This month editor Nicky Sherwood headed to the Penzance studio of textile accessories designer Poppy Treffry to learn the art of freehand machine embroidery.
I’ve long been a fan of textile designer Poppy Treffry’s work, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to learn her distinctive freehand machine embroidery technique on this fun and creative course in her Cornwall studio.
Last time I visited Poppy for our Meet The Maker interview she was based in an old merchant’s warehouse in the fishing village of Newlyn, with a view of St Michael’s Mount. Two years on and with her textile accessories business booming, she’s moved down the road to a new larger unit in Penzance which allows plenty of space for her to run workshops alongside her thriving retail and wholesale business, and the shop she opened last year in St Ives.
On arrival at the studio, after the all-important tea and homemade cake, we got straight down to work. Poppy demonstrated the vintage sewing machines that we would be working with, before handing us a piece of fabric stretched across an embroidery hoop and encouraging us to have a go ourselves.
It took a little time to get a feel for the movement and the tension required, and it was very odd at first being able to move the fabric from side to side, rather than simply feeding the fabric through from front to back. After a bit of freehand ‘doodling’, we started to add some pieces of applique fabric and played around with design ideas.
Next Poppy demonstrated how to do lettering, making it look effortless as she deftly traced the script. Then it was our turn and as I suspected it was a lot harder than it looked! I tried my best to move smoothly and confidently, but to no avail – the machine ran away with me and my letters jerked and jumped across the fabric. I now empathise with my five year old son learning to form his joined-up letters. This is definitely a technique which requires plenty of practice…
After a few trial runs, it was time to choose what we’d be making for our finished pieces, and I decided upon an applique cushion cover. On my drive down to Penzance that morning, I’d seen a hot air balloon drifting across the blue Cornish sky and decided that this would be my motif for the day. I carefully selected the fabrics I wanted to use for the bright balloons and laid them out, ready to be sewn into place.
Before long it was time for lunch and we headed down the road to Trereife House, a beautiful centuries-old private estate owned by the Le Grice family, where we were served a delicious lunch of red mullet followed by caramel meringue in the cosy private dining room – a real treat in itself.
After lunch it was straight back to work, and the first task was to start sewing on our applique pieces. I started a bit stiffly, but soon relaxed as I applied each piece of fabric and my design started to take shape.
Then it was time to add the lettering. I dithered whether or not to do it as I was worried I might spoil all of the the work I’d already done. But after several practice runs, I held my breath and went for it. Fortunately it went better than my initial efforts so the practice must have paid off.
Once my design was complete, there was just enough time to sew on the back of my cushion cover and insert a pad, before adding my creation to the display of finished pieces on the sofa. My fellow students had created an array of beautiful bags, tea cosies and cushions and we proudly lined them up for a photo shoot.
The day passed in an absolute flash with just the sound of the old Singers whirring away as we busily concentrated on our work, with just the occasional break for tea and cake. Poppy was always on hand, cheerfully buzzing from machine to machine, offering ideas, advice and plenty of inspiration.
Her signature technique of using the sewing machine to ‘draw’ as if you were using a pencil takes a bit of practice, but once mastered it is immensely satisfying and opens up a whole host of creative possibilities, as can be seen from the diversity of my fellow students’ work.
All in all, this is a fantastic day out for anyone interested in learning an unusual and very creative sewing technique, and best of all you don’t need to be an experienced seamstress to have a go.
Poppy is undeniably the go-to expert when it comes to freehand machine embroidery, and is increasingly busy with her various design projects, including a second book on the technique which is due out soon.
So if you’re a fan, and are keen to learn from the lady herself, I suggest you book your next holiday in Cornwall, pack the kids off to the beach, and make a beeline for Poppy’s Penzance studio.
Find out more about freehand machine embroidery courses with Poppy Treffry at www.poppytreffry.co.uk/making-hab/courses
Take a look at Poppy’s brand new book…
Get creative with your sewing machine and learn the secrets of freehand machine embroidery. Poppy Treffry shares her design ideas and top tips for getting the most from your sewing machine and shows you how to make fun and original gifts for friends and family using these quick and easy techniques. Freehand Machine Embroidery: Learn to draw with your sewing machine by Poppy Treffry
You can also find Poppy’s first book here… Free and Easy Stitch Style by Poppy Treffry
This treasure trove of projects includes cushions, curtains and accessories such as handbags and purses to show off your sewing in style. Simple step-by-step instructions, illustrations and photographs are combined with a fresh and funky design mean that ‘Free & Easy Stitch Style’ is bursting with needlecrafting personality and creativity!
Watch the video…
See Poppy in action and hear what students say about this inspiring workshop.
If you run a creative course that you think our readers would be interested in reading about, do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.