Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  
In our tribute to UK Designers we present...

Carol Tinson, of Carol Tinson Designs

(Note: Carol's designs are distributed through the Caron Collection click here for Carol's Collection)

By Rita Vainius

Carol Tinson may not have acquired her design talents from her ancestors, aborigines from Tasmania, rumored to be singers and circus performers, but she most definitely inherited an eccentric and theatrical streak.

Born and raised in Birmingham, England accounts for Carol's distinctive "Brummie" accent. Her mother Pauline (age unknown and best not to ask) worked in a bakery and still uses her unique talents to decorate Wedding cakes. Her father John (age - ancient, but reputed to resemble Frankie Vaughan and be obsessed with music) was a toolmaker. Carol was the beneficiary of her mother's artistic flair coupled with her father's logical, methodical mind. She has a brother Neil who, though 4 years younger, she admits, with feigned chagrin and sarcasm, earns more money than she does, globe trotting to exotic locales, as a hairstylist on fashion magazine and pop video assignments.

At school, Carol confesses that her report cards always ended with the admonishment, "could do better." The obligatory needlework classes did not make a good impression. Her memories are of tediously working stitches on gingham and making, what she refers to as, "a complete bodge," of an apron. Her strongest commitment was to a youth club where art related projects became her forte. Her first sewing attempt was making cuddly toys to sell at craft fairs. At one event, she met her husband Matt, a Yorkshire man, who was the Youth Club leader's brother-in-law. Six months later, Carol gave up her job at a telecommunications company to move to York. In a simple twist of fate, the Club Leader became Carol's brother-in law, soon after.

Early in their marriage, Carol would accompany Matt on business trips. The weekend socials were eagerly attended, but Carol did not cotton to joining the other wives touring stately homes and dusty old museums. Eschewing this itinerary, Carol browsed through the craft magazine, "Anna," featuring a floral embroidery. By her own testimony: "I decided to have a go at it. That was the start. I was hooked."

By the time Carol's children, Gemma (now 13) and Sam ( now 12) were toddlers, she was transformed into a craft enthusiast. She took the leap of turning her hobby into a shop named "In Stitches." In due course, customers began requesting classes. Having no formal certification, Carol felt ill equipped to teach others. She enrolled in the nationally recognized City and Guilds. All new students were assumed to be well versed in stitching techniques and their historical origins and being familiar with basic art and design principles. Each was expected to work with different mediums, in combination with embroidery techniques, to create an expressionistic, free- form piece of artistic virtuosity. Carol progressed to the point of even tutoring some of her fellow students, before she realized that the scope of the program was beyond the call of duty, reassured that her initial qualms were unfounded. Because of the huge gap that exists between the quality of work the City and Guilds require and the level of proficiency and creativity of her own students, it is one of Carol's abiding ambitions to develop a national course in needlework which bridges the gap between these two very disparate teaching approaches.

Carol's students were often intimidated by patterns which appeared more complex than they really were. By applying her methodical thinking, she found that by presenting each element of the design separately in a clear, unhurried and straightforward manner, students were soon mastering their initial insecurity and clamoring for new challenges. She encouraged mixing techniques, which is an integral element of her band samplers which can accommodate a bounty of design variations in the same piece. Freestyle embroidery is popular and Carol's philosophy is explicit: "To be able to do this style of embroidery confidently, you have to let go of the words `absolute precision.' To use an arty-farty saying, you have learn to express what is within onto your fabric...The most important goal is the overall beauty of the composition and not the perfection of each individual stitch." She insists that only a really "clever beggar" could notice those minute errors which seem so glaring to the stitcher working up close.

Carol reaps copious gratification watching her students progress and carry a newfound confidence over into other parts of their lives. Especially satisfying is the camaraderie of other stitchers: "The classes are just like a group of friends who have gathered for coffee and a `natter' and sometimes we do a `bit of sewing.'"

When her shop lease expired, Carol focused exclusively on teaching, offering instruction in: cross stitch, Assisi, blackwork, beadwork, freestyle embroidery, silk and satin ribbon, patchwork, applique, quilting, hardanger, fabric painting, space dyed threads, parchment craft, paper bag printing, stiffy bows and frilly baskets, pulled and drawn threadwork, candlewicking, Mountmellick, etui boxes, plastic canvas and more! All this from someone whose teachers' assessments read "could do better!"

In an impetuous move, Carol took a booth at the first northern needlecraft fair even though she was a novice and had no substantial work to show. Proving that necessity is the mother of invention, she worked like a fiend for the 6 months preceding it. Come showtime, she was ready with 17 new designs. Her official debut was a phenomenal success leading to unforeseen possibilities: she was interviewed by a local radio station, commissioned to design for magazines and guilds, started a monthly subscription sampler, lectured and demonstrated at exhibitions, traveled to the U.S. and arranged for an American distributor (The Caron Collection), added 13 new designs, sold her designs to retailers, organized workshops, created teaching projects and last, but but no means least, hired someone to do the housework. "The really big deal!"insists the Drama Queen herself.


The subscription sampler is one of Carol's most popular design concepts. Her first was an Heirloom Sampler. In 1998, her Alphabet Sampler featured every letter of the alphabet with its own stitch for each row in sequence, ie. A for Algerian eye, B for button hole wheel, C for chevron, etc. The Millennium sampler, currently in progress, will rely on contributions. Carol explains: "The idea is to create our own piece of history by you, the subscriber, offering suggestions of your favorite stitch or technique and the reason why you have chosen it. I will then choose my favorite stories out of those I receive and incorporate both the stitch and the story in the design."

In contrast to her ebullient and outspoken persona, Carol's designs are mostly romantic in content and sentiment, harmonious in texture and composition and subtle in tone, employing primarily pastel colors. It can only be surmised that her outer demeanor masks a font of inner sensitivity and tranquility which finds it's best expression in her art. Her Libran nature is very much evidenced by the balance and symmetry in her work. Most of her designs are executed with the Caron threads which are just her "cup of tea."

When confronted with how or where her inspiration stems from, Carol draws a blank. Upon taking up needle and thread, the right side of her brain simply kicks-in. What does stump her, is giving each piece a name. For this, she looks to literature for inspiration, spends hours pondering the possibilities and enlists the help of family and friends when all else fails. When the right title does emerge, it is eminently obvious and expresses perfectly the sentiment Carol intended to communicate in visual form.

Many of Carol's designs using the Caron threads have been featured in "Classic Stitches" magazine. The Nov., 98 issue showed a Satin Stitch Sampler done in Waterlilies, the Feb./Mar., 99 issue will include a Pulled and Withdrawn Sampler completed with Impressions, an upcoming issue will contain the Hardanger Sampler executed with Watercolours and another future issue will feature a Band Sampler employing Wildflowers.

Carol has adjusted to her profession as "celebrity" designer in stride.To ensure that her head does not swell too much, her family cautions her not to get any ideas above her station, as they can "dish out the dirt" on her! Heeding this threat, Carol figures: "I had better remain level-headed at the end of the day to remind myself that I am still only me doing `a bit of sewing' for a living."

Visitors can go to Classic Stitches web site ( http://www.classicstitches.com ) for a profile on Carol and and where her hardanger project will appear at a later date.

Carol Tinson Designs are available at most needlework shops in the UK. For a list of retailers, please send a SASE to her at 11 Longridge Lane, Nether Poppleton, York YO26 6LX, U.K.
Phone and Fax: 1904 796 097
Carol Tinson Designs are available in the U.S. from The Caron Collection
Orders elsewhere are available directly from Carol at the above address.
All customers interested in her subscription sampler, should contact Carol directly.


© 1999 The Caron Collection / Voice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

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