Helaina Sharpley

This week we welcomed Helaina to talk to us.

Helaina is a local girl (based in Mirfield) and has exhibited locally, nationally and internationally with a studio based at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop in Mirfield.  She started her journey studying for a BA in Design Crafts at Hereford College of Art & Design.  Her illustrations turned into wireworks after a college lecturer placed some wire into her hands because he wanted Helaina to make something in 3D and she just kept drawing!

Helaina has a particular interest in all things tea-time and Edwardian. You will find beautiful teacups and saucers with intricate detail, ‘twiddly’ lampposts and detailed architecture amongst her pieces.

Helena started drawing with sepia ink, reminiscent of the history she is interested in. As a consequence, she chose iron wire to work with. Iron is basically black, but comes with patches of patina and colour which she finds more in tune with the sepia ink her drawings are made with.

Helaina is a girl who loves to wear colour, but her pieces a devoid of colour. She discussed the distraction colour brings to form, and that in removing colour from an artwork, your eye can delight in the form, shape and design. Her pieces are mounted onto wood blocks, with holes drilled for the risers. In strong light, the pieces create shadows which can be exploited. Helaina’s dad makes her blocks, and her mum sands them down for her.

Helaina talked to us of her smaller pieces, such as those with bicycles, stamps and flowers, and the larger commissions up to a metre across. The larger pieces are often architectural commissions for galleries and homes.

Faces have proved a challenge to translate into wire line but Helena has found a balance in her smaller pieces of folk on bicycles where a simple outline works very well.

Helaina would be grateful for any photos of particularly twiddly lampposts from your travels.

Helaina is three times winner of ‘The Wow Factor’ at the British Craft Trade Fair.  Hockney owns two pieces of Helaina’s collection.  

You can check out her fabulous work at her website: www.helainasharpley-wirework-artist.co.uk.  Or on Instagram at #helainasharpley

On Sunday, we enjoyed a workshop together. Here are some of the images from the day:

Work was mounted using wire into foam-board,

And a couple of us realised how delicious shadows could be when we got home!

Thank you, Helaina, for a great day!

Challenging timesw

Last night’s meeting was our AGM and the start of a new guild year. Aside from the usual business, it’s also the long anticipated announcement of the challenges for the year which sees us scuttling home to have a delicious think about what to make.

It’s also the time to show this year’s challenges from the Chair and to vote for favourites. For 2019 we had a small silicone cupcake case to turn into a pincushion and for the on-going monthly challenge, it was to make ‘twinchies’ (2 inch squared tiny textiles).


There was a tempting selection on offer:

And the winner was a cupcake beehive with paper bead bee pins from Rachael.

Why not have a go, these would make attractive gifts and as many of us found, it is easy to stitch into the silicone case to secure your work or to embellish further?

Here are a few of the twinchies produced over the months:

And the winner was Janice with her book containing twinchies, well done!

Sue Lawrence also brought in her twinchies to show the group, completed on cruise but previous to our challenge:

Margaret, Janet B and Sharon we’re stitching into their sashiko projects, with a couple of small cases already completed…

Janet Hook’s embroidery of her own home is looking wonderful. Expand the photo to see details of the fine stitching.

So for this year, challenge one is to take a Gutterman’s cotton reel which is to be a needlecase as you can undo them and find a secret needle store inside, and to embroider a length of material to wrap around the reel and unscroll. Alternatively you can embroidery straight onto it.

Challenge two is to stitch different canvas-work stitches onto something canvas-like but not canvas. For example, a fruit net, wire mesh or plastic material. This month’s stitch is cushion stitch.

So to finish, overheard tonight:

‘I’ve just spent a whole week tidying up my workroom because I couldn’t find something I needed. Now I can’t find anything at all!’

Familiar? 😀

Meet our member, Sue

Hi my name is Sue Bellamy and I am currently chairman of Halifax Embroiderers Guild. I am now 62 and I started stitching, knitting and crocheting when I was 5 at school and I have loved them ever since. My paternal grandad Edward (Ted) Greenwood was chief designer at Salts Mill in the late 30s/early 40s, and my dad, Ken, had a lifetime working in textiles so my life has been held together by thread and colour.

I first joined the guild at 21 – the Yorkshire branch, and I was a regular at the Leeds meetings winning the Challenge Cup in 1985 with an embroidered picture frame.

My Challenge Cup winning entry 1985 “A Picture Frame” canvas work and wrapping subject husband Andrew and dog Sally.

At the time I lived in Keighley and went to Yorkshire’s “working groups”“in Skipton and Bradford moving from the former to the Halifax group after I married and moved to Calderdale. I can vividly recall my first meeting at Calderdale group it was December and my dear friend Jill and I both turned up on the first Friday evening of the month at the then Halifax Parish Church (now Minster) church rooms basement. A superb supper greeted us – they were having the annual “fuddle” (sound familiar?!). We were mortified as we had only brought our stitching! They were delighted when we rocked up to the January meeting with home made biscuits. Not long after this we moved to Maurice Jagger Centre and 20+years ago devolved into a separate branch and have never looked back.

A stumpwork box top from a Raggidy Annie course 2018

I am now in the hot seat after so many years of great work from the glorious Wyn Ingham and I am proud to follow her and to now head up a group that has meant so much in my life and given me so many friends over the years. I am no great stitcher these days finding knitting better suited to my deteriorating eyesight and arthriticky fingers and but I look forward to,and love the first Friday of the month and still stitch when the spirit moves me. I am never disappointed by the fabulous work produced by our members and the way they always rise to a challenge.

At a Raggidy Annie course in 2018 making an indian fabric book cover.

Naseem Darbey’s Hollow Drawing Workshop

A few of us were a bit terrified of the ‘drawing’ aspect of Naseem’s workshop, but Naseem made it fun and we did some interesting exercises.

There was a collection of objects to select from, feathers, butterflies, skulls. We started by looking carefully at our chosen object and not at the paper; we’d all chosen a pencil at the start but Naseem encouraged us to go bold with a brighter thicker drawing implement.

We were all quite amused by our drawings. The next exercise was to draw our object with continuous line in preparation for machine stitching later.

Naseem had an interesting idea for a background which was quick and fun to make and we machine-stitched our drawing several times onto the background . We also made a free standing version of our object using a vanishing film which stabilised the piece whilst we stitched it, then it was washed away.

We were sworn to secrecy as Naseem showed some ideas for how she would be developing her own work in the future.

Naseem’s work can be seen at www.naseemdarbey.com

Here are a few comments by the other workshop attendees:

Halifax Embroiderers Guild is my happy place. A workshop makes me super happy. One as good as Naseem’s, full of good teaching, new skills and fun is just magic, thank you.

Naseem started off the day with drawing (which usually throws me into a panic as drawing of any kind is definitely not my forte!). She had brought various mediums for us to try out and the exercises were designed to loosen us all up, stress the importance of looking all the time and get us into the spirit of continuous line drawing which is really what machine embroidery is. And then it was on to the real thing – creating base fabrics with organza, snippets of fabric, threads, ready for machine embroidery using our drawing as a guide – what a great day.

Naseem was brilliant at bringing out the artist in even the most reluctant of “non drawers”. It was great to see the pride as people created both a range of stylised drawings and new textiles techniques and processes. She really was right when she said you would go home with a portfolio of work. A really productive day, exploring samples we can develop and play around with after the day.

Nazeem Darbey

We welcomed Nadeem to our guild meeting this week.

Nazeem’s bio tells us that she is an artist and story teller who explores the relationship between drawing and textiles. She creates unique ‘hollow drawings’ and 3D installations using her sewing machine as her drawing instrument. Nazeem’s objective is to let her drawings leave the page so that 2D drawings become 3D sculptures. Lucky for us, she has her studios near Halifax in Keighley.

She told us she fell in love with her sewing machine at college!

When she draws, she likes to work from original sources such as museum items. Nazeem spent time working at Cliffe Castle museum exhibits. Here is her nest of woodpeckers. Nazeem calls these pieces ‘study skins’, and many are about 3 times life size.

Working with water soluble fabric, she pins the work out so that it doesn’t bunch and buckle when washing. She has perfected her technique to leave just a little of the glue in the threads so that the work retains some rigidity once washed.

Nazeem has spent time researching Marie Louise Roosevelt Burke Butterfield, of Cliffe Hall (to become Cliffe Castle Museum). You can find out more here.

This social history collection allowed her to develop text from letters, and interpretations of items of clothing such as a bodice in order to bring a character to life.

She found a phrase in one such letter particularly poignant. ‘Do write to me if your heart is not nailed to Cliffe Hall’ was the inspiration for a 3D heart sculpture.

Tiara below. Nazeem described the dangling threads equating to the left over bits of charcoal and pencils when one is drawing…

Nazeem talked about the use of foam blocks and piecing to create the sculptures, and showed us a few of her samples.

Following a period of illness, her work has developed into studies of the human body, and close work looking at flesh and how it changes. These pieces contain both colour and light. The fibre optics and LED lights change and cycle, hidden in the folds and fabric. Nazeem is supported by a technician to produce the supporting electrical arrays within their bases.

Nazeem is working on ‘monumental, habitable’ pieces. She has Arts Council Funding to work with a mentor on up-scaling her work over the coming months and we look forward to hearing how that develops.

You can find her at




Do look out on our Facebook page for more member’s work, following Nazeem’s workshop with the guild this weekend.


Quarry Bank Mill

I had the pleasure of visiting the mill this weekend and it affords plenty to do over a day’s visit. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about the cotton industry and you can even pick up some bobbins and factory-made cloth in the shop.

Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire, England, is one of the best preserved textile mills of the Industrial Revolution and is now a museum of the cotton industry.

This is the website for Quarry Bank.

You can read a little more about the founder, Samuel Greg (26 March 1758 – 4 June 1834) here.

He was a British entrepreneur of the early industrial Revolution and a pioneer of the factory system. He built Quarry Bank Mill, which at his retirement was the largest textile mill in the country. He and his wife Hannah took their responsibilities to their employees seriously, building a whole village alongside the factory.

The mill houses a number of different looms and tells a story throughout four floors.

One of the most poignant talks was at the apprentice house where you can hear about the child labour and living conditions. Children at Quarry Bank were looked after much better than other places but it’s still sad listening to stories of their everyday conditions. The school room, kitchen and medical room talks were very interesting.

A walk around the mill also takes you past the steam engines which provided central heating, not for the workers, but for the cotton fibres which needed to stay warm to avoid breaking.

The gardens were resplendent with rhododendrons but would be wonderful at any time I should imagine.

Plenty of inspiration for any embroidery or textile art to be honest, all those colours and shapes!

A walk around the village tells you more about how folk were looked after by the Gregs. It brings up conflicting emotions as you try to remember how different times were back then. And not much is mentioned of the slave trade which the cotton industry was based on. Samuel Greg seemed to do more than most for this workers, and yet profit and slavery were both fundamental parts of his textile empire.

Above, the rented cottages today and below, a little piece of wallpaper layers from inside a worker’s cottage. The vivid green at the bottom is the arsenic in the colour which has preserved it better:

I do hope you get the chance to visit. If not, then perhaps this has given you enough to whet your appetite for researching more of our textile heritage.

Dear Emma

This week we welcomed Cathy from Dear Emma Designs.

Cathy’s first memory of textiles was rummaging through Nanna’s button box, captivated by the smell and pieces of thread still attached to the buttons telling the history of their lives. As a four year old, her Nanna would talk to her as she sat on her knee and guide her hands on her magical old sewing machine.

Having worked in a few different industries, Cathy longed to work around her passion for making and textiles. The uprising of handmade crafts and national media attention in the area proved timely as she turned towards her dream. Cathy and her friends, both called Emma, would share letters asking about feedback on her sewing ideas. She then entered a local craft fair, and sold her first few pieces of work which gave her the confidence to go forwards.

Eight years later Cathy found growing recognition as a textile artist and started selling all over the world, harnessing the power of social media and market branding.

Cathy spends her time cutting out small pieces to assemble for her designs, up to 180 pieces! The fine detail bringing out the detail in her designs.

We loved seeing her work and cards, and hearing about working with companies such as Country Living and Bug Art cards.

She is now developing her original work into prints so that there is a range for all.

Many of her pieces have a kite flying in the sky. Cathy told us the tale behind that, but it’s our little secret! Let’s just say it involved marmite and toast…

Cathy’s year ebbs and flows as she prepares for various seasonal opportunities and shows. We just don’t know how she fits everything in as well as being a mum, but we are very glad she does!

A few of the works in progress at Cathy’s workshop – more on our Facebook page, link below…