A Stitch In Time | Living North

A Stitch In Time

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Image of collage with Claire Player's work
Claire Player was born in Doncaster, learned embroidery from a Russian master, took up quilting in Paris and first combined the two skills in Sweden. She’s now back in Yorkshire, using skills she gained on her travels to create beautiful embroidery and qu

‘In the beginning, I was a Yorkshire girl. I was born and grew up in Doncaster, but as a young adult, the lure of the bright lights of London took me away and thus began a journey (both in miles and in stitches) that I never could have anticipated.

‘After meeting my husband and having three wonderful children, we made a momentous decision in 2002 to apply for an overseas posting. I remember when the phone call came; I had just got back from picking the kids up from school and my husband called and said simply, ‘We’re going to Moscow!’ My first thought was ‘wow’ – and it was. 

‘We lived in Russia for nearly five years and every single day was an adventure. People said we were brave. It never really felt that way, but we were taken out of our comfort zone and faced with challenges we couldn’t have imagined. Learning to speak Russian, navigating our way around an enormous and at times daunting city… it changed all of us forever.

‘My journey in stitching also began in Russia. Once the children were settled into the British School and with my husband working long and difficult days, I wondered what I was supposed to do. I soon found out that there was an amazing structure for expat wives to fit into, run by the American Embassy, and I signed up for classes in Russian language, history and embroidery. We had taken an apartment close to Red Square and, as it was such a central location, I was asked if I would be prepared to host the Russian embroidery classes. And so it was that every week for more than four years, a group of women from all over the world would gather in our apartment and learn this very detailed and beautiful form of hand stitching.

‘The group was an education in itself, learning about people from far away lands and seeing how this was reflected in their needlework. The teacher spoke only one word of English: ‘Stop’.  As my Russian improved and I started to understand more, I realised that she was less than impressed with my stitching, even if she did tell me I had an eye for colour. 
‘I was confused. I certainly have good sewing genes – one of my grandmothers was a milliner and the other an amazing dressmaker, and I grew up with my Mum sewing on the dining room table, making everything from my school uniform to my sister’s wedding dress. I loved fabric and sewing, but I soon realised that this was altogether something different.

‘I began to pay attention to the detail and, gradually, my needlework began to improve. I loved mixing and matching the patterns and colours. By the end of four years, I had not only made some wonderful international friends, but I had become fascinated by embroidery and its different forms around the world. When I left Russia, my teacher gave me an old piece of linen wrapped up with silver thread that belonged to her grandmother, and it is very precious to me. It sits happily in my sewing room today to remind me of this long apprenticeship of sorts.

‘We left Moscow in late 2006 to take up a new posting in Paris. Once again I cast around for something to do and met two ladies who made the most amazing quilts. I asked them if they would teach me, and from the moment I set eyes on the cutting mat, rotary cutter and delicious bundles of fabric, I was completely obsessed. I made a quilt, I made another one and then another one. The family loved them and it was wonderful to see my kids wander around with their quilts, all wrapped up in beautiful homemade warmth.

‘I learnt that there were all sorts of techniques to help with patchwork and I explored machine and hand-pieced projects, mixing and matching appliqué and patched blocks. I was totally smitten and little by little the dining table got taken over before being replaced with a fully-functioning sewing table. I began to realise that this passion for fabric, colour and needlework was becoming more than just a hobby, so I signed up for a three-year online course in embroidery and textiles with City & Guilds.

‘In 2011, we moved again – this time to Stockholm. Sweden is the most beautiful country and it was an inspirational time, as well as sometimes a difficult one. With two of our children back in the UK at university and one in boarding school and with long, dark days to fill, I cast around for the next challenge to complement my ongoing City & Guilds course. I found two. Firstly, I began my sewing blog ‘Ruby Seppings’, and secondly I began to experiment with combining embroidery and quilting to make new and original designs. 

‘In 2014 we made the decision to come home. After so many years of living in capital cities, it was time for a lifestyle choice and we chose to live in Yorkshire. Drawn in by the fabulous landscape and the rich textile history, it was the perfect place to start my business. We had been moving and travelling since 2002, and I now felt ready to try and see if I could find a way to develop a small business with all the skills I had acquired over our years abroad. 

‘The joy of living away from your own country is that you see that there are alternative ways of doing things, fresh perspectives to be found on everything from colour to design and pattern. I thought about the rich folk embroidery of Russia and how it reflected the richness of the country’s history and great writers. I thought about the frou-frou style of bohemian Paris with its love of deep colour and embellishments, and I thought about the clear glacial style of Scandinavia. I began to put it all together, and found my own unique style.’ 

You can find Claire’s blog and a link to her Etsy shop at 
www.rubyseppings.com

Published in: September 2017

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