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Victorian Arts and Crafts; Interview with Niamh Wimperis #35

In this episode we get behind the scenes of the new British series “The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts”. We interview Niamh Wimperis, who isn’t just the only one in the world with her name, but is also the embroidery representative on the show. It’s a wonderful British series on BBCTWO that honors the Victorian Arts and Crafts movement.

The show is set in the idyllic nature on the border to Wales. Together with five other artists, Niamh was housed in an old Victorian villa for a month of filming. While on set they got to live and work as authentically to the Victorian age as possible. This meant prohibition against phones and TV as well as removal of all the heaters…

Victorian house of arts and crafts, Niamh Wimperis

“I froze so much!”, Niamh recalls.

The show sets out to do everything to get the artists as embraced in the Victorian bubble as possible. Their mission was to recreate original art-pieces the way they would’ve been made back in time. If you’ve seen the show, the work seems to flow quite smoothly. However, Niamh lets us in on the emotional rollercoaster that she experienced while on set.

“In the second week I really suffered from Imposter Syndrom”, she tells us. “I just wanted to make the Victorian needleworkers justice”.

Victorian house of arts and crafts, Niamh Wimperis

Not only did she want to impress the judges, but also make past artists work justice. Niamh is passionate about increasing the respect for embroidery as an art form. Unfortunately it fuelled the pressure that she put on her shoulders. It’s a reality that many creators face in their work and something which can be hard to overcome.

Thanks to the support of the group, Niamh managed to recreate the most magical embroidered curtains. She even won the special recognition of the week. Her design was inspired by the Victorian language of flowers, which was first created by William Morris and John Ruskin, the two founders of the movement. The Victorian era emerged in a time when the British people suffered from bad health and inhuman work hours. Morris and Ruskin wanted to bring back the pride of the handmade. A pride which had gotten lost with mass production and the industrialisation at large.

Embroidery as a political medium

In addition to being used for decoration, embroidery is also a medium with a strong political history. For example the suffragettes used embroidery to stitch political messages on their handkerchiefs. A woman who sat with a pen and a paper would bring a lot of attention. On the other hand, a woman who embroidered would go unnoticed. This allowed for both political activists as well as ordinary maids to share their messages through embroidered text. Niamh recalls a couple of examples in the episode that will give you goosebumps!

To hear the full story, be sure to click play on the recorder below. It is an intriguing discussion about the value of the handmade, embroidery as an historical art form and its role today. We also get an insight into Niamh’s artistic journey and personal relationship to embroidery as a meditative process.

You can follow Niamh on Instagram at @wimperisembroidery and see her website on wimperis.co.uk

If you’re new to embroidery and would like to become a part of this ancient art-form, our online Masterclasses are perfect for you. You find all the information on Charles and Elin Academy.

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