Artist Helen McCook discusses kids' embroidery event The Big Stitch Up!

Artist Helen McCook discusses kids' embroidery event The Big Stitch Up!

Back in the day, learning how to work magic with a sewing needle was essential for schoolchildren (well, the girls anyway). Opportunities for today’s young generation to get creative with fabric are few and far between – but Birmingham-based embroidery artist Helen McCook hopes to provide some at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this half-term.

‘The whole time I’m working in Edinburgh I’ll be trying to make embroidery and textiles as accessible as possible,’ says McCook. ‘Children often get left out of this kind of work, because people worry about sharp scissors and needles, or think they won’t be able to pay attention for that long. But it really doesn’t have to be that way. There are many things you can do to make embroidery interesting for children.’

McCook, who was part of the team that embellished Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, will spend two days creating a work inspired by a frieze in the gallery’s Great Hall depicting Scotland’s history – and she wants plenty of helpers to join her. ‘There are lots of points of interest in it for children: historic figures they may have heard of, plants and animals from around Scotland. The piece will be large-scale and very colourful, with fancy yarns and ribbons – very tactile and pleasing for little hands, or big hands, to get hold of.’

McCook will also be running two workshops for ages 7+, to create an individual embroidery to take home. But the large-scale work will belong to all of us. ‘The idea is that people can come and sit at it, ask questions, poke at it and have a go if they want to,’ she says. ‘And it’s about introducing children to the joy of stitching. It’s very tactile, very social and enjoyable. At the end of the project, it isn’t just my piece, it belongs to the gallery and therefore the people of Edinburgh.’

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Sat 15 & Fri 21 Feb.

The Big Stitch-up

Join embroiderer Helen McCook to make a giant communal work of art.

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