Helen M. Stevens, Hand-Embroidery Artist

Embroiderer Extraordinaire

If I could choose only one kind of artistic endeavor in life -- and all other kinds of art were closed to me -- I would choose hand embroidery. That is the choice I would make today, but not the choice I would have made eleven years ago. Eleven years ago, I had not yet discovered the books and embroidery techniques of a particular English woman. Are you familiar with her name? Have you guessed it? Helen M. Stevens.

I first came across a Helen M. Stevens publication at a book store in the year 2000. Prior to that, I had done free style embroidery for years, never really progressing past the easier stitching techniques, but I had designed some tropical bird images myself and enjoyed the process.

My mother did many petite point embroideries over a span of two decades and I cherish the framed, finished pictures because my own mother stitched them herself, but petite point embroidery does not interest me as something I want to do. Most people who do petite point embroidery need to use a magnifying glass to count the stitches.

'True Embroideries'

Before viewing a Helen M. Stevens book, the colorful threads in dozens of variations of hues was what attracted me to embroidery work. In free style hand embroidery, I had experimented with the straight stitch, satin stitch, shadow lining and other simple stitches. The term 'free style' does not mean you receive the product free. To be sure, there are free embroidery designs online for the taking. But I'm using the term free style embroidery to mean that you embroider the design in a variation of stitches depending on the design you are trying to create. These are not done in cross stitch. The free style form of embroidery has been used for thousands of years. It is relaxing and creative at the same time. The techniques which have been developed by Helen M. Stevens and others are sometimes termed 'needle painting'. You can see why when you look at these lovely pieces done by Ms. Stevens.

The world is your Art Palette

Anything can be your embroidery subject once you learn the techniques Helen M. Stevens has perfected.  This is a plant that grows only on Maui -- nowhere else in the world.
Anything can be your embroidery subject once you learn the techniques Helen M. Stevens has perfected. This is a plant that grows only on Maui -- nowhere else in the world. | Source

True Embroideries

Helen M. Stevens calls her embroideries: True Embroideries. The first book of hers that I opened was called The Timeless Art of Embroidery. My waning interest in the art and history of embroidery suddenly surged. There I was at a bookstore, trying not to be impulsive, but feeling like I had just opened the best book of my entire lifetime. I looked through the book for an hour before I let myself buy it. I had to have it! It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Since then, I have bought many more of Helen M. Stevens' books.

The difference between Ms. Stevens' techniques, realism, enthusiasm and interesting narratives in her books compared to other embroidery design books I have read cannot be adequately explained in a short article such as this. The whole world of art offers its possibilities when you open up a Helen M. Stevens book.

In 2006, when I purchased my fifth Helen M. Stevens book, once again I was amazed at the number of beautiful, realistic, exciting, completed embroidery projects that were photographed and contained in the book. There were five master classes in the book, but many more photographs of completed projects and notes on each subject as to how to create the realism and interest in the embroidered picture.

I decided to email Ms. Stevens. In my email, I told her that I greatly admire her work. I asked if she subcontracts out the actual embroidery labor to be done by people she has trained in her methods. She replied that she does all of the embroidery herself. She takes on each commissioned project and like any other artist, does the entire art piece herself.

This is Helen M. Stevens' website address: http://www.fritillary.co.uk/

If you press About Us on her website, you can read about Ms. Stevens' long, dedicated journey of achievement in embroidery arts.


Photograph is courtesy of Ms. Helen M. Stevens
Photograph is courtesy of Ms. Helen M. Stevens

Helen Stevens' Embroideries are Exhibited in a Palace and a Museum

There are so many techniques to learn: radial opus plumarium, strata radial opus plumarium, directional opus plumarius, opposite angle stitching, and subtle voiding -- to name just the ones I'm working on. The diagrams and instructions are explicit. These are some of the techniques that Helen Stevens has perfected so that her embroideries of birds' feathers, a cat's fur, a blossoming flower -- anything and everything -- can look so real and so exciting.

Helen Stevens' work is exhibited in many surprising places of the United Kingdom and abroad. She read and studied extensively on her own to gain the knowledge she needed before developing her 'signature' techniques. She understands the history of embroidery. She has been an embroidery artist for 25 years now and I dare say she is the most renowned embroiderer in the United Kingdom. She is a member of the Society of Women Artists. Her art hangs in the British Museum and the Palace of Westminster.

She works mainly with silk threads. She explains in her books why it is important to use silk threads. She does use cotton threads and specialty threads in some instances.

Helen M. Stevens emphasizes in each of her books that we can and should create our own embroidery designs, not just use her ideas -- once we have mastered the hand embroidery stitch techniques and the color wheel. I agree absolutely. She is a true artist, an extraordinarily creative person who realizes we each need to be creative in order to be happy.

If I imagine a granddaughter of mine one day inheriting an heirloom oil painting I've done that looks realistic and took me all of two hours to paint and then I imagine the same granddaughter instead opening a package with an embroidery I've done -- of the same subject, whatever it may be -- which took me 20 or 30 hours to create and it looks absolutely real in every detail -- I don't know; maybe it's just me -- but I think the embroidery is so much more exquisite.


Embroidery of Poppies.  Photograph is courtesy of Helen M. Stevens.
Embroidery of Poppies. Photograph is courtesy of Helen M. Stevens.

© 2010 Pamela Kinnaird W

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Comments 18 comments

Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 2 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Very kind of you, Au fait. Thank you. And I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas

You are sounding more and more extraordinary with your art, now expanding into embroidery. I learned to embroider when I was 5 as did all my sibs, but we never did anything quite so intricate as what you write about and show in the photos here. Our needlework and sewing was for the most part practical. Back then it was actually less expensive to sew one's own clothes. Embroidery simply added something decorative to otherwise plain to household things.

An excellent article and I'm glad to read that embroidery is not going to be a forgotten talent and has in fact moved up to being exquisite art. Voted up, BAUI, pinned to Awesome Hubpages and will share with HP followers.


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 2 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thank you, RunAbstract. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub about Helen M. Stevens' work.


RunAbstract profile image

RunAbstract 2 years ago from USA

Very nice!


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 3 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

You're welcome. Thanks for the visit.


Keri Summers profile image

Keri Summers 3 years ago from West of England

I have never seen embroidery like this, thanks for the introduction to her work.


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thanks for stopping by and reading. I'm glad you enjoyed Helen M. Stevens work samples and information.


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

I enjoyed reading this even though I don't do needlework. Helen M. Stevens..amazing for sure. I think it is a great pastime and gives you a quiet time of thinking. Great hub.


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Millionaire Tips, aren't the techniques of Helen M. Stevens just amazing? There are many embroidery artists doing this kind of work now especially in the UK, but H.M. Stevens' techniques are the best in my opinion.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

I've embroidered before, but I hadn't heard of freestyle embroidery. It looks incredible and sounds like it gives the maker much more artistic freedom. Voted up.


craftybegonia profile image

craftybegonia 5 years ago from Southwestern, United States

Very nice hub. Lovely work, I love those red poppies!


JulieBull profile image

JulieBull 6 years ago

Such a lovely hub Pamela - thanks for introducing me to Helens work - its beautiful


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

oceansunsets, thank you for your comment. That's great that you're learning to quilt. I have it on my list but will never get there, I'm sure. I want to learn the art of applique especially. I've seen some gorgeous Hawaiian themes with turtles or birds all appliqued. Are you like me and have all the best quilting sites bookmarked? If only there were hours in the day -- and we weren't writers, first and foremost. (lol)

I'm glad you liked my mom's petite point embroideries. I probably shouldn't have put them up with this hub since it's about 'true embroidery' -- freestyle. Aloha.


oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

Pamela, I loved this hub about embroidery. I am learning to quilt currently, but have dabbled a very little bit in embroidery. I need to master the stitches. Your hub makes me want to look into it more, and particularly at Helen Steven's work. Your pictures are beautiful.


Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago

Thank you, Dolores. I think it was throughout the 1800's, but maybe just the first half -- I'm not sure -- young women in the 13 colonies and then the emerging other areas of what we now call the U.S. of A. prepared their own hand embroidery design to hang in their little home when they got married. Sometimes it was the alphabet. Sometimes it was Bless This House. Often it was done on potato sacks and coarse material like that. That's maybe what you're referring to? I love that kind of history, too. Thanks for reading.


Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago

Thanks for stopping by to read. That's really great that you can do so many art forms. I want to learn to quilt.I've made two simple machine-stitched quilts for my grandkids, but I have everything yet to learn in quilting -- and crocheting. How wonderful that your mom and grandmothers took the time to teach you these arts.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Back in the old days, most girls and women learned how to embroider. Then, modern times made this beautiful art seem unattractive or unappealing. I am so glad that women have rekindled this beautiful art form. Thanks for sharing!


U Neek profile image

U Neek 6 years ago from Georgia, USA

Beautiful pieces and a great hub, from one needle worker to another! I learned crochet, embroiderty, quilting and so many other needle arts from my mother and grandmothers and have enjoyed these arts all of my life.

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