Sue Rangeley specialises in crafted embroideries for contemporary dress, one-off accessories and textile art. Her professional career started in 1976 when she entered Vogue House, London, with a collection of embroidered bags and waistcoats. By 1977, her famous ‘Waterlily’ waistcoat launched an order for one hundred silk applique jackets for the designer Bill Gibb (1943–1988). The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, has one of the couture commissions she embroidered for Bill Gibb in their permanent collection.
Sue has received numerous awards for her creative activities. In 2009, she received a National Lottery & Arts Council England grant for curating ‘A Wearable Art’ exhibition in Oxfordshire. In 2018, she was chosen to demonstrate at an exclusive event at The Victoria & Albert Museum, as part of the ‘Fashioned from Nature’ program, hosted by the Friends of the V&A.
1. How did you get into textiles as a career?
In 1972–3, I attended workshops with the amazing embroiderer Constance Howard while I was teaching art and design at a school in Reading. That encounter inspired me to, rather dramatically, give up full time teaching and join a workshop of artists in the Cotswolds, my career had begun!
But the creative lure of needle and thread captured my childhood imagination; later at art college while studying fine art I was always conjuring sparkly garments to wear at dances and discos. It was in 1970 that I designed my first embroidered garment to wear to a concert by The Who in London; this ‘flower power’ statement of hand embroidered flowers and butterflies drew admiring glances. Six years later, the glamour of the couture catwalk became the showcase for my first fashion embroidery commissions for the designer Bill Gibb.
With a career spanning over four decades the world of embroidery has introduced me to interesting clients, international exhibition opportunities and enabled my passion for the art of stitch to be shared with the students I have taught.
2. In the July/August 2022 issue of Embroidery, the article ‘A Growth Mindset’ tracks your break-taking trajectory. Could you please tell us about your most recent organic textile pieces?
Since my book ‘Embroidery Atelier’ was published in May, I have been musing of embroidery ideas rather than stitching, sometimes a breathing space is necessary. One design-idea that I sketched two years ago, but did not have time to create for the book, is about to take shape through a collection of first-stage samples. I have always been enthralled by the exquisite Dutch flower paintings of the 17th and 18th century, it is that imagery that is driving my next embroidered creation. I will be launching this new work at the Compton Verney Textile Fair, November 12–13; visitors to that event can also enjoy a stunning exhibition, ‘Dutch Flowers’, and see first -hand what originally inspired my new creation.
3. What is the most important thing you have learnt over the course of your career?
Not wishing to sound full of myself and egotistical! But never to under value one’s work. Costing and pricing the hours of stitching is not an easy task but I try to be realistic when costing commissions for clients; all textile art should be valued in the same way as a fine art piece. Early in my career someone said to me ‘Embroidery is the Cinderella of the arts’, maybe it was the case decades ago but not now I hope!
4. What do you find to be the most challenging part of your job?
Marketing one’s work is probably the most challenging aspect of my studio practice, more than when I was working in the late 1970s — 1990s. In 1976, when I attended my first professional appointment at Vogue House with only a modest picnic basket of samples, followed by a casual drop-in to a designer’s showroom in Bond Street for tea, it all seemed very easy then to have encounters with the movers-and-shakers of the fashion world! But saying that, I have always been fortunate with publicity in magazines, though now you have to be very tenacious with ones’ approach to marketing.
I do enjoy reaching out to people via my website, newsletter and occasional blog, spreading the word about studio events and book publications. I work with a freelance expert for all my website work. Though social media has not entered the frame of my marketing yet, I am seriously considering Instagram to reach new followers.
5. When you’re not creating beautiful textile art, what do you like to do in your free time?
As I write the French windows of my studio are open to a flower garden vista, horticulture is a real passion of mine. After a day’s intricate stitching, I like to unwind with my fingers in the soil, weeding or planting. A pursuit both relaxing, and inspiring when I am contemplating studio projects; getting amongst the undergrowth can liberate a few creative ideas!
Historical research has always been a facet of my work, some of my spare time is devoted to supporting my local museum in Charlbury, arranging displays etc. There are often serendipitous overlaps with my studio work, for example the embellished gloves created for Embroidery Atelier were directly influenced by the gloving collection in the museum.
I love outings to the V&A in London, always a catalyst for a creative work, visits to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford or nearby Compton Verney art gallery to see exhibitions. National Trust homes and gardens have always enticed my imagination, two feature in a collection of new works in the chapter ‘Pleasure Paths’ of my book.
Free time pursuits are always influencing and interweaving studio creations!
6. Do you have a particular favourite issue of Embroidery Magazine?
It is difficult to select just one from past issues, I am always dipping into my magazine archive (extensive!) and will spot an interesting article about a textile artist. Even vintage 1930s Embroidery editions sit on my library bookshelf ! With the current magazine on my coffee table, I have enjoyed reading about the current generation of embroiderers, such as David Morrish, Jenny King; I am also inspired to see the tapestry created by Jamie Holman for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions for the #MeetTheContributor series Sue! We loved finding out more about your amazing career, love of Embroidery, and most recent work.
Digital subscriptions to Embroidery, including Embroideress, are available in the Exact Editions individual and institutional shops. These include unlimited and fully-searchable access to the complete archive dating back to 1922.