Updated April 2018
I often get asked what it’s ‘like to do’ the Certificate at the RSN. Most people (myself included), have a variety of different questions about the course before embarking on it. Let’s be honest – it’s a large commitment, and a lot of money, so you want to be sure it’s for you before you start. I’m more than happy to answer your questions offline, and am happy to give you more information on my personal experiences if you feel it will help you. But I also thought it would be useful if I compiled some answers to some of the more ‘common questions’ here in one central location for easy reference.
And a final disclaimer before we begin – this is based on my experiences with the Certificate. I am a ‘term time’ student, which gives me more flexibility, and possibly, a more relaxed, impression of the course than someone doing it as an intensive. We also all stitch at different speeds, so do take that in mind when considering the ‘amount of homework’ required.
Some general information about the Certificate
To start, it’s probably best I cover off some basics about the Certificate!
To obtain your Certificate, you need to successfully complete four different techniques. The techniques you need to complete are Jacobean Crewelwork (the ‘Jacobean’ word here is critical – it isn’t the more modern forms of crewelwork you see today), either canvas work or blackwork (and if you choose to go onto the Diploma, you need to complete the one you didn’t complete in the Certificate), followed by silk shading, and finally goldwork.
You complete your Jacobean piece first, and then your canvas work or blackwork piece. There is then a little more flexibility, and you can choose to do the silk shading or gold work in your own order.
If you choose to continue on with your ‘studies’ you then complete the Diploma. This is made up of four compulsory modules (appliqué, advanced gold work, advanced silk shading, and either blackwork or canvas work – whichever you didn’t complete in the Certificate). You then need to complete two further modules. You have a choice of two from: stump work, canvas shading, whitework, tassel making, box making, creative metal thread and quilting.
There is also a further two modules for the advanced diploma, should you choose to extend your study further. There is unfortunately at present a lack of information from the RSN on this, but from memory you chose two modules from box making, advance white work and quilting.
How much stitching experience do I need to have before I start?
This is one which has just undergone a change of thought at the RSN. Originally, all documentation and suggestions you would get from the RSN itself, would say that you could have never picked up a needle before and successfully complete the Certificate. After starting myself, I found this somewhat dubious, and in my time there, I have seen a few students start, who have been unable to continue past three lessons. This isn’t to say the tutors aren’t doing their job – anything but! The tutors just don’t have the time to spend with these students that they require. If this is you and you have a genuine interest in hand embroidery, I recommend you try and book in for a private lesson with an RSN tutor. This will allow you to learn the basics you require, and will also give you an insight (where you can ask LOTS of questions!) of the RSN way.
As of September 2017, the RSN are taking a different approach. They want to make sure you have some experience. And it doesn’t have to be a lot. If you have done your own stitching for a bit, they say you need to have completed one day class. If you are completely new to embroidery, they recommend two or more day classes before you start your Certificate. I’m not sure how closely this will be monitored, but from my own personal experience, I can recommend doing a day class or two before starting, regardless of your stitching experience. The day classes are a lot more relaxed and informal, but they do give you an insight into how the RSN teaches and the environment. You will also pick up on little things where you may have been doing a stitch ‘wrong’ in the past. To successfully complete the Certificate, you will need to be able to change your ways and adapt your stitching style to the ‘RSN way’. So this is a good introduction to that.
Update from a reader – I have had a reader come by with some valid comments about if doing one or two day classes is enough. She has done two, two day classes, and feels that for her this is ‘not enough’ for her to be comfortable starting the Certificate. Whilst her dream is to do the Certificate, she feels she needs to complete more days before she is comfortable commencing the Certificate. The lesson here? We are all different. Just because what I think and what other readers think, doesn’t mean it is right for you. This is a large undertaking, and you need to be ready and comfortable to start. If you are like this reader and feel you need to complete more day classes – do that! If you feel you are ready after one and two – fine, enrol! But make sure you have reviewed previous students work and are comfortable you can produce an ‘RSN piece’. The tutors will assist you, but lets be honest, no one needs additional stress when it is to do with a hobby!
Obviously, the requirement to do a day class or two if you are an international student coming in to do the intensive course, will be somewhat difficult. I imagine in these cases, the fact you are prepared to do the intensive is a sign you are committed, and believe you will be able to complete the piece!
I’ve never designed my own piece – can I actually do this?
Believe me, if I can, you can too! You get a tremendous amount of support from the tutors on this. You should listen to them, and work as many of their suggestions into your piece as possible. They are very experienced, and also know what the assessors are looking for. So it might be a case of if you weren’t doing this to be assessed, you might do something differently. But especially in the Jacobean piece, you have a lot of stitches to ‘tick off’, and you will need their guidance to help you achieve a pleasing design that is capable of meeting the requirements.
And just because you can’t draw (like me), doesn’t mean you can’t design. They are more than happy for you to garner design elements from other pieces, and combine them into your own piece. The design is still your own – you have just borrowed someone else’s drawing skills!
The RSN have also just started doing design courses. This is a three day class where you learn the fundamentals of drawing and designing for embroidery. I haven’t yet undertaken this course, but should you be particularly concerned about this, you can partake in this course when it is run. This is also a class run with the Certificate students in mind. I’m not sure, but you may need to be enrolled in the Certificate to get notification of when it is run.
How much homework is there?
As I said before, this is going to be somewhat dependent on how fast you stitch, and if you are anything like me, how many times you decide you aren’t happy with it, so need to pull it out and re-stitch it!
The homework between your first and second class is somewhat minimal. With all my pieces, it hasn’t been more than two to three hours.
After that, it does seem to increase a lot, especially if you want to complete it within the eight classes. Between some classes, I would have had around ten hours of homework. Other times it was probably closer to fifteen hours. You don’t have to finish your homework (it isn’t like school where you will get detention) – at times you will get stuck and just not be able to complete it. But if you want to make the most out of your classes, you should try and get as much finished as possible. I also (rather sneakily) find that leaving a little bit of homework to continue on with at the beginning of class isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it gives you a chance to do something productive whilst waiting for the tutors to see you and offer you guidance for your next steps.
How regularly should I attend class?
This is really up to you – and what else you have going on, as you will need to be able to get your homework done.
Having said that, going regularly and consistently is a benefit – it keeps you focused, and gives you something to work towards.
When I was completing my Jacobean and canvas work pieces, I attended class ‘roughly’ every two weeks. With silk shading, and now with gold work, it is weekly. With silk shading, the tutors recommend you attend weekly. I would actually say you need to stitch consistently and regularly. Attending class weekly I do think is actually a waste, and is why so many people (myself included) take ten or more classes to complete the piece. Once you’ve got the hang of what you are doing and the technique, it really is a case of just getting it done. You don’t need to sit in a classroom for that and you will get frustrated at spending the money for thirty seconds of tutoring in the day. Just make sure you know how to do the different elements of the design (shading, turnover etc) before deciding not to go to class.
With gold work, the decision was made because we are moving back to Australia, and this piece needs to be done quickly. But, from what I can work out, this is a technique which would really benefit from ‘half days’. Once you have been shown the individual technique you just have to get on with it! You need to basically finish each section before moving onto the next. I would push the tutors to tell you more rather than less about the techniques so you have learnt enough in your class to complete a number of different areas.
Regardless of all of this, the Certificate is meant to be a flexible, and enjoyable, experience. Some students find they can only attend monthly, others maybe only every six to eight weeks. So, it really is up to you!
Do I book all eight classes at once?
Again, this is up to you!
For my Jacobean piece, I looked at my calendar, made an assumption that every two weeks or close to it, was doable, and booked all eight classes in.
For my canvas work piece, I decided to just book up the following month’s classes.
Why the change? I found there were times with my Jacobean, that had I given myself longer to complete the homework, I would have achieved, and got more out of, the next class. There is a risk with this of course – and that is that the day you decide you want to book in is all booked up. I haven’t had any problems with this, and have booked as late as a Tuesday for that week’s Friday class! But, I do know there are some days which are very busy, so I wouldn’t assume you can attend at the last minute.
How does payment work?
The best way I can think to describe this is that it is a ‘pay as you go’ system. So if you book in all eight classes at the beginning of the term, you pay for all eight classes. If you book two classes only, you only pay for two classes.
The cost of each class is £135, and the theory is that you will complete each module in eight classes. However, there is a bit of give and take on this for term time students – some students take less time with some techniques, and more with others. Some students say they are almost finished the Diploma and are yet to complete anything in eight classes! Silk shading seems to be the technique which is the hardest to complete in eight classes based on my chats with my fellow students – the average seems to be more like ten classes for this piece, and I myself took this long.
My tip here is to really drive the tutors. Some tutors are much better at knowing where you should be at each lesson, and others seem to think you have a lifetime to complete each piece. So at the start of each class make it clear what you want to achieve in the lesson and then make sure you watch the clock to make sure you get shown what you need to. Don’t rely on the tutors. Some will effortlessly show you what you need throughout the class. Other tutors you will be asking if you can stay behind with them as they haven’t shown you enough. I’m not good at doing this – but with time against me I’m getting more ‘vocal’ about what needs to happen each class. And this does mean some tutors can no longer tutor me as they can’t for whatever reason, fulfil what I need to be fulfilled.
Are there any more costs associated with each technique?
In addition to the tutoring cost, (the £135 per class I mentioned above), you also need to pay for your materials used to complete the piece. Comparatively speaking, this isn’t a lot, and you can use materials from your own supplies. The RSN will supply you with your fabric, and any Appeltons, Anchor or DMC threads you wish to use. I would however say that when it comes to your gold work and silk shading, to if at all possible, take along your own silk fabric. Take a variety of colours of silk dupion you think will work with your design. The RSN does have a supply of silk, but it is very limited and you may find you either need to stitch on a less than compatible colour fabric, or change your design. Neither are good reasons for not doing what you want to do!
Before you commence your Certificate, you will also be given a ‘starter pack’, which includes your slate frame (which you will use for all your projects), tools you will need to transfer your design using the traditional prick and pounce method (your pricking tool and paintbrush), your framing up tools (buttonhole thread and bracing needle), calico which you will use when you mount your Jacobean (I also had enough left over to use for my canvas work). The starter pack also includes your linen twill for your Jacobean piece. I believe they now also give you a curved needle (used to mount your pieces) in this pack. This costs around £100 and is payable on or before your first class. But this is a one off cost, and you will use most of the supplies throughout your Certificate and Diploma. Because of the way I work, I have purchased an additional slate frame. But this is only because I want to start the next project before finishing the earlier one. Perhaps not the best approach, but it does help me to move through the course.
Will I have a regular tutor?
If you attend during term time and you attend on the same day of the week each time, you will have the same tutor (excepting of course for things like illness which can’t be avoided).
If you attend an intensive course, you will also have the same tutors for the duration of your project. These tutors tend to be different from the ‘term time’ tutors.
If you choose to do your project in an intensive style but in regular term time, you will have a variety of tutors dependent on the days you attend.
Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing is a personal opinion. When you are meeting with the same group of students and tutors each class, you do develop a good relationship with everyone which is a nice way to spend the day. But, there are no doubt occasions when some students respond better to some tutors more than others (just like in school).
What else would you like to know?
I hope I have summarised some of the more common questions you may have about the Certificate course offered at the RSN. I’m sure there are other questions you might have, so please let me know, and I will do my best to answer and help you!
If you aren’t comfortable asking your question in the comments section, that’s fine! I’m also attaching the ‘contact’ form to the bottom of the post for you. If you pop your questions in there I will get back to you by email.