Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  


Mary Hickmott and
Cross Stitch Gallery and New Stitches Magazines

by Rita Vainius

Mary 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.

 Some of Mary's Designs

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 kit.

Since 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.

Mary's 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.

About 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."

Under 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.

At 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 9LY, England
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 533983

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 use only.


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