Beginning

The Guild was started on the 21st October, 2000 at a meeting held in Airfield Dining Room. At the time, Airfield had not long been taken over by the OPW, and consisted of the Main House and its gardens (and dilapidated glasshouse), a large garage for the Overend family's cars, the farm and outbuildings...and most importantly for the Guild, a brand new classroom/workshop block barely completed as we met for the first time!

The choosing of a name, its affiliations, basic structure (as determined by a draft Constitution and Rules!) and a Committee were all decided on that day...the programme and activities to be sorted out by the Committee and notified to our new members for the 1st December. It was small, but efficiently organised by the following enthusiasts....

Chairman: Deborah Wilson

Secretary: Jackie Hayes

Treasurer: Kathy Giles

Programme Officer: Rosemary MacCarthy-Morrogh

Membership Secretary: Kay Mellor

Librarian: Anne Jeffares

The Guild was started in response to the Dublin Embroiderers' Guild who concentrated on handwork (So, no machine embroidery!), and their meetings consisted of 2-hour classes taught by a few regulars, and a social table where those just wanting to stitch and chat could sit together and work on individual projects. Some of the members wanted a more dynamic programme to include talks, longer workshops, and the encouragement of innovative ideas and techniques. Thus, the new "Irish Guild of Embroiderers" was set up, and the meetings were to run along the lines of the Irish Patchwork Society (Eastern Branch) format. That included tea/coffee and chat while members gathered, had a browse of the library and buy various supplies brought by different travelling shops, before Notices, an "Enlightenment” –an Inspiration and Help session (!), and the main item - a talk. In those days it was more likely to be a slide show, or with artefacts, whereas now it is usually a PowerPoint talk! Other recent improvements, with the move to Mount Merrion are an amplification system and good blackout! The Guild has been blessed with some fantastic, dedicated committee folk, and very supportive members....and it has grown from an initial 23 members to something between 92 and 110 members (numbers fluctuate a little...and our monthly turn-out is usually around 40!) We also don't have a "shop" regularly, but nowadays many buy their supplies online anyway!

The first year’s programme began on 2nd December 2000, with a dynamic and unusual felt-making demonstration by Elizabeth Bonnar. The 6th January meeting was centred on a talk by Veronica Rowe on Limerick Lace with many examples from her family’s extensive collection, and was followed by a felt-making workshop by Rosemary MacCarthy-Morrogh. Our February meeting in Collins Barracks had to be rescheduled to a week later than normal and to 10th March, due Luas building works, but Mairead Dunleavy however did us proud! Luckily though, Ann Fleeton’s dyeing workshop went ahead (in February). In March, Foot and Mouth disease closed farms like Airfield but we found another temporary home in Rochestown Lodge Hotel for a wonderful talk (on the 3rd!) by Grainne McElligott and a silk-painting workshop by Deborah Wilson.…. and then in April we were able to be back in Airfield. Jane Almqvist gave a talk on her visit to China with the Irish-Chinese Cultural Society, and showed us many samples of Chinese silk embroidery and brought delicious Chinese tea for our delectation! The season’s programme concluded in May with a talk and workshop on design by Eileen France.

Before our first full meeting, Jackie Hayes produced the first of our quarterly Newsletters announcing our Programme. Subsequent Newsletters also had write-ups about the previous quarter’s Talks and Workshops, and included Product Reviews, Book Reviews, and notices about exhibitions and competitions nationally and internationally.…. and in the third edition, proudly announced that the Guild had decided to join the Crafts Council of Ireland!

In April, the Library was started up with most books donated by members, and some from the estate of Doreen Kelliher. The subscription was £5 to join, and members had to pay £1 per month for keeping out books after the next meeting!

Also in 2001 the Guild held its first exhibition (in Airfield House….where else but in the old Dining Room, on the 1st May!) on foot of which Dr. Brian Dornan asked that a special piece of artwork might be created and presented to Airfield House to mark this auspicious occasion. This was to be our second collaboration and details of both are recorded below!

It was a frenetic start....I am amazed at what was packed in to those first 6 months...and all credit must go to the hard work of every member of that Committee.

And then.....

From the start, the Guild wanted to encourage joint projects by our members. The first (completed by May of 2001) was a book cover for our photographs of meetings and exhibitions. The theme “Fire, Air, Earth and Water” was expressed by willing participants choosing one of the design sections and embellishing it in whatever technique they liked….hand, machine, felting, layering, applique…and more! Our grateful thanks went to Mary O’Reilly for creating the spine, and joining the covers together to finish the project after several of the Committee stitched/patchworked the sections together (Deborah had designed the cover, and had not considered how these would be put together, so it was not easy!) The book cover formed part of our first exhibition which opened on the 1st May.

The organisation of the 2001 exhibition was done by Rosemary MacCarthy-Morrogh, but included as well, bits done by most of the Committee, and the hanging of it was with the help of Tess Flynn, Elaine Payne, Mary Timmons, Ann Turpin, and Ann Killeen! A huge amount of work had gone in to finding an experienced but not local judge, sorting the catalogue, finding a sponsor and chiefly, in hanging the exhibition! Following the exhibition Irene McWilliam wrote a very informative piece for our Newsletter on what judges need to make initial (and even final) decisions on what pieces should be selected. (Much depends on good photographs at first, but then, knowing the space which will hold the exhibition, and seeing the overall look of those selected, may mean eliminating excellent pieces just because “they don’t fit in”!)

The first AGM was held in September, when we had to explain to our members about the switch over to the Euro! We were delighted that our efforts in 2000-2001 had a great response and in our second year of operations our membership rose to 55. Our Autumn programme included talks by Sister Nora Davey about her time in Peru, Helen McAllister about her embroidered shoes (followed by a workshop on machine embroidery), and by Allie Kay. 2002 started with a Guild “Stitch-in Day”, a talk by Fiona O’Farrell on her travels in South-East Asia, a talk and workshop by Mary Timmons and Ann Turpin, concluding with a talk and workshop by Seamus McGinness. We also had a visit from the Liss and Petersfield Branches of Embroiderers’ Guild (UK) in April, and, after attending our meeting, they did some sightseeing (to a programme suggested by the Committee) in Dublin.

Throughout this period Sulky (now Gutermann-Sulky) sponsored various prizes to give to the Guild members as thank-yous and incentives, and products for us to test. We also had some donated by Madeira Threads. The Woollen Mills also provided financial support by way of advertising in the Newsletter.

During the Autumn of 2001, Deborah Wilson introduced “The Chairman’s Challenge” to encourage the exploration of stitches; those who succumbed to entreaty and produced samples were Ann Higgins, Maree Maher and Lucinda Jacob, and there Inspiration Boards produced by Ulla Brandmuller and Kari Rosvall.

The major innovation in the Spring of 2002 was the first of our Avondale Stitch Retreats. The idea of them was to have a friendly long weekend away where individuals worked on their own projects, with maybe some input from the others there, but with no formal tuition and were first suggested by Monica Tierney.

During the Autumn, Suzanne Martin and Deborah Wilson went down to Avondale, near Rathdrum in Co. Wicklow to meet with Jean Costello who ran the OPW property, to see what we might arrange and how it would work. However, during February, Avondale had suffered burst pipes and leaks from the freezing weather, but we were assured the Retreat could still go ahead on 7th-9th March, 2002. The 12 who turned up found the single rooms (with basin!), heated workroom, a general sitting room (where we could watch television) and small kitchenette great fun. Not so entertaining were the showers…the water was hot, but the room icy, and the shower heads had been designed for 7-foot tall foresters (men!), and it was all rather Spartan! The food however will live in our memories (and on our waistlines) forever! Serving us with all home-made food, 3-course dinners, after a full cooked-breakfast, coffee and scones, we then were served tea and cakes, and then supper(!!) the staff couldn’t do enough to fill us….it was amazing that after meals we could actually waddle back to our classroom, but it did encourage us to go for long walks, and explore the beautiful parkland! In her article on our long weekend away Maree Maher noted the projects included silk embroidery, crewel work, metallic thread quilting, bobbin lace, felting, soft-sculpting, dyeing, and machine embroidery. (She left out the bit about dancing, listening to music and chatting til late into the night!!) It was certainly very enjoyable and thereafter repeated annually until Avondale closed its doors to events like this!

Our second major collaboration (which began in the January of 2002) was the “Airfield Hanging”. Rosemary MacCarthy-Morrogh and Deborah Wilson prepared all the squares of linen, adding the 2 skeins of green thread, with instructions to incorporate Fly Stitch and French Knots (included for cohesion) to the packs, for members to embroider a piece inspired by Airfield. Maura Lynch co-ordinated members (Mary O’Reilly, Mary-Rose Timmons, Ann Turpin, Tess Flynn, Brid McCabe, Maura Lynch and Deborah Wilson) to stretch and mount all the squares, and Jane Almqvist and Kerry Pocock chose the best layout for the pieces donated. The selected 24 embroideries (4 frames of 6 pieces) were mounted in box frames, and the other 2 pieces didn’t “fit” with any of the rest so were set aside. Lucinda Jacob wrote a poem for it.



“Embroidery at Airfield” by Lucinda Jacob, 20th January, 2004


Some air

Some fields

A house

A garden

Some ladies;

We breathe it all in

And call it inspiration

At this time, the Committee had comprised Chairman Deborah Wilson, Secretary Jackie Hayes, Treasurer Suzanne Martin, Events Organiser Rosemary MacCarthy-Morrogh, Membership Secretary Mary Heseltine, and Librarian Anne Jeffares. The Airfield Hanging was not completed until after the AGM of 2003, (by which time the Committee had changed almost completely) and was eventually handed over in 2004! When the Guild was asked to find other premises, the Hanging was still displayed in Airfield House, however the new management then found it inappropriate in the new way the House was presented, and it was returned to us for our 10th Anniversary exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching Show.

The AGM of 2002 saw a new Committee line-up with Ulla Brandmuller taking over as Secretary, Maura Lynch as Treasurer, and Elaine Daly as Events Organiser.

Special mention should be made here of the invaluable work done by Kari Rosvall and her husband on helping with the EG (UK) website, and then setting up the Guild’s own website.

The Programme for the year 2002-3 included talks and workshops by Ann Fleeton, Richard Box (“Drawing for the Truly Terrified”), Mary Ann Ryan (“Smocking”), Patricia Curran (on Composition), and Eileen France (“Finishing your Work and Presenting it for Exhibition”), a Stitch-in Day with demonstrations by Stacy Nielson and Nellie O’Cleirigh, and a new “Dirty” Day (trying out new and messy techniques). In May the 2003 exhibition (under the auspices of Myriam Broadhead) “The Embroiderers’ Guild Presents….” was held. By this time, our membership had risen to 76!

In 2003 Bronwen Murray and Deirdre Moriarty took on leading the Guild, Fiona O’Farrell took over as Librarian, Sheila Rush became Editor of the Newsletter, and Catherine Cardiff took on role of Membership Secretary.

* * * * *

From the earliest days, it was decided the Guild should be affiliated to the Embroiderers’ Guild (UK) so members could avail of the insurance policy, library books (though the system meant returning books swiftly, and postage was erratic and expensive), reduced magazine subscriptions, and loan of folios (later we learned that as none are permitted to be sent outside mainland UK, we could not actually borrow any, but UK islands - and NI - can’t borrow them either!) EG also had a web presence which we enthusiastically subscribed to, and this led on to an amazing opportunity in 2004!

Turid Uthaug, a Danish weaver, had done some research in Suzhou, China and had set up small classes for weavers and embroiderers to take place twice a year (depending on numbers) in Spring and Autumn. She advertised her courses by contacting all those branches with contact email addresses on the EG website. The then Chairman Deborah Wilson, an enthusiastic hand-embroiderer, offered to organise for those wanting to try out Chinese Silk Embroidery techniques, to join her in September 2004. Little did she expect 18 to sign up (though only 14 travelled in the end), one of whom wanted to learn silk-painting techniques (and actually, also had tuition in some Chinese water-colour techniques too!) It was a marvellous experience, 9 learning a variety of embroidery skills, and of these 6 were to go again in 2006! Turid doesn’t organise the classes anymore, and sadly Zhang YuYing (the teacher) is now in her 80s and doesn’t undertake the class teaching anymore.

* * * * *

Unfortunately, around 2007, we discovered by chance, that the insurance we were paying for, didn’t actually pay out overseas claims, so we had to find another underwriter, and review our affiliation. When the EG got into financial difficulties and wanted all funds from branches to be paid over to the organisation, the Guild members voted to rescind its affiliation on the grounds that we had been given no support when setting up, the insurance was invalid and none of the services offered could be used here, and it was costing us half our membership fees! (It is interesting to note that the Northern Ireland Branch learned their insurance through EG (UK) was invalid at the same time, and also left the mainland Guild then too.)

However, the Irish Guild of Embroiderers continued to meet at Airfield until the development programme, concentrating on a more educational outreach agenda to schools, and the running of other courses, clashed with our time-slots in the classroom, and we had to find a new home! Jackie Hayes suggested we try St. Therese’s Community Centre in Mount Merrion…and we’ve been there ever since!