ThreadWritten embroidery retreats

I’ve long been a fan of traveling to learn something new. And I’m not talking about the history of a building, or about a work of art. I’m talking about learning how to do or make something full on experience style from someone who is a master of their craft.

When I first encountered Sarah Pedlow of ThreadWritten (full disclosure, she’s one of my awesome coaching clients) I was immediately drawn to the work she does around embroidery. As someone who is actively looking for ways to disconnect with my phone and reconnect with people and the world around me, I’m a big fan of her work, both as an artist, and a host to retreats and workshops around the world.

Through workshops and travel retreats she offers creative learning experiences around embroidery and traditional textiles in a way that honors the skills, traditions, and techniques of artisans, while also fostering the exchange and transfer of ideas. On her travel retreats you get to meet many of the women who have devoted their lives to working with textiles. She’s taken the time to build meaningful relationships with the people in each place and it shows in the attention she puts into each offer.

Sarah has three amazing retreats planned for summer 2020 where she’s taking small groups into lesser visited regions of Portugal, Hungary, and Romania where participants get to learn about the place, people, and savoir faire while working on stitching projects common to the region. I’ve so enjoyed learning about the art of embroidery through Sarah, and thought it’d be fun to put together a little interview so you can get a peek inside of her work too!

Sarah is American, but currently based in Amsterdam.

Anne Ditmeyer: In your “previous life” you worked as a massage therapist. How did you get into embroidery?

Sarah Pedlow: I am an artist by education, before my days as a massage therapist. I hold an MFA in Visual Arts. My art practice revolved around installation, mixed media, and photography until I visited the Ethnographic Museum in Budapest 10 years ago, while spending a month there on an artist’s residency. Curiosity led me to the museum and seeing Hungarian textile and clothing traditions changed everything. I was blown away by the embroidered coats, aprons, blouses, and household linens. So much color in particular floral patterns I had never seen before!  That visit inspired my first trip to Transylvania, Romania up to my work today that includes fine art work incorporating embroidery.

Stitching in a museum in Viana.

AD: I recently read an article in the NYTimes about how some fashion brands appropriate various traditional textiles as their own. From your perspective, why do you think it’s important to share these traditions and the people who make them?

SP: In today’s global society it’s more important than ever to preserve traditions and to credit their origins and the makers keeping the practices alive today. My hope is that by drawing attention to issues of appropriation and then holding brands accountable we can empower artisan communities socially and economically. My retreats aim to do this on a intimate scale by connecting in person, learning at the source directly from people in the lineage of the tradition, and by compensating them well.  Explaining the history and culture and sharing stories of the women with whom I’ve studied is an integral part of the workshops I teach.

Embroidered dress worn during a parade in Viana.

AD: You have three retreats you’re offering this summer. Two in Portugal, and one in Hungary and Romania. For someone like me who doesn’t have any background in embroidery, how are they different?

SP: Each retreat offers a different style of embroidery that we practice and a focus due to the location and culture. In Northern Portugal we’ll apply a handful of popular stitches (and a couple lesser known ones) inspired by the clothing of Viana do Castelo.  In second retreat in Portugal, based in Évora, we’ll learn a form of cross-stitch that has been used in Arraiolos rug-making possibly all the way back to the 1500s.  We’ll also visit textile museums and local weavers on both retreats.

Arraiolos corner, Evora.

 

For the Hungary + Romania trip we’ll immerse ourselves in the tradition of Hungarian written embroidery, a type of chain stitch, with over three days embroidering and visiting people in a micro-region of Transylvania where the style began. Each trip will offer a rich and full experience whether or not you’re an experienced embroiderer, including some sightseeing. I like to balance creative practice, learning, and seeing a few (curated) sights. Why travel across the world to sit in a room and stitch the whole time?

Hungarian written embroidery, Írásos

Participants will learn open chain stitch in Transylvania, stem and satin stitches, and cutwork in Viana, and long-armed cross stitch in Évora. (Note: participants are welcome to sign up for both Portugal retreats.)

AD: One of the things that makes your retreats so unique is that you’ve taken the time to build relationships and work with different artisans in the various cities. Is there anyone on the upcoming trips that participants can look forward to meeting?

SP: A great joy of this work is the people! I can’t wait to spend more time with Fatima in Viana do Castelo, Paula in Arraiolos, and Piroska and her village neighbors in Transylvania. All of the women have been working with textiles for most of their lives, upwards of 30, 40, or even 50 years. It is a gift to learn their stitching tips and tricks and hear about their lives.

Ilonka in her tiszta szoba, Transylvania.

Sarah stitching with Piroska in Transylvania.

 

AD: In addition to offering retreats you’re also an artist yourself. Can someone with little to no experience with thread really pick up some skills during these retreats? Will they walk away with a project at the end?

 

SP: Yes, I view the retreat projects from an open, creative perspective. I provide patterns for people to follow to learn the stitches or purely for the beauty and relaxation of the work. You’re also welcome to stitch your own design inspired by the patterns we see and the place itself. Most people finish their project during the week or soon afterward at home. It all depends on how inspired and ambitious you become!
Summer 2019 retreat participants stitching in Viana do Castelo.

 

AD: Who are the people who join your trips? Are they all artists or just enthusiasts?

 

SP: Participants range from textile enthusiasts to artists who’ve never embroidered before to long-time stitchers of various styles. Non-creatives who want to try embroidery and write, photograph, or just relax during our time together are also welcome. Having a variety of people from different backgrounds and experience makes the group all the more interesting.
Arraiolos rug, Arraiolos.
Gate with flowers near Évora, Portugal. 

 

AD: For people who can’t make it to Europe for a retreat, is there anywhere else people can find you?

SP: I love sharing images on Instagram (@threadwritten) and Facebook. I am teaching both Portuguese and Hungarian Written Embroidery workshops on January 4 in the SF Bay Area and am planning more US workshops for 2020. My mailing list/newsletter is a great way to stay informed. More at: threadwritten.com.

Thank you, Sarah, for a peek into your work!
All images courtesy of ThreadWritten.

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