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By Rita Vainius
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Throughout her long and successful career as a needlework designer and teacher, Rosemary Drysdale has been dedicated to the promotion of her passion for the needlearts. She states, "My aims as a designer and teacher are to instill in my students, especially the young, the love for the feel of fabric and threads and the wonder of how simple stitches can produce such beautiful results. I am inspired by the wonders of nature and the mysteries of life."
Rosemary was born and raised in northern England. She was tremendously influenced in her choice of métier by her mother and grandfather who were both skilled and talented tailors. As a child she eagerly collected remnants of leftover silks, satins and brocades from which she fashioned her dolls' wardrobes. She learned how to embroider in school and by age 15 had embellished countless household linens. Every piece she stitched was put to use by her mother in their home. "They weren't saved as 'works of art'," Rosemary confirms.
She went on to the College of Home Economics at the University of Durham with the intent of becoming a needlework teacher or fashion designer. Rosemary successfully completed her studies in 1962 with a degree in Education with a specialty in advanced needlework and science, graduating with distinction. After finishing her schooling Rosemary immigrated to the United States to pursue her teaching vocation but met with a major stumbling block, when she discovered that only U.S. citizens were allowed to teach in public schools. She was further shocked and dismayed to learn that needlework was not even taught here as a subject in the schools!
Rosemary managed to secure a position with Coats and Clark as a designer for their instruction publications. She also made the acquaintance of a woman who would have an enormous impact on her own life and on the needlework industry as a whole - Joan Toggit. Joan was at the time a distributor for Zweigart fabrics in the U.S. Recognizing Rosemary's talent, Joan became Rosemary's mentor, securing for her numerous teaching and designing assignments. Rosemary elaborates, " My first job was in 1964 as a crewel embroidery teacher on Nantucket Island. I never thought I would still be working with her [Joan Toggitt's] company in 2000!" Rosemary remains, to the present time, a valuable asset to Zweigart, working in a number of different capacities as consultant, teacher and designer. She has been the creative force behind many of their fabrics such as Shona Damask, Udine, Hearthside and others.
Throughout the '60's and '70's, Rosemary devoted herself to designing needlepoint and publishing countless design booklets: Rosemary's Garden, Damask Garlands, Counted Damask With Love, Damask Days, Country Stars, Damask Baskets, Beaded Lace and A Very Beaded Christmas (featuring counted bead embroidery), to mention a few.
In 1974 she published a book, The Art of Blackwork. In it she explains the methods and materials used in blackwork and showcases 45 stitches and 24 projects with complete instructions for each. Blackwork patterns featured include designs for embellishing an eyeglass case, a book jacket, a sampler bag, numerous pillows, an embroidered box, napkins, placemats, a tablecloth, embellished clothing and framed pictures. Rosemary's first book was followed another in 1978, Pulled Work on Canvas and Linen. In this publication Rosemary demonstrates over 100 different stitches with text instructions and diagrams. Using combinations of these stitches, a virtually infinite variety of patterns can be made. For those already proficient in canvas work, the lovely and lacy patterns of pulled work present a natural progression, opening up a whole new world of possibilities to the ambitious needleworker. Both publications are distinguished by for Rosemary's clear straightforward approach, plentiful illustrations and accompanying examples. Unfortunately these books are now out of print but well worth searching out in used bookstores (or in other stitchers' private collections!)
When queried about the magazines which have featured her work over the years, Rosemary quips, "I cannot count the number of magazines I have been featured in, nor the number of students I have taught." Publications she has contributed to include McCalls Needlework, Family Circle, The CrossStitcher, Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping, The Needleworker and New Stitches (an English magazine published by fellow designer and friend Mary Hickmott.) Her teaching assignments have also spanned a gamut of venues: The Embroiderer's Guild of America, the Elsa Williams School of Needlework, Pratt Institute, the Fashion Institute of Technology, for the Colonial Dames of America and at countless needlework consumer and trade shows.
Though Rosemary is an accomplished and eminently successful designer, it is as a teacher that she has made an especially distinctive name for herself. Teaching is also her first love, "I don't teach a 'set' design or piece in a classroom. I teach technique and stitches on a sampler-type piece. The student can place the stitches anywhere they choose using various threads and fabric counts. The student has to make her own decisions and needs to realize she is not following a design step-by-step as in a kit." Rosemary does not feel that she has succeeded in teaching if at the end of a session, each student's sampler looks like the others or like hers. She demands high standards from her students and expects their creative input. Her approach may be an experimental one, but Rosemary excels in maintaining the kind of relaxed atmosphere that fosters the results she aims for. Her foremost goal is to encourage a love of embroidery and inspire new stitchers, from the very beginning, to put their own mark on their work.
Another facet to Rosemary's approach to education is to enlighten her students as to the history and evolution of needlework, and its place in society. She explains, "It is in this context that one can really come to appreciate the true creative expression and art form that needlework is and has been throughout man's history over time and throughout all cultures."
Rosemary's biggest, and as yet unfulfilled dream, is to serve as the director of a needlework school. Now going into her fifth decade as a needlework professional, Rosemary is committed to teaching and designing projects which can be expected to keep her busy non-stop for the foreseeable future. Her other great love is gardening in which she indulges on the rare occasions when she can find the spare time to dig her hands into the dirt!
Rosemary will be teaching in England under the auspices of New Stitches Magazine in November 2000. She continue's to teach for Zweigart at industry trade shows, holding classes to familiarize needleworkers with Zweigart fabrics and teaching workshops in Blackwork, Hardanger and Pulled Thread techniques.
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