Mission – get the whole world stitching: an interview with Jill Kipnis

17 February 2022
Get to know multi-talented embroiderer and textile artist, Jill Kipnis who shares her favourite technique, what it was like receiving her Royal School of Needlework First Class Diploma and how she helps students turn ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can’...

How did you discover your love of embroidery? 

I discovered embroidery through my mum and school. I was lucky as I was taught sewing at school. I found I had a natural ability and excelled in the subject and art. My mum was also a significant influence. She always had a piece of craftwork on the go. It could have been a piece of knitting, embroidery or sewing. However, my mum didn't finish many of her pieces, so when I teach and give talks, I try and make sure people have an end purpose for their work, as I feel it encourages them to finish it.

Jill Kipnis embroideries

Selection of works by Jill Kipnis

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You cover all aspects of embroidery – do you have a favourite technique? 

I love the freedom that machine embroidery brings. I enjoy building up layers of fabric and then cutting through them. I’m exploring printing more in my work and hope to have an exhibition soon. If you have good foundations for embroidery, you can go on to achieve anything. As I’ve taught most techniques and been professionally trained, I understand where people generally can slip up or get frustrated with embroidery so my enjoyment really comes from all aspects in my teaching – helping my students is the most important thing to me. 

Get ready to ‘flourish’ in this bloomin’ beautiful project as featured in Stitch issue 135 – Jill shows you how to create a bouquet of pansies using inks, organza, appliqué & free motion embroidery… 

'Flourish' embroidery by Jill Kipnis

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Do you prefer traditional or modern embroidery? 

I like both modern and traditional for teaching whereas I prefer modern embroidery for my own work. The variation embroidery can offer is huge and I love all aspects. I can switch from one to the other. My students who attend my regular classes in my North London home keep me on my toes. They often come to me to learn a specific technique, and we create some wonderful individual pieces together. The students are then often influenced by what each other person is doing. As I say on my website, 'I aim to inspire', and that's what I try and do, taking on their needs and strengths. 

What's been your proudest project to date? 

I designed and created a blackwork piece inspired by a Samurai headdress in the V&A when I carried out my apprenticeship at the Royal School of Needlework. It took me almost a year to stitch, and I don't think I’ll ever have that time again. I also love the theme as I’ve had a lifelong fascination with Japanese culture and art. 

'Samurai' embroidery by Jill Kipnis

'Samurai' embroidery by Jill Kipnis

What do you enjoy most about teaching? 

Inspiring people to find mindfulness and peace, as well as creating something unique and personal. My mission is to get the whole world to embroider. I’m a people person and love bringing people together and looking at the meaning behind the embroidery. Hence why I put together the Heroes Quilt project during the first lockdown of 2020. So many of my students come to me as complete beginners, and they all say, ‘I can't’. I love the challenge to help them turn that into ‘I can’.

Jill’s 'Know Your Onions' is a mixed media study of a red onion (without making you cry!), as featured in Stitch issue 130. Fancy a go?

'Know Your Onions' mixed media project by Jill Kipnis

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What was it like receiving your Royal School of Needlework First Class Diploma by Patron HRH the Queen Mother in 1984?  

It was one of the proudest moments in my life, and my mum’s, who watched on. HRH The Queen Mother was a great patron, and I remember embroidering a pair of slippers for a wedding present for Princess Diana and Prince Charles and I’m sure the Royal School received the commission due to the Queen Mother being the patron. When I look at the photograph now, it makes me smile. Back then we wore gloves – not royalty. How times have changed.

What advice would you give to a budding embroiderer? Where should they start? 

I’m always happy to talk to any embroiderer setting out. I help textile students with their GCSEs and A levels and have worked in primary schools to teach machine embroidery. I love inspiring the next generation. It’s not easy, and with social media it’s become far more competitive.

So my advice would be to think about who you are and what you stand for. What do you want to achieve? Write it down – you can always change it. 

When I was a retail buyer, I had to write down my business plan every six months for the range of clothes I was putting together. I found this an excellent discipline and would always review it. If something didn't work, write it down, understand why, and move forward positively.

Lastly, don’t let people go 'embroidery… Oh!' When I was a student, people could never understand why I loved textiles and found it a puzzle. I've had a fantastic career with my embroidery – it's changed over the years and I've loved every second. 

Find Jill’s ‘Lest We Forget’ project – a stumpwork poppy using machine embroidery – in Stitch issue 133

'Lest We Forget' stumpwork project by Jill Kipnis

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Any top stitching tips? 

  • Never use a knot to secure your work for handwork. Knots become loose over time and will create bulk at the back of your work if is to be mounted. The only technique that I have found that is the exception is ribbon work, but the knot is not left unsecured as you sew it into the back of your fabric.
  • When using ring hoops, make sure you buy them with a screw to tighten them up when placing your fabric in the hoop and tightening the screw with your fingers. If you tighten it further with a screwdriver, you’ll be amazed how much tighter your fabric will become, leading to better tension in your stitching. 

For more tips, check out our guide to hand embroidery for beginners.

Jill Kipnis embroideries

Selection of works by Jill Kipnis

What type of sewing machine do you use? And is there another tool or piece of equipment you wouldn't be without? 

My 35-year-old Bernina sewing machine. As I teach machine embroidery I have Brother, Singer and Janome machines, and they’re all good, but I always go back to my Bernina for my work. The piece of equipment I couldn't be without are embroidery frames. You don’t always need one, but they can make such a difference to your work if used correctly.

Share Jill’s love for all aspects of embroidery? See how many of these embroidery techniques you’ve tried – and perhaps discover something new!

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