Exquisite embroidery since 2009: an interview with Jenny Adin-Christie

28 October 2021
Get to know Jenny Adin-Christie, specialist embroiderer, who played a key role in the creation of the lace panels on the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress!

Following graduation from an RSN Apprenticeship, Jenny spent 10 years working there as a studio embroiderer, senior tutor and finally Assistant Head of Studio. After the birth of her daughter in 2008, she branched out on her own. Since then her reputation as one of the most exquisite embroiderers and foremost teachers has grown. Her intricate designs make the most of her favourite techniques – whitework, goldwork and stumpwork. She threads in a third dimension, functionality, symbolism and even historical context. The results are breathtaking, particularly her wren étuis. If you’ve been lucky enough to learn at her side, you’ll have been charmed by her knowledge, skill, patience and generosity.

In 2019 she made herself more widely available through a new website offering her designs as spectacular kits, as well as hand-picked supplies and handmade tools. It was meticulously planned and astonishingly successful with kits selling out almost immediately.

Tell us about your online shop…

We’d been trying to set up a more comprehensive website and shop for years! The one I had previously was effective but basic. It was created when I worked on the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress (Jenny played a key role in the creation of the lace panels) – I had a web presence after this project which drew a lot of attention. I wanted to develop a site more in tune with my professional development. I was really fussy about what the look was, so it’s took a while. One of the main things was finding someone to work with who shared my vision. They pushed me to have a really good photographer because visuals are so important. 

Working on the Royal Arms on new gloves for the Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales

Working on the Royal Arms on new gloves for the Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales.

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Why did you decide to take this on?

Both my parents were self-employed. My father ran his own business after he was made redundant at 50. It really inspired me to think you can earn a living – if a tough living at times – doing something creative. They always were very encouraging that you should pursue the thing you can do well and are passionate about – even if it’s not going to earn you buckets of money. You’re rich in many other ways. 

Jenny's shy bird design

“I've always felt a special affinity for this shy bird who flits busily about, preferring to hide in the shadows than face the limelight.”

And you’ve kept things in the family...

Yes. We have. The standard is so important to me. It’s actually been one of the great challenges of expanding the business. I don’t want to compromise on the level of kits and products we do. I want it to be interesting, challenging and use fancy materials but it makes it more complex. It’s much easier to control accurately and make sure it’s really professionally produced with people you can really trust. So my mother is chief kit maker. And my father, who was a gunsmith and fishing rod builder, has turned his wood and metal skills into making wooden boxes and embroidery tools.

Tell us about your kits…

They’re not the average kit really. I call them hardcore embroidery kits. It amazes and excites me that people really want to take on these complex embroidery projects because they’re going to take a lot of time to work. And they’re not cheap to buy because there’s a huge amount of materials and work in constructing them. But they want to do them. I think that’s genuinely fabulous. 

I felt there was a gap in the market for more challenging projects. Often the people I teach have gone through the basic stuff and while they might chill out over a bit of cross stitch at Christmas, they want to do something more profitable with their time. These kits are a bit meatier – they take more thought and dedication. The instruction books are slightly epic – they take as long to write as to create the original embroidery! I hand illustrate everything to show how to work with your needle and get a good result. So it’s not a generic stitch diagram. I want it to be visually pleasing and easy to follow.

Jenny’s design: a peacock étui with a detachable needlecase tail

Jenny’s design – a peacock étui with a detachable needlecase tail!

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How do your complex designs come together?

One of the things I can’t bear anymore is to do a flat piece of embroidery in a frame. That just feels tedious. I want to challenge the embroidery to do more interesting things. I want to make something beautiful and functional. It’s engineering based really. I doodle ideas all the time. I’ve always got a notebook. I find the best ideas come when I’m doing something completely different – usually on a
train or travelling to a class. Next I think about what stitches will work.

Then it comes down to construction which involves a lot of experimentation and trials – things that go wrong, don’t work and changes. Developing a new design concept takes months and fitted between other things before it actually comes together.

Detail from The Owl and The Pussycat Book Cover

Detail from The Owl and The Pussycat Book Cover.

As a self-confessed perfectionist, how do you know when your work is good enough?

When I trained at the RSN I was horrendously held back by perfectionism – I was always in trouble for being too slow. They wanted really beautiful work, but they also wanted you to be fast – to generate ideas and produce everything at speed. They’re pushing you to earn a living. It’s taken years and years of practice. Working to deadlines is a good thing – it forces it out of you. You realise that to earn any money or to get something finished for a client, you’ve got to not compromise, but be bold in your decisions and content that you’re going in the right direction.

What are your top tools?

I don’t sell anything that I don’t use myself – that’s been the defining thing.

  • A stainless steel mellor – I use it on everything... prodding, poking, positioning and laying.
  • Japanese curved tip scissors made by Kai – I can't live without these!
  • My dad’s stiletto – Whitework has always been a great passion and I tend to put eyelets into all embroidery these days. You put an eyelet into something and it’s like turning on fairy lights. It just sparkles. You need a decent stiletto to do an eyelet.
  • A wooden aficot – a wooden laying tool – the design was originally based on a lobster claw. They’re fabulous for laying silk threads.
  • Antique needles – I have a small stash of minute antique needles. They're the only thing I can get through those really mega-fine gold threads. The best I get to replicate them are Tulip needles.

Handmade personalised mellor

A personalised mellor hand-made by Jenny’s dad.

Do you have any top stitching tips?

  1. Ditch the magnifier – They encourage obsession with an unattainable level of perfection. Always step away from your work – even delicate silk shading. You want a lovely sense of creativity not clinical refinement.
  2. Use your needle as a drawing tool – Don’t go through the motions and mechanics of basic stitches, learn to angle your needle by using it as you would a pencil or paintbrush, like an extension of your hand rather than just pulling the thread in and out.
  3. Be willing to put your own stamp on your work – Kits are not a strict design. You don't have to make a clone of the original. Instead use it as a skeleton to put your own ideas into.

What direction are you heading in?

My work has evolved – I like there to be a story behind the design. Not just a design for prettiness’s sake. There needs to be something deeper than that. It needs to tell a story.

When I wanted to do a course at Gawthorpe Hall, I went to study the huge textile collection of Miss Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth. The thing that shone out was the lady herself. I wanted the needlecase to sum her up. So that piece is based around the symbol of the fish because she was given the highest award in Girlguiding – the silver fish (Miss Rachel was instrumental in establishing the movement in the north west of England.) It symbolises swimming against the tide, which she did throughout her life. She strove to pass on a great love of embroidery and textiles to all levels of society – from people in desperate poverty to those who shared her privileged background. She was very much about empowering women through the creative arts.

Detail from The Gawthorpe Needlecase.

Detail from The Gawthorpe Needlecase.

On that point, who are the women who have inspired you?

Definitely above all people, my mum. My love of textiles comes from her. She was a primary school teacher before she had me but specialised in textiles. At school I was really passionate about textiles.

Although I had a brilliant teacher she could only teach me so much. So I had a huge amount of extra support from my mum from simple things like providing fabrics, materials and equipment then allowing me to chop them up and make a mess. 

“A ‘cutting-up box’ is key to a creative future!”

And your daughter?

My daughter inspires me every day. Instinctively she’s a very creative person. I always struggled to have confidence in my creativity when I was her age. She draws confidently and beautifully all time. She doesn’t stitch very much, but she escapes into drawing. Also from having been dragged round embroidery classes most weekends since she was a babe in a basket, she’s incredibly confident socially and that inspires me. She’ll come to class and chat away to my students as if she’s known them all her life. If this is what embroidery has given her, that’s a good thing.

What do you do to switch off?

I have very little time to escape my work but then I’m incredibly fortunate that it’s generally something I love. Being self-employed allows me to pursue the aspects of embroidery that I choose. The designs are things I passionately want to do. I do them to satisfy myself, then hope people are interested and want to learn the same kind of techniques. But in terms of switching off otherwise, family is the main thing. 

Find out more

Website: jennyadin-christieembroidery.com
Instagram: @jennyadinchristie

Inspired by Jenny? Explore our guide to embroidery techniques to see the breadth of creativity that’s possible with needle and thread!  

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