Tracy Curtis

Textile Artist and Tutor


I was the original Calamity Jane of the needlework class at school, to be quite frank, I loathed it and avoided all forms of sewing as often as I could. On leaving school, ( more years ago than I care to remember ) I did a basic two year course at Southend College of Art and from there, took a somewhat sideways step, career-wise, going into window dressing, which I did, both at home in Southend at a departmental store, and later going to London and working for the 5th Avenue Group. I did this until I got married, and over the next decade or so, whilst raising my family, carried on doing free lance window dressing.

Obviously, to help keep costs of home furnishings etc down, I had bought a sewing machine, and stitched fairly basic curtains and cushions, progressing to 'Easy Sew' dress patterns, both for myself and the children. When my marriage broke up, in the 1980s, I took a job as a picture framer, ( probably one of the most useful trades that I could possibly have learnt, in view of my present occupation ) and, it was during this time, that my Mother started me on a new hobby, buying me a silk painting kit for Christmas, though to this day she still doesn't know what prompted her to do so !

I took to silk painting like the proverbial duck to water and, when my boss decided to close the gallery, I decided to start my own business selling my hand painted silk scarves, cushions and pictures, at craft fairs, exhibitions and private galleries. I had been doing this for some years, when one morning, whilst waiting for a friend to come round, I switched on the television. On the screen was a lady using a sewing machine to draw designs on fabric. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, the fabric was stretched on a hoop, and by moving the hoop around in various ways, she created some wonderful designs. This fascinated me and I was riveted, so much so that by the end of the programme, I had taken down details of her book, and literally went straight out and bought it. That lady was Jan Beaney, and it was her book, The Art of The Needle, that helped me to get where I am today.

In 2000, I moved to Plymouth with my new partner and slowly started to build up my business again. Living in the west Country, I am never at a loss for inspiration, as both Dartmoor and our fantastic coast line is close at hand, although a lot of the inspiration for my work comes from a deep love and fascination for the theatre.

Within a very short space of time, I found I was being asked to take workshops and day classes, and this is one of the nicest and most enjoyable aspects of my work. I now run West Country workshops, with my business partner, Wendy Bagness, holding day classes for free machine embroidery and related textiles, in Charmouth, near Lyme Regis and Yealmpton, near Plymouth. In addition, I will travel anywhere around the country to tutor embroidery groups, W.I.s etc. I also export a large number of hand painted silk scarves, ties and, believe it or not, sarongs, out to the island of South Georgia, Antarctica, where they are bought by passengers of visiting cruise ships.

Calamity Jane of the needlework class has come a long way, it seems!


Introduction to Free Machine Embroidery

Students will start practising on cotton, then go on to silk, perhaps colouring it with water colour pencils to produce a mini landscape, and later in the day will work on water soluble fabric to produce openwork designs.
One day

Landscapes into Embroidery

Students will be given a ready stretched piece of silk and will colour this with a wash of silk paints. Very easy, let the colours merge and blend, throw salt on it, and then learn to free machine embroider, adding fibres and sheer fabrics for texture and depth.
One day

Enchanted Forest

Students will be given a piece of linen and shown how to withdraw horizontal threads by hand. Using a zig zag stitch and free machining techniques (beginners welcome) they will draw the vertical threads together to form trees. This will then be laid over a background fabric, giving a real depth to the little landscape.
One day

Treasures of the Sea *

Learn how to assemble a beautiful 3D picture, using soluble fabrics to make ammonites and seaweed (for those wishing to do hand embroidery these can be supplied ready made), and make padded shells and a bunch of pretty mussels all spilling out of the picture onto the mount (Mounts provided at this class).
One day

Arabian Nights or Figures from the Theatre

Let your imagination run riot! Choose from a number of sketches provided to reproduce glorious Arabian style minarets or designs featuring Ballet or some of the famous musicals such as Phantom, Madame Butterfly, etc.
The first day will be spent in doing a detailed silk painting (no drawing ability required, just a steady hand for tracing and applying the gutta or silk paint outliner). The next day you will learn to free machine embroider and embellish the work with glitzy fabrics, beads or whatever takes your fancy.
Two Days

Additional information

All my classes are suitable for all abilities, from complete beginners to more advanced students. All feature free machine embroidery, although classes marked * are also suitable, if a student prefers, for hand or straight forward machine stitching.

My fee for all classes (valid until December 2006), which includes all main materials plus worksheets for each student) is £150 for a one day class and £275 for a two day class, plus expenses (fuel and overnight accommodation when necessary). If possible, I will arrange to tutor other groups within a 50 mile radius at the same time so that expenses can be shared between the groups, on a pro rata basis. Also, when my business partner, Wendy, with whom I run West Country Workshops, is free, she will often accompany me (at no extra cost to the group) and will happily make tea, coffee, etc, thus allowing the group organiser freedom to enjoy the day as well!

I do not require a booking deposit, but a cancellation fee of £25 will be charged if less than 30 days' notice is given.

Classes are limited to 10 students, to allow each student maximum benefit and tuition. The fee includes all students' main material required for each subject, but students will be asked to bring a sewing machine with instruction book, and other equipment (hoop, scissors, needles, threads, etc). I always have machine embroidery threads available for sale at each class.

I do day classes and one two-day class, which features silk painting and highly decorative machine embroidery (don't panic, no drawing ability required, just the ability to trace a design).

I also bring along a sewing machine (a trusty Bernina) just in case a student's machine may play up on the day.

All classes are designed to be good fun, highly enjoyable with the chance to perfect a new skill.

Contact details

Tracy Curtis
5, St Thomas Close
Plympton St Maurice
Devon PL7 1PB

Phone 01752 254202 or e-mail .


Read Tracy's articles on Spirit of Eve and her Wacky Jacket.

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