Mary Hickmott and
Cross Stitch Gallery and New Stitches Magazines
by Rita Vainius
Hickmott's career has taken her to frontiers where few stitchers
have dared to tread. A trail blazer at each step, Mary progressed
from hobby stitcher to serious embroidery student, to dedicated
teacher, to needlework designer, to innovative kit producer,
to publisher of one of the first cross stitch magazines in the
UK and now a second, making her an embodiment of what is possible
when one sets no limits on pursuing their true passion. With
each accomplishment, most others would have been content to rest
on their laurels. Not Mary!
Though born in Australia, Mary grew up in the English "West
Country." Her education was primarily academic in nature;
developing artistic or needlework skills was considered a last
resort for those who were not proficient at anything else. Because
Mary's father served as chaplain at a hospital for the mentally
handicapped, Mary grew to empathize with the patients there.
She chose to train as a nurse with a specialty in that field.
After completing her studies, she rose to the position of full
ward sister in the Health Service, at age 22, the youngest to
attain this status.
After her lengthy shifts, Mary had not the energy to "step
out" after work. She discovered how effective a pastime
stitching could be for relaxation, erasing the cares of the day.
Once hooked, her favorite haunt became "The Needlewoman,"
a shop in St. Regents Street, London, which was a Mecca for stitchers
from all over.
Fast forward to eight years later, where we find Mary married
and mother of three, all born within a three year span! More
than ever Mary gravitated toward stitching to unwind at day's
end. When her youngest began school, Mary enrolled in a City
and Guilds course. Though the curriculum required only one day
per week of actual attendance, the assignments kept her busy
non-stop. Upon completion, she emerged with a triple distinction.
Next, Mary worked as an adult embroidery teacher. While assisting
a competent stitcher struggling with a cross stitch kit, Mary
noticed that some diagrams conflicted with others rendering the
instructions both confusing and incorrect. The kit also contained
the wrong needle. Mary suspected that many first-time stitchers
had been totally discouraged from pursuing this hobby because
of an initial frustrating experience with just such a inferior
she was aware of the commitment entailed, Mary was initially
reluctant to create design kits herself to remedy the situation.
But her enterprising spirit won out. She advertised her work
in a farming magazine. Not exactly the most suitable digest,
but " nothing ventured..." To her astonishment, they
were a hit. Concurrently, Coat Crafts UK was looking for kits
to add to their line. After some initial contact, Mary flew to
Scotland to meet with them. She returned home with a firm commitment
for several new designs every few months.
kits included all the threads needed, pre-sorted on cards, enclosed
with a hand drawn chart and clearly written instruction sheet,
designed to guide the stitcher correctly and confidently within
moments of opening the pack. She concentrated on defining each
separate element that makes up the design. Her aim was to motivate
the needleworker at each stage of the process. Using Mary's kits,
stitchers are, after each session, able to discern a new aspect
of the pattern emerging, eliciting a sense of anticipation, rather
than delaying gratification until the entire piece is done.
Nature furnishes most of Mary's subject matter and is her primary
source of inspiration. She was taught to paint directly from
nature, without preliminary outlines. In designing cross stitch,
it was natural for her to apply the same artistic principles.
She developed a distinctive style which employed no fractional
and very few backstitches, yet retained as many colors as the
design warranted. Though her designs are realistic in style,
they reflect strong Impressionist influence.
8 years ago, the first Cross Stitch publication in the UK appeared.
Mary submitted designs for some issues but the reality of compensation
for a fully stitched and charted item barely covered the efforts
entailed. Since Graham, Mary's husband, worked in the magazine
industry, they decided to produce their own magazine. "New
Stitches" was launched and on issue # 71, is still going
strong. From inception "New Stitches" has been devoted
to cross stitch primarily, but not exclusively. Blackwork and
hardanger have been introduced and are now regularly featured
along with canvas work, surface embroidery and stumpwork. In
April of 1997, a sister publication "Cross Stitch Gallery",
which specializes in smaller cross stitch designs, was inaugurated.
The newer magazine is even outselling the more specialist "New
Stitches." Mary surmises: "I take this as an indication
of a need for quality cross stitch designing that stitchers can
take and adapt for all sorts of uses."
the auspices of "New Stitches," Mary was intimately
involved in selecting the ornaments to decorate the Queen's Christmas
Tree last year. This exceptional project, organized by designer,
Melinda Coss, was launched in collaboration with the magazine,
which sponsored a special
competition for the occasion. Needleworkers throughout the U.K.
submitted over 400 ornaments, representing a unique blend of
art, craft, technique and design. Fifty winners, selected by
a panel made up of Elizabeth Elvin, Principal of The Royal School
of Needlework, Melinda Coss and Mary Hickmott, were awarded the
priviledge of viewing the tree at Buckingham Palace. The 3 luckiest,
chosen by random ballot, also received an audience with Queen
Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and other members of the Royal Family.
the Charlotte Trade Show, when the magazine was still in its
infancy, Mary discovered the Caron Collection threads. As a consummate
professional, Mary knows a good thing when she sees it. Her designer
instincts kicked in straightaway, envisioning designs which would
best accentuate their unique qualities. She enthuses: "I
still find the Caron threads just as exciting as when I first
saw them and several new designs are coming along that feature
them. They have always fitted particularly well with the ethos
of "New Stitches." As cross stitch is still the major
interest here, I use mainly Wildflowers, but because we also
feature hardanger often, do find myself thinking always of Watercolours
and Wildflowers together for such designs. My other favorite
is the Impressions range - the threads are the most beautiful
to handle that I have ever found."
The publishing business is established in a lovely old converted
farm building, surrounded by fields of grain and fruit orchards.
Most designs still emanate from Mary's own studio. To accommodate
her readers, Mary frequently offers kits for the designs featured,
resulting in a considerable amount of mail order business.
The publishing enterprise has become very much a family affair.
Mary, along with Graham, have been involved together from the
get-go; their eldest son, Daniel and their daughter,Natasha
work in the accounts department and art department respectively.
Though another son, Stefan is based in Edinburgh as a hotel consultant,
he is constantly in touch advising them on marketing strategies.
Mary's commitment to her craft speaks for itself but her greater
aspiration is to encourage and inspire needleworkers everywhere.
Simply put, she asserts: "I want people to stitch and stitch."
Keeping in mind all that Mary has accomplished, one is tempted
to ask: "Where could she possibly go from here?" Well
it might just be somewhere where truly NO ONE has ever dared
to venture before. Captain Kirk and crew are not the only ones
ready to explore brave new worlds!
For more information on "New Stitches" and "Cross
Stitch Gallery" see their website at http://www.cross-x-stitch.com/csg/index.htm
Both magazines are widely available from newsagents in Britain,
or by subscription. For further details contact: Creative Crafts
Publishing Ltd., Well Oast, Brenley Lane, Faversham, Kent, ME13
phone: 01227 750215
fax : 01227 750813
In the U.S. contact New Stitches at phone # 770 832 0641
In Australia contact New Stitches at phone # 03 9702 3203
In New Zealand contact Warnaar Trading Co. At phone # 0800 888362
In Belgium contact Orchidee at phone # 050 411880
In the Netherlands contact Tiny Van Donschot at phone # 0495
COPYRIGHT NOTICE: No part of this feature story nor
the included designs/charts can be reproduced or distributed
in any form (including electronic) or used as a teaching tool
without the prior written permission of the CARON Collection
Ltd. or the featured designers. One time reproduction privileges
provided to our web site visitors for and limited to personal