RSN Certificate – An Overview
Just by way of a quick overview of what the RSN Certificate in Technical Hand Embroideryis, it is a Certificate course offered by the Royal School of Needlework in the UK. You need to complete four modules within a time period of five years.
The course is run from their prestigious ‘head office’ at Hampton Court Palace. But if you can’t get there, there are a number of ‘satellite‘ studios set up – a couple in other areas of England, one in Scotland, one in the US, and one in Japan.
Options on completing the Certificate
You have a couple of options for completing the Certificate.
You can complete it as a ‘term time’ student, and attend class during school terms on a day that suits you. Generally speaking I found fortnightly worked well for me. It allowed enough time to complete the homework, but also fit ‘life’ in as well.
The other option is as an ‘intensive’ student. And now, you have more options! You can attend during their dedicated ‘intensive’ period over the UK summer. Or, you can attend for a period of two to three weeks, and go along with the term time students, and change tutors each day.
There’s pros and cons to all of the above options. I’ll give you my opinion on what worked well for me, and what didn’t. And I’ll let you know what I would do differently if I had my time again.
If you have other questions about the RSN Certificate, you may find this article here useful. And if I don’t answer your question in either article, let me know, and I’ll be more than happy to get back to you and give you my opinion!
Module 1 – Jacobean Crewelwork
I really enjoyed my first piece as part of the Certificate. My little squirrel in the Jacobean style! I remember being so scared walking in on that first day, not really knowing what to expect, not knowing how to do anything. But everyone was really lovely and encouraging, and I was put to ease very easily! I also think this is potentially my favourite technique – open to discussion no doubt!
Looking at the piece now, there are things I would do differently. The comment about ‘balancing‘ the design has stuck in my mind. And now I’ve looked at more pieces, I can see how a simple flip could have balanced it out a little better. However that could have potentially unbalanced it in another way!
Looking back to where you start
The other interesting thing about looking back at your starting point, is seeing how your stitching has improved throughout time. Whilst I haven’t done a lot of other crewelwork subsequently, I can see that just in the way I handle the needle and thread now has improved how the thread rests on the fabric.
I’m looking forward to doing another Jacobean piece in the coming months. Although I won’t be using Appeltons wool on the whole! I’ll try and use a combination of my new ‘favourite’ wools of Renaissance Dying, Heathway Milano and Gumnut Yarns. However if I have the right colour in Appeltons, I will use that – I do need to use it at some point. The other change I’ll make is to probably not use quite as many stitches. As an introduction to the technique, trying all those different stitches is a great way to learn. I’m also surprised at how well they do work together! But moving forward I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary.
Module 2 – Canvaswork
This was a technique that I struggled to ‘get into’. It’s also probably my least favourite technique of the four. I’m going to be very interested to see how I feel about the technique after I complete another piece. You never know, I may perhaps completely change my mind!
A Change in approach?
A couple of points and changes to my approach here may have helped me ‘find my way’ a little more quickly.
Firstly, I went straight from the Jacobean to the canvas work. My first thought is that perhaps I should have had a few weeks off to ‘clear’ my mind of one technique, before starting the next. I have no idea if this would have worked or not. I did work up a sampler, where I worked all the stitches in the RSN Canvaswork book. This helped to give me an idea of the stitches (which I promptly forgot the name of!), how the fabric felt, and how much thread was required to cover the canvas. However it didn’t help in my understanding of the blending of the stitches. So perhaps a small kit may have been another good thing to have worked.
Secondly, after seeing the intensive student’s work, I am wondering if spending a few days in a row (not necessarily the whole course), would be of benefit in understanding the technique. I’m still in awe of everyone who can complete a piece so quickly, and with so much pressure. But I do think there are advantages over the term time students in really getting in and understanding the technique.
My most valuable resource for this technique
When actually working the technique, the book I found most useful was actually the Dictionary of Canvas Stitches. It is an old book, and only available as a second hand copy now. But the thing I found particularly useful was that the photographs of the stitches are in black and white, which really helps to understand the texture of the stitch.
I’m still looking for a ‘design’ to do for my next canvas work piece. I am really drawn to landscape images, but part of me wants to have this next piece not be a landscape! There are just so many stitches and ways of creating texture within canvas work, I’m not sure I will properly explore this if I do another landscape. Perhaps it just needs to be the rightlandscape image!
Developing overall stitching technique
And on a side note – this technique really helped with my ability to stitch with both hands. As you can see where you are coming up and going down a little easier, it really helped develop that ability. There are still some stitches that I can’t (perhaps won’t) stitch with both hands, but on the whole I am much better at it now.
Module 3 – Silk Shading
This is the technique I think I probably came the furthest with, but is also the technique I probably have the furthest to go with! I was disappointed with the result of this piece, but I think it does mean that I have a lot I can work on to improve myself based on those comments. On a side note on this – I would recommend talking to the office team if for whatever reason you ‘aren’t happy’. I should have approached them throughout doing this module, and didn’t.
Best worked as an intensive?
My big point with this technique that I’ve raised a few times, is that I really think it is best if you work it as an intensive. Whilst the canvas work could have potentially benefitted from this, I think there is the added element that this technique just works better if it is stitched in a shorter period of time. I found that if I left it and came back to it, I couldn’t see the colours as well, or know when to change them as quickly as if I’d been working on it consistently.
Use a consistent light source when stitching
Part of my problems when stitching this was that sometimes I’d stitch in daylight, and other times, under a daylight lamp. And despite the name ‘daylight’, it is rarely the same colour light as the actual daylight, which also changes depending on the time of day, season, weather on the day etc.
The problem this created (especially on the leaves) was that the way I saw the colour changed each time! So I’d think at one point that the green was the right green, and be quite happy. Then I’d come back the next day, and see it in a different light, and decide it was all wrong!
So whilst there is not a lot you can do with the light mother nature gives you at any one point in time, I did decide to create a sense of continuity in light source. So I always stitched it with both the ceiling light, and the daylight lamp on. This seemed to minimise the changes in the way the light played on the photo and threads.
Whilst I wasn’t happy with the result, I do have a lot I can learn from the assessment. And once I find a flower (I’m really taken with the magnolia’s at the moment, but can’t get a good photo!), I’m really keen to stitch this technique again. I actually think I should probably stitch a few different flowers before embarking further, just so I can refine and improve my technique sufficiently.
Module 4 – Basic Goldwork
Another technique I’m not completely sure if I really like or not. This was also my ‘taster’ of doing an intensive, though compared to the actual intensives it was a very laid back piece! Whilst my piece had a lot of couching based on the design, it does seem to be a technique where you do just really need to like couching! The ‘pure gold’ aspect of the module also just isn’t my style, which probably didn’t help!
An introduction to an intensive?
Doing this piece as an intensive-like piece, opened my eyes to what that is actually like to stitch ‘in this way’. Whilst I didn’t attend class daily, there was a fairly consistent and frequent level of attendance. And quite a few 2ams seen!
The other benefit I found for me and stitching it as an ‘intensive like’ piece, was it also meant that a project I would potentially have dragged my feet on (not being motivated to do more couching!), just got done. And yes, if I had more time, I would have re-stitched elements. But, at the end of the day, nothing terrible happened, I learned things, and I now know what I would do differently.
I think doing it quickly also changes your (my) mindset on what you want to actually get out of it. The point is to learn a technique. Now I know the basic techniques, I can go away and improve myself. When I spent months and months on a piece, my mindset was that it needed to be perfect. When in reality, for all these pieces, as the ‘first attempt’, it isn’t going to be perfect. So it’s arguably better to spend less time (though roughly the same amount of hours at the frame), learn the techniques, and then be able to go away and refine your skills once you know those techniques.
I’ve actually got a couple of different design ideas in my mind for my ‘redone’ basic gold work piece. I need to work out which one will work better, as I may actually use one as the advanced gold design!